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Museum Welcomes Government Redevelopment Funding 

A $25 million Government contribution to Canterbury Museum’s redevelopment is “crucial” to the project, the Chair of the Museum’s Trust Board says.

Architectural render showing the Museum's proposed new atrium space with the Ōkārito blue whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling. Image: Athfield Architects
Architectural render showing the Museum's proposed new atrium space with the Ōkārito blue whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling. Image: Athfield Architects

Minister Hon Dr Megan Woods announced the one-off grant from Greater Christchurch Regeneration contingency funding at the Museum this morning.

Canterbury Museum Trust Board Chair David Ayers says the money is vital to the project’s viability.

“Without this crucial contribution from the Government, we could not redevelop the Museum and address the issues that threaten its future,” he says.

“We are hugely grateful to the ministers who have recognised how important the Museum is to Cantabrians.”

The Canterbury Museum Trust Board has agreed a budget of $205 million for the redevelopment; $175 million for the building itself and $30 million for developing new exhibitions.

With the Government contribution, the Museum has $150 million secured. David Ayers says the Museum will now approach the Regional Cultural and Heritage Fund and the Lotteries Commission about further funding.

“I’m confident we’ll have the $175 million for the building secured before work begins on the Museum site in April next year. That will give us about 4 years to raise the final $30 million for the exciting new exhibitions,” he says.

With the Museum set to close its doors early next year, staff are making good progress moving the taonga in the storerooms to secure offsite storage and will soon begin progressively packing down the galleries. The first galleries to be emptied – Discovery, Our Mummy, Geology and Ivan Mauger Speedway King – will close on 17 October.

Museum Director Anthony Wright says that while it will be sad to say goodbye to these exhibitions, it’s vital that the project keeps moving.

“We know that every month of delay past our anticipated start dates inflates costs by around half a million dollars, so it’s really important that we begin on time,” he says.

Most of the Museum will be packed up by early 2023. After a final farewell exhibition, the Museum will close in April for work to begin.

The redeveloped Museum will have far more exhibition space, meaning there will be room for exciting new displays alongside the returning old favourites.

The Museum’s blue whale skeleton, which has been off display for nearly 30 years, will return, diving down into a new atrium space. Some recently acquired taonga, such as a set of medals belonging to Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, will be showcased for the first time.

In a new space at the heart of the redeveloped Museum called Araiteuru, Ngāi Tahu and Ngāi Tūāhuriri will tell their own stories using taonga the Museum cares for in partnership with them as mana whenua.

“We expect the project to take 5 years, which is a long time, particularly for families with young children. However, a temporary Museum will pop up in the central city in 2023 with a selection of our best-loved exhibits and a changing series of temporary exhibitions,” Anthony Wright says.

Background Notes

About Canterbury Museum

  • Canterbury Museum opened in 1867, moving to a purpose-built, neo-Gothic stone building, designed by Benjamin Mountfort, on its current Rolleston Avenue site in 1870.
  • The remainder of the current complex was added piecemeal in the 1870s and 1880s, 1958, 1977 and 1995 as the Museum’s collection grew.
  • The Museum cares for one of the country’s most significant collections of historic artefacts and natural history specimens, numbering more than 2.3 million objects with an estimated value in excess of NZ$1 billion.
  • Canterbury Museum cares for about a quarter of Aotearoa New Zealand’s distributed national collection.
  • The Museum is the South Island’s most-visited tourist attraction. Pre-Covid, the Museum had over 800,000 visitors annually.
  • The Museum is funded by four Canterbury local authorities: Christchurch City Council, Waimakariri District Council, Hurunui District Council and Selwyn District Council.

Why the Museum needs to redevelop

  • This redevelopment is a response to a set of challenges that threaten the future of the Museum.
  • Most of the fabric of the twentieth century buildings is at the end of or well beyond its useful life.
  • The Museum’s storerooms are not pest-proof and cannot be adequately temperature-controlled. This has damaged the taonga the buildings are meant to protect and will continue to do so.
  • Parts of the buildings leak when it rains.
  • The Museum’s facilities are outdated and inadequate for the number of visitors it receives.
  • Exhibition space is limited and inflexible, which means less than 1% of the collection is on display at any time.
  • These issues all pre-date the Canterbury earthquakes but many were exacerbated by them.

What the redevelopment will achieve

  • The redevelopment will greatly increase the available exhibition space and create greater flexibility so exhibits can be changed regularly.
  • Base isolation will protect visitors, staff, taonga and the buildings in the event of another earthquake.
  • Heritage features of the Museum buildings will be celebrated and enhanced.
  • The Robert McDougall Gallery, the city’s former art gallery which the Museum has leased from the Christchurch City Council, will be repaired, reopened, connected to the Museum complex and used to display art from the Museum’s large collection, along with historical works from the collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū. The Robert McDougall Gallery has been closed since the February 2011 earthquake.
  • Araiteuru, a space at the heart of the new Museum, will provide a space for mana whenua to tell their own stories using the taonga the Museum cares for in partnership with them.
  • Base isolation will enable the Museum to bring major international touring exhibitions to Canterbury once again.
  • Cantabrians will enjoy a more welcoming space with vastly more taonga on display and world-class facilities, and the knowledge their taonga are adequately protected.

History of the project

  • Planning for a major redevelopment of the Museum started in 2001. In 2004, Heritage advocates successfully appealed some aspects of this project to the Environment Court and it did not proceed.
  • Planning for a new project started in 2009. The project was due to be publicly launched in March 2011, but the major earthquake struck in February, damaging the buildings and collections. The Museum closed for minor building repairs but was able to reopen within 6 months.
  • The current redevelopment project was launched in June 2020. The initial consultation included face-to-face meetings, advertising, social media and other channels, reaching more than 400,000 people.
  • The project was granted resource consent in July 2021. More than 100 submissions were in favour with only two in partial opposition.
  • In August 2022, staff began moving the collection out of the buildings to secure offsite storage in preparation for the redevelopment. This process is ongoing.

Next steps

  • The Museum aims to have everything out of the buildings, including staff, by April 2023 for demolition to begin. Demolition is scheduled to take around a year.
  • The heritage buildings at the front and rear of the complex will be retained, further strengthened and more of their heritage features revealed.
  • Demolition and construction will take about 4 years. This will involve excavating under most of the Museum site and the Robert McDougall Gallery, and constructing a base-isolated basement.
  • A new building will be constructed behind the Rolleston Avenue heritage buildings as a link to the Robert McDougall Gallery.
  • Fitting out the complex with new exhibitions is expected to take a further 6 months before the Museum reopens in 2028.


  • In 2020, the Museum project was budgeted at $195 million, but escalating costs due to inflating construction costs saw the budget rise to $205 million last year. The Museum is committed to this budget cap and has already made significant changes to its designs to keep within it.
  • $175 million is earmarked for the construction phase, with the remaining $30 million planned for exhibition development.
  • The Museum already had $125 million in hand, made up of committed funds from its four funding local authorities plus existing Museum fundraising, cash and investments, and earthquake insurance settlements.
  • The Government’s contribution takes this to $150 million, just $25 million short of the construction budget.
  • The Museum will now recommence active discussions with Lotteries and the Regional Culture and Heritage Fund and is confident of making up this shortfall before demolition is scheduled to start in April next year.