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Pilot Performance Venue In The Heart Of The City

The Dunedin Fringe Arts Trust is ready to take bookings for a pilot performing arts space in the heart of the city.

Te Whare o Rukutia, in the building formerly occupied by the Dunedin Community Gallery, will address the immediate need the city’s performing arts community has for a fit-for-purpose, affordable, small venue, supporting that community to present work and maintaining audience engagement while the Dunedin City Council continues its consultation and research about a new performance space.

Gareth McMillan, Dunedin Fringe Arts Trust (DFAT) Director says, “This is the tonic the city needs. It has the potential to be a real foundation stone in Ōtepoti’s performing arts infrastructure, a home for our artists as we work through the development and engagement with our community to see what we need to build for the future.”

DFAT, Prospect Park Productions, and Dunedin Arts Festival, with input from Stage South, spent the past year working on the delivery of Te Whare o Rukutia, and DFAT is now continuing as the sole administrating organisation for this phase. They will work closely with the performing arts community to gauge long-term viability and need, how to best meet that need, and to determine the best operational and governance structures.

DFAT has been working with a rōpū of mana whenua to ensure the venue considers te ao and tikanga Māori and acknowledges the generosity of those people in terms of their time and their wisdom.

The rōpū gifted the name Te Whare o Rukutia to the venue, paying homage to Rukutia, a traditional exponent of kapa haka who was renowned for performing arts. Te Whare o Rukutia translates to The House of Rukutia and celebrates her skills and influence.

In mythology, the feminine entity Rukutia was linked with Tama and Tu-te-koropaka in stories of Kāi Tahu origin. She was a woman of phenomenal skill. Associated with moko, pounamu and raraka, Rukutia was also acknowledged as an expert in dance arts. She is seen throughout Polynesian history in varying forms and appears as a critical thinker with advanced ideas and skills.

The venue will fit into a niche not currently filled by the city’s other small to medium theatres. The fit-out is being designed collaboratively, with common themes indicating the importance of audience experience and comfort, accessibility a priority, professional in-house technical equipment, good sight lines, and manaakitanga.

Programming will be loosely curated to provide practitioners and companies and community groups with access while ensuring audiences can experience a diverse range of performance experiences.

This has provided an opportunity to have two community arts venues adjacent to each other on one of Dunedin’s main streets, with DFAT moving to 19 George Street, the Dunedin Community Gallery moving next door into the former DFAT office at 26 Princes Street, and the new venue moving into the former gallery space at 20 Princes Street. The Dunedin City Council, both as owner of the buildings and key funder of many of the artists who will use the venue, has facilitated these moves.

Kirsty Glengarry, DCC Manager Creative Partnerships says, “The DCC team is excited about the Te Whare o Rukutia concept and fully supports the collaborative approach the Dunedin Fringe Arts Trust is taking with the local performing arts community to develop this venue. It’s so positive to see this space made for performing arts in Ōtepoti.”

The project has already received funding from a range of sources, including Dunedin City Council, Creative New Zealand’s Ngā Toi a Rohe Arts in the Region Fund, Otago Community Trust, and the Alexander McMillan Trust. This funding supports the implementation phase of the venue project, including fit-out, staffing (operations, producer, marketing), seed funding for productions, and community hui to determine the future of the venue. The feasibility study was also supported by Creative New Zealand via an Arts Continuity Grant last year.

Cath Cardiff, Senior Manager, Arts Development, Creative New Zealand says, “This is an exciting project that will help keep the performing arts visible and accessible to communities in Ōtepoti. This venue will provide a central space for people to connect and engage with the arts and is an important addition to the local arts infrastructure. We are pleased to support it and look forward to seeing the programme roll out!”


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