[As published in Nov/Dec BayBuzz magazine.]

A metaphorical soft breeze is blowing around the Hastings Cultural Precinct, bringing great news. The zephyr comes from the fluttering feathers of the Huia bird, forty of which are destined to cover the creation of the Hawke’s Bay Regional Museum Research and Archives Centre, in Hastings. 

On the corner of Hastings and Queen Street, in two years time a very tired old commercial building will become a made-for-purpose space – not only thoughtful and beautiful but also permanent. A home for the care and protection of the 90,000 (and still counting) treasures and taonga which form the collections of the MTG Museum. One of the richest in the country and worth close to $30 million, it is guarded by the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust on behalf of the people of Hawke’s Bay.

The catalyst

Dick Grant has been the Chair of the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust since 2015, appointed by the mayors of Hastings and Napier. “When I took over as Chair the trustees had identified that the storage of the MTG collection was its key priority. Like many museums, only a small proportion of the collection can be displayed at any one time, and the rest must be stored,” Dick explains.

“Given that storage at the MTG building has always been very limited, the collection has been kept in part of the National Tobacco Building in Ahuriri on a temporary basis. That building is not up to modern standards of museum storage. Iwi have long requested this, and the Trust has always supported that.”

These issues have also been top of mind for Bruce Allan, deputy chief executive of HDC. “My major concern has always been the worry of the MTG artifacts being held in the basement of the Tobacco Building – so near the sea. And finding the perfect depository that is fit for purpose has not been simple,” says Bruce.

And so, in 2018, NCC and HDC agreed to form a trilateral working group (the Joint Working Group or JWG) with the Museums Trust to address the issue.

Dick reflects on the progress of the storage project: “The backing of the JWG from both mayors has been critical in getting us to where we are now – the identification and purchase of a specific building; the application to central government for funds; and the agreement of both councils to accept the project and start work.

“In terms of funding, with the support of a number of organisations including iwi, applications to Lotteries and the Crown have been successful to the tune of $5.79 million, along with $9 million from the Manatū Taonga – Ministry for Culture and Heritage regional culture and heritage fund. That, on top of the Hastings and Napier Councils’ contributions, have made the project possible. The final piece of the funding puzzle has seen the Museums Trust itself making a commitment to trying to raise $1 million,” says Dick. 

He goes on to say, “It’s been a true team effort. Hastings District Council is the project leader and has managed the funding applications to central government on behalf of the JWG; Hastings District is now the owner of the building and Napier District Council is contributing financially to the overall project as well.” 

Site and design

With five years on the JWG, HDC’s Bruce Allan’s knowledge of this project is deep. “Over the years, numerous buildings and locations have been considered and assessed by the JWG. But in the end, we agreed the Briscoes building in Hastings was the one that best met the criteria.And it’s also ideally positioned as a cultural bookend to the Waiaroha Heretaunga Water Discovery Centre.” 

With the decision made that the Briscoes building was the best option, conversations between council and mana whenua began in earnest to make sure the project aligned with regional Te Aranga principles – lifting the mana of the facility culturally, while also ensuring the respectful process of relocating the taonga to a new home. 

Initial huis led by Dr James Graham and supported by Charlie Ropitini culminated in a design narrative. This was undertaken by Ngāti Hori and brought together and authored by Waiariki Davis to validate the architecture and acknowledge the custodians of the Mākirikiri site where the building will be erected. 

They provided a powerful and inspiring summary: “To create the image of a building crowned with a tipare headband, surmounted by rows of black, white-tipped huia feathers, with two dominant bronzed red kura feathers, interspersed with white toroa feathers as decoration. This reminds us that the intent of the building is to hold the institutional memories of Te Matau-a-Māui Hawke’s Bay. The head is adorned with the finest feathers of significance to mana whenua. They send a strong signal to the community that this place is a storehouse of sacred and special memories, extracted for remembrance, research and exhibition.” 

Bruce Allan has clearly relished being a part of this process. “The research required and working with Ngāti Hori adds so much depth to the background narrative of the plan. When doing our site assessments and due diligence, RTA Studio were initially engaged to do the feasibility work, then the resource consent application by which time they had developed a deep understanding of what we were wanting to achieve. RTA were formally engaged at this point and the involvement of Waiariki followed and provided that cultural interface to the design. 

“While the building is not a museum, it will enable schools and scholars to have access to research; Māori will have access to their taonga. Protection and research play defining roles and although there will be no displays or exhibitions, the public can gain access by appointment or through advertised tours or open days. It’s a wonderful opportunity to discover Aotearoa New Zealand history,” says Allan.

Ask Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst her thoughts and you’ll feel her full enthusiasm. “It’s hugely exciting that we are now underway with building this modern, beautifully designed regional asset in the heart of Hastings. The collection is a taonga for our region and it will be wonderful to have it safely preserved and more accessible to whānau, hapū, the wider Hawke’s Bay community and visitors, for research and education. We owe a big thank you to Ngati Kahungunu for their support and encouragement throughout the five-year journey.”

From this point on, the project has an expected 18–24-month lifespan, including the very complex three-to-four-month relocation of the region’s taonga and artefacts. The Briscoes building is now well and truly a construction site, and a phoenix is set to rise from the rubble.

The creation

The architectural brief asked for ‘practical – spectacular’ and RTA Studio has embraced the cultural and functional vision for the project with brilliance. Casey Anderson, RTA Studio Project Lead, has been working on the assignment since he moved back from the UK where rolling Covid lockdowns drove him back to NZ. Hawke’s Bay was “an unknown territory” but he felt “the fit was good” with RTA being a design led and a sustainably forward practice.

“I like contributing to the community – working on public and civic spaces,” Anderson comments, and by the time he came on board at RTA, Assistant Director of the studio David Wright was already conducting a feasibility study on Briscoes. Casey quickly became closely entwined with the ensuing design process. 

The concept of the cloak and the waka huia (treasure box) were the beginning of what became a beautifully layered narrative gifted from mana whenua and woven together by local history and geographical connection to place and people.

Traditionally Māori employ a natural cloak for protection, comprising Huia, Toroa and Kura feathers. Bringing the Hawke’s Bay collection together under one roof, it seems fitting that the building will be encased in a cloak of folded metal Huia feathers symbolising protection and inclusivity, embodied in a striking architectural design. 

The RTA team have also explored three key entities to underpin their design:

Te Kore – The Void

The before

Te Ao-mārama – The Light

A beacon for the public
A place of work
A place of conservation, education and research
Transparent – welcoming and open

Te Pō – The Dark

Where there is no natural light
Taonga is stored and protected.
Where the people’s treasures are preserved, secure, and temperature controlled. 

[RTA wish to note that the cultural intellectual property of this specific mana whenua design brief is in the custodianship of Ngāti Hāwea, Ngāti Hori and Ngāti Hinemoa, who hold mana whenua over the Mākirikiri site.]


Situated on the corner of Queen and Hastings Streets, our new Hawke’s Bay Regional Museum Research and Archive Centre is thoughtfully conceived and simply beautiful visually. At night the three entities which make the whole will light up the arts centre and beyond.

The two buildings – the new and the old – separated by the wide void to protect from earthquakes and other possible climatic damage are now starting to become a reality. The new and the old separated by a seismically celestial gap – the new building Te Ao or Lighthouse – bright, all white, fresh and new; a beacon for public use; a place of work; a place of observation, education and research. A place that is welcoming. 

That tired old commercial building will be transformed into a permanent home for the care and protection of the 90,000+ items in our collection. Named ‘the Darkhouse’, it is black. But inside – pristine bright white – not a flicker of dust to be seen or allowed. Lighting illuminates every corner, ensuring the precious treasures of the MTG remain intact. Eternal.


Moving house

This is a huge project with many involved, and another central figure is Laura Vodanovich, Director of the MTG – someone who has an immense love of what she does along with profound responsibilities. For Laura and her team at MTG, the prospect of having a home to put the collections and artefacts that is dry, built for purpose, hence offering a much simpler system of order, would have to be one she entertains with quiet pleasure. 

Also particularly pleasing is that there will be room for collections to grow. “Collections only ever grow,” Laura comments rather dryly, “and there is space allowing for growth – some 15 to 20 years of it. We never know the size of the acquisitions until they appear, so scale is unpredictable. Like the Stage Coach which took passengers and the mail between Napier and Taupō during the late 1800s to the early 1900’s. The public are really interested in seeing that. So, finding the right space is not simple – it is not small,” (said with a small smile). 

“Our collections are the largest of the regions around New Zealand and each and every one is carefully catalogued. In order to prepare for the move to the new facility, staff are working hard on determining the right location for each item in the new store, re-packing items for the new way they will be stored. This includes, for instance, adding earthquake proof hanging devices to the back of paintings, which are currently stored in crates but in the new facility will be on hanging racks – making them easier to access and to view. Every different type of object requires its own particular type of care and storage, making this a complex jigsaw puzzle and at the same time staff need to ensure we keep track of where each item is at all times.” 

An undertaking a lesser person than Laura might choose to pass on! 

Huia cloak and feather funding

‘Huia, your destiny is to bring everyone together.”
Ihaia Hutuna 1843-1938.

Taku Tahu, MTG Hawkes Bay, 2022. Fiona Pardington. Inkjet print
Taku Tahu MTG Hawkes Bay 2022 Fiona Pardington Inkjet print on Hahnemühle paper

In bringing the Hawke’s Bay collection together under one roof, the building will be encased in a cloak of 40 beautiful huia feathers, which leads us to the ‘missing million’ and where the MTG Foundation comes in. 

“The Museums Trust is the guardian of the Hawke’s Bay Museum collections held for the benefit of the people of Hawke’s Bay. The MTG Foundation is a separate entity that sits alongside the HBMTG,” explains Jeanette Kelly, who is the Foundation Chair as well as an HBMT Trustee. “Napier and Hastings Councils fund the care of the collections, but this does not extend to any budget for new acquisitions. 

“We actively work to raise money to support the development of the Trust’s collection. Through donations from patrons, we have built a reserve to help generate an annual acquisitions budget for MTG. We also run an annual supporter’s programme offering enriching arts experiences such as exhibitions and collection events, floor talks and guest speakers.

“Our mission is to grow and protect the Hawke’s Bay collection forever.” 

Most particularly the current mission of the Foundation is to raise the extra $1 million that is needed to dress the building in her beautiful feather cloak, which will protect her both physically and metaphysically. 

“We realise that Cyclone Gabrielle has made an enormous impact on our region and fundraising is difficult. But, having secured such a large amount of money from central government, the project is committed to proceeding and the councils are fully behind it. 

“The underlying principle is that we would like individuals, corporates, and community groups to come on board to help preserve the history and taonga of Hawke’s Bay forever – to be our finest of feathered friends. By sponsoring a protective feather, they will be leaving a legacy for Hawke’s Bay, for their children, grandchildren and beyond. There are 40 feathers surrounding the building and it is hoped that each side of a feather will have a sponsor for $10,000.” 

The fundraising campaign launch will be held at the MTG in November.

For information go to

And watch those feathers fly.

Visuals courtesy of RTA Studio

Tāku Huia Kaimanawa
Fiona Pardington

A further dimension to the new building and the cloak of 40 feathers destined to cover it is the exhibition of Fiona Pardington’s superb photographs of the huia currently on display at MTG. Renowned for her images of the taonga of the natural and cultural world, Fiona’s work is held in collections worldwide. The exhibition honours ‘our’ huia – taxidermized birds held in the MTG’s Natural History Collection and the feathers that are part of the William Colenso Collection.

“The sacred huia bird is a powerful reminder of the concept of mana or Rangatira. Its symbolic value is emphasised by its unique lineage, setting it apart from other birds in the spiritual realm of Tāne Mahuta,” explains Toni MacKinnon, who is the Art Curator at MTG. “The illustrious and sadly extinct huia is a revered taonga with a strong connection to Ngāti Kahungunu and their rohe. So, we are really honoured that Fiona’s beautiful works exhibited at MTG are images that she created at the Ahuriri storage unit last year when she came to her iwi rohe, Te-Matua-a-Māui Hawke’s Bay.”

Following the cyclone and the devastation that it brought Fiona has donated an artwork, Taku Tahu, to the people of Hawke’s Bay. 


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1 Comment

  1. Please bring out the stage-coach. As a child I vividly remember seeing it at the City celebration and a couple of other anniversary occasions on the road. Then it was in the Browning Street display area of the extended Museum behind glass above the entrance to the White Heron Cafe.

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