How collaboration is keeping music & the arts alive in New Zealand

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A new national music centre will turn cement Wellington's reputation as a leader in the creative arts across the Asia Pacific.

By U2B Staff 

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Dynamic architecture, creative foresight, innovative thinking and a collaboration that ties them all together.

These are the forces driving a multimillion-dollar effort to establish a creative precinct in the heart of New Zealand’s capital city.

When it opens its doors in a few years, the Wellington national music centre will be a buzzing hub for musical innovation and creative excellence, cementing the city’s reputation as a centre for the arts in the Asia Pacific. 

A fully refurbished Municipal Office Building (MOB) will be the new home of the Victoria University of Wellington’s New Zealand School of Music (NZSM) and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (NZSO). Adjoining buildings like the Wellington Town Hall and the Michael Fowler Centre will be similarly transformed, adding more teaching, rehearsal and research spaces to the entire complex, along with a concert venue.

There will be public access to music and the arts, with regular lunchtime concerts, public lectures, workshops, seminars and art displays. The centre will also be home to Orchestra Wellington, New Zealand’s oldest regional orchestra and an icon of the country’s art scene.


Complementing these offerings will be specialty retail shops and F&B outlets, among other facilities aimed at driving human activity to the now almost lifeless Te Ngākau Civic Square. Earthquake strengthening works and the recent closure of the Central Library have been cited as among the reasons why activity at Te Ngākau, which translates to “the heart”, has whittled down to a mere murmur in recent times.

Wellington National Music Centre
Artist’s impression of what the new national music centre might look like. Source: Victoria University of Wellington

The national music centre, however, is expected to change that. The dream is to create a precinct that will transform New Zealand’s arts scene and inspire the country’s next generation of creatives. 

Responsible for its coming together are the Wellington City Council, Victoria University and the NZSO, three partners in the collaborative effort to reenergise Te Ngākau.

“Bringing together the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and New Zealand School of Music will produce a huge range of opportunities and benefits for musicians, students and audiences,” says Christopher Blake, NZSO’s Chief Executive.

“A centre with industry-standard recording facilities will make it even more attractive for film studios to use the orchestra, boosting our contribution to Wellington’s economy.”

The orchestra and music school have a long-running fundraising campaign in which they are looking to raise NZ$30 million for refurbishment works on the Town Hall and the MOB. 

According to university Vice-Chancellor Professor Grant Guilford, the campaign has now reached 57 percent of its target, thanks to funding injections from bodies like the New Zealand Lottery Grants Board and the support of New Zealand’s local fraternity of artists.

“We’re very grateful to our leadership gift supporters, who have been so generous, and we look forward to working with others who share our vision,” he says.

Wellington National Music Centre
The centre will provide public access to regular music and arts performances. Source: Victoria University of Wellington

A few weeks ago, work on turning the project into reality passed its latest major milestone: the council, university and NZSO inked an agreement confirming the MOB would be part of the national music centre.

Under the agreement, the council will refurbish the building and lease it to the centre for 25 years. With this, the council can now proceed with detailed design of the project and finalise costing.

Mayor Justin Lester said the deal secured the future of the MOB, which is a crucial part of the Te Ngākau.

“The national music centre will be home to some of New Zealand’s best musicians and will inject their energy and talent into the central city,” he said.


Guilford agreed, calling the arrangement a big step forward for the project.

“With this partnership, here at this fantastic location in the heart of Wellington, we intend to do something extraordinary for music and music education in this country.”

The centre, he added, would be the very lifeblood of New Zealand’s creative industry, providing young, budding musicians sharpen their creative mastery under the guidance of the country’s best and most talented artistes.

“But more than that, it will also be a space where diverse artists and scholars can work with and learn from each other,” he said.

“With jazz and classical voice artists and instrumentalists, composers, sonic artists, musicologists, technology developers, and music therapists all making their home in the national music centre, it will become a national space for new forms of musical innovation and collaboration.”

According to Stuff, work on the Town Hall is expected to be completed in 2023.