Green light for Len Lye

SHOW STEALER: Fourteen metre high stainless steel curtains will form the outer walls of the proposed Len Lye Centre in New Plymouth.
SHOW STEALER: Fourteen metre high stainless steel curtains will form the outer walls of the proposed Len Lye Centre in New Plymouth.

After years of controversy, New Plymouth looks set to get its Len Lye Centre.

And it will be in a building that will gain international recognition for its stunning appearance and innovative design.

The certainty the centre will be built came on Saturday when Arts Minister Chris Finlayson pledged $4 million over two years for the construction of the $10m centre.

The cash is believed to be the last grant to come out of the Government's Regional Museums Policy fund, with the rest being diverted to the Christchurch city rebuild.

When combined with an earlier grant of $1m from the TSB Community Trust, the centre now has half the money it needs to get going. Its backers have a little more than a year to find the rest if they want to get construction started by October 2012 as planned.

And while this would be a big ask, even at the best of economic times, Len Lye committee chairman Lance Girling-Butcher is confident they can get there, partly because of the design of the new centre.

Basically a warehouse, it is the exterior of 14 metre high stainless steel ribbons that will give the gallery an international iconic status on a par with the artist it honours.

Though the ribbons create a solid wall in what is believed to be a world first, they allow light to pass through them as though through a periscope.

"We have three or four hot prospects in the oven and we believe this building will inspire people in the way that perhaps the idea of a Len Lye Centre was not able to," Mr Girling-Butcher said.

The hope is the Government's cash injection will form the "anchor" for negotiations currently underway with potential project partners. Mr Girling-Butcher was reluctant to say who those partners might be but it is understood to include a major New Zealand corporation.

New Plymouth mayor Harry Duynhoven believes the development will bring both an internationally recognised building to the centre of the city and ongoing economic benefits.

"In the short term, jobs will be generated through the construction process and the use of local materials, stainless steel and concrete.

"In the long term, research from independent business and economic assessment company BERL has indicated that once the centre opens, visitor numbers to the region will increase with a major flow-on benefit to the district's economy with additional spending and more jobs in the hospitality sector," Mr Duynhoven said.

Though notoriously difficult to predict or even prove, the January 2011 report estimates the Len Lye Centre will initially attract more than 56,000 visitors and add $2.4m to the New Plymouth economy each year, potentially creating $6.8m of economic activity.

Mr Finlayson said the centre got the money because it had the best application and in architect Andrew Patterson's design, the best building.

Mr Finlayson said that combined with the Womad festival, the coastal walkway and the highly respected Festival of the Arts, the centre would confirm New Plymouth was the best "smallish city in New Zealand".

In the making for the better part of 30 years, the centre took its first concrete steps toward reality in 2006 when the council resolved to build a single home for the care and display of Len Lye's works.

Those works first came to New Plymouth on Lye's death in 1980, just three years after the Govett Brewster Gallery held the first New Zealand exhibition of his work.

It was during this exhibition that Lye first met New Plymouth engineer John Matthews who was able to turn many of his ideas into reality.

Such was Lye's appreciation for Mr Matthews' talents and the city gallery, he bequeathed his entire collection to the Govett Brewster and the Len Lye Foundation of which Mr Matthews is chairman.

Taranaki Daily News