An anonymous arts donor wrote a cheque for $500,000 to complete the Lighthouse sculpture on Auckland's Queens Wharf when construction costs went through the roof.

The Herald can reveal that the final cost of the controversial piece of public art - given a new bilingual name, The Lighthouse: Tu Whenua-a-Kura, by Maori artist Michael Parekowhai - is $2.5 million.

This is $500,000 more than the $2m price tag Auckland Council chief operating officer Dean Kimpton gave in June last year on the proviso some "outstanding construction-related costs" were still being negotiated with the contractor.

The Lighthouse: Tu Whenua-aKura sculpture by Michael Parekowhai on Auckland's Queens Wharf. Source / David St George/Auckland Council.
The Lighthouse: Tu Whenua-aKura sculpture by Michael Parekowhai on Auckland's Queens Wharf. Source / David St George/Auckland Council.

An increase in construction costs required to complete the project was funded by a gift from an anonymous donor, taking the final cost of the project to $2.5m, the council said in response to an Official Information Act request by the Herald.

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The sculpture, that opened in February last year to critical acclaim and mixed feedback from Aucklanders, sits on the end of Queens Wharf where visitors and ferry passengers at sea can get a good view of it. It is based on a modest, two-storey state house, has a neon-lit interior and a gleaming metallic Captain James Cook.

The artwork was commissioned by real estate firm Barfoot & Thompson in 2013 to celebrate 90 years of business in Auckland with a gift of $1m.

The original plans for a Venetian glass chandelier depicting a glowing garden of native flowers, birds and insect were abandoned for financial and practical reasons, and replaced with neon light installations representing the stars of Matariki and Captain James Cook.

In a rare interview with the Herald before the opening, Parekowhai said when he got the commission he immediately thought of a house - "a simple modest house that everyone would recognise and that had a huge amount of social, political and cultural history".

As well as $1m from Barfoot & Thompson, the council paid $500,000 towards the enabling costs, project management and resource consents. Anonymous donors chipped in $500,000 and one donor met the $500,000 construction shortfall.

New public artwork in O'Connell St Auckland. Light Weight O with the artist Catherine Griffiths pictured at bottom. Source / Auckland Council
New public artwork in O'Connell St Auckland. Light Weight O with the artist Catherine Griffiths pictured at bottom. Source / Auckland Council

Meanwhile, the council has released a breakdown for the $265,000 cost of a mirror sculpture, Light Weight O, that hangs between two buildings at O'Connell St in the central city.

The figures show the cost of the 2.4m diameter artwork, including a fee to artist Catherine Griffiths, construction and installation was $114,766.

The rest of the costs were consenting and related costs($13,790), consultants for the feasibility of construction and suspension ($16,681), engineering, health and safety and heritage work ($56,837) and project management ($63,760).

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The council said the original budget of $80,000 excluded the cost of installations and engineering costs.

The budget increased after the arts and culture unit allocated more spending after seeing merit in the work and reprioritising other projects while staying within the public art budget of $2.1m.