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All creatures . . . Animal masks made by the Weston After School Art Class are part of the online Burns Memorial Art Exhibition. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Oamaru’s Forrester Gallery has gone virtual for one of its biggest annual exhibitions.

The 1882 Heritage New Zealand Category 1 building in lower Thames St has been closed since December to have mould and asbestos removed; fire compliance improved; new heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, emergency lighting, kitchenette, and roof flashings installed; internal wall linings replaced; window frames repaired; exterior Oamaru stonework repaired and repointed; and drainage systems upgraded.

As the reopening target of July elapsed because the extent of work proved greater than at first realised, staff have staged the Burns Memorial Art Exhibition online.

Each year since 1970, it has displayed the work of local children and attracted large numbers of visitors.

“The Burns Memorial Art Exhibition is always a wonderful showcase of children’s art that reflects our community and environment,” Forrester Gallery education and engagement co-ordinator Elizabeth King said.

“We looked at different possibilities for this year while the gallery is closed and in the end came up with idea of going digital.

“I wasn’t sure if it would be as popular online but we already have 12 schools on our website and over 200 artworks on display.”

The exhibition is named in honour of George Burns, an Oamaru-born journalist who believed art was not a luxury but a necessity for complete living.

It usually runs for four weeks either side of the October school holidays.

“This year we can run the exhibition for longer and we have decided to continue it through until the end of December,” gallery director Jane Macknight said.

The gallery staff thanked the school pupils and their teachers for compiling digital images of the artworks and for their support of the “Virtual Burns”. It can be viewed at https://bit.ly/31QN5Vi

The gallery is now due to be reopened in March.

The North Otago Museum’s main display space is also due to reopen then.

Since April 2016, the museum and Waitaki District Archive have been accessible through a side door in Steward St, with a limited display space, as plans to amalgamate them at the Forrester Gallery were in progress.

In February, the Waitaki District Council decided to develop four themes for the main museum space: the district’s geology, taoka (treasure) including the Willetts Collection, the story of Ngai Tahu, and European arrival.

Deferred maintenance would also be carried out and new fire systems, data systems, wall surfaces, lighting, heating, and carpet fitted. The initial May deadline proved too ambitious.

Meanwhile, the temporary display space open to the public is a live exhibition of the redevelopment work in progress. Visitors can see the graphic concepts, design drawings, lists of objects selected to go on show, proposed materials and colour schemes, and drafts of texts about the themes.

Staff are available on Wednesdays from 2pm to 4pm to talk about the project.

They have been working with subject matter experts, historians, mana whenua, a 3D spatial designer, conservator, writer and editor, furniture fabricator, and mountmaker.