Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Give us a sign

As you may know Te Papa is committed to “signposting pathways to the future” and “saving the planet” but how it plans to do all this is still rather up in the air. Exhibitions like the Warhol one and the upcoming Aztec spectacular were both organised after these ideas were nailed but they do seem pretty business-as-usual in SPTTF and STP terms.  So too is the thought of creating a replica of a World War I trench some 15 or so years after Auckland Museum’s effort Scars on the heart. Then there is Te Papa's habit of rehiring staff to set their ideas  into action. As we have reported before Jonathan Mane-Wheoki is back and so too are Karen Mason and Tracy Puklowski. They're all in senior management positions joining long-time resident Claudia Orange who has also been shifted into one of the new top jobs.

A clue as to how Te Papa is thinking about how to change the world came from CE Mike Houlihan when he talked at a recent Museums Aotearoa conference on the topic of leadership (you can watch to it here). It turns out Houlihan preferres the idea of leading to leadership (he likens the latter to the style of Germany’s Senior Management team during the Second World War). Institutions can do 'leading' best he explained by being guided by the existing institutional culture. “I am a great believer in the history of the institution,” he stated going on to quote a British study that found “the culture of museums tends not to change from their founding culture.” Houlihan claims to be working “within the culture of the organisation” which may explain the rehires and certainly suggests that SPTTF/STP are rhetorical devices rather than an action plan.  

But is it right to say that the culture of museums tends not to change? Half close your eyes and you can almost see the founding director Cheryll Sotheran steaming at the sight of her radical vision for Te Papa being reshaped into the more conventional museum we now see emerging. Signposting the future? Probably not.