Thursday, April 03, 2014

We need that bathwater. Dump the baby

There’s no doubt about it, art museums have got themselves into a fine old mess with their business model. They are spending so much on staff, facilities, compliance and admin processes that there is very little left for staging exhibitions and programmes or getting work into the collections. In fact let's flag the buying thing. Unless our art museums can persuade people to gift or sell to them at a discount, art collections of the kind Auckland Art Gallery built up in the twentieth century are a thing of the past. That leaves The Programme. Exhibitions are what bring the bums through the door (ok that was unfortunate but funny enough to leave).

Here's a textbook example of confused priorities. The Tauranga Art Gallery is currently in the news. It’s comparatively new and has made an impressive impact on its community but the City Council is calling for a cut in the budget as part of a general clamp down. It’s not a huge dollar amount - $17,000 - and although it may be the last straw of a round of cuts, it's less than two percent of the total amount given by the Council annually (we assume there are other funds coming in, sponsorships etc.)

So what was the Art Gallery's response? “We will work smarter and harder” (just kidding). No, it told the Council it would drop a regular bus service that brought kids to the Gallery and save $45,000. Ok, that was political grandstanding, but it also suggested cutting the number of annual exhibitions from 15 to 5. So just how much does the Tauranga Art Gallery spend on exhibitions? If it will save $17,000 or so by dumping ten shows we're talking around $2,000  each. That's out of a total operational budget in excess of $864,000. So there’s the problem. These numbers are estimates but show how out of whack institutional budgets can be with what the people who pay for them think they are about. Imagine being able to slash two-thirds of what you do as your core business and it only reduces your budget by about two percent. Now that wouldn’t work in the private sector and obviously isn’t working in the public one either.

LATER: Tauranga Director Penelope Jackson wrote to emphasise that the canned bus and reduced exhibitions were only examples to Council and not necessarily what would be done to rake in the savings.

RICHARD ALIDGE (Director 2002-20090) NOTED: The annual operating budget for the TAG is over $1m per annum. According to the annual report for 2011 the Tauranga The City Council operational grant was $847,400 in 2011. Donations, sponsorship and other grants made up an additional $200,000. There was interest and other income as well. (You can read the 2011-2012 Budget for the Tauranga Art Gallery here)

05 April 2014: News update