Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Pay and display

Anyone who watched the New Plymouth City Council meeting last year when it agreed to go ahead with the Len Lye Centre could see there was trouble brewing. It wasn't just the nine to six vote but the tone of the debate. Then the local body elections at the end of last year resulted in an even more volatile mix on the NP City Council. Committed to "sorting out the Council's financial situation" made the Govett-Brewster's situation even more tricky. Reading the report in the local paper you can feel in the Councilor’s language that there is more than just the Len Lye Centre in their sights.

The new bosses are now starting to express themselves and one of their decisions is to impose entry fees when the Len Lye Centre opens. There's the usual caveat that only out-of-towners will be charged. Govett-Brewster director Simon Rees will certainly be able to demonstrate through any amount of national and international research that entry fees will devastate attendances, even if watered down to an out-of-towners-only charge. And of course these door charges add virtually nothing to the budget.

What can be done? Well the first thing we might expect is for the museum directors of NZ to come out with a strong public statement calling on the Council to rescind its decision to charge for the Len Lye Centre. The LL Centre will have a common entrance with the Govett-Brewster (a much promoted feature). Who'll be surprised when the Govett-Brewster is next to get a door charge imposed? Then watch the dominos start to fall. Local bodies around the country are all itching to apply user-pays wherever they can.

Then there's the government. It already has $4 million dollars of skin in the Len Lye Centre's game (and who knows how much over the years in the Govett-Brewster’s). If Len Lye is a National treasure as we have told countless times then it is surely a National responsibility to ensure it is available free to all of us.

COMMENT: Roy Clare, Director | Auckland War Memorial Museum | Tamaki Paenga Hira 
AKL Museum is free at point of entry for Aucklanders (who pay for us through their rates); but as of last October we have charged overseas visitors $25 and invited donations (unspecified sum) from NZers outside AKL. On average NZers donate $5.27 per head.

We were reluctant to implement this regime, but sustainability is all … the revenue stream is significant for us – and the turn-away numbers have been very low. The new system is also more intelligible than its forerunner – which specified a “voluntary donation of $10” for non-Aucklanders. Excuse me … when is a donation voluntary?

In principle, I agree that public collections should be freely available to the public. But we all have to live in a real world. Tourists have spent $000s flying or cruising here – it’s only fair they contribute to the costs of places of culture/arts that receive no state subsidy.

And all of us who lead these kinds of places need to be sensitive to the brutal evidence that relevance, cost and value are a complex equation in the public minds. We professionals all need to be better at expressing value and relevance. Secure in the knowledge that everyone else will be fluent in expressing costs.