Monday, August 15, 2011

Saving the world one museum at a time

Back in May we posted on Te Papa embarking on the search for a new vision. The draft idea is online (rather buried we'd have to say) and they are calling for input. 

So what has Te Papa come up with? It’s kind of spiritual.

"Changing hearts. Changing minds. Changing lives."

In our previous post we came up with three questions to help evaluate any proposed vision:
• Is it easy to understand and remember?
• Does it make sense to people outside the organisation?
• Are there sensible ways to find out whether they are on track?

Well you can’t say it isn’t short and easy to remember, but understandable? That’s something different altogether. It’s an eternal problem with the vision thing. Get too specific and you can be brought to account. Go general and you can end up sounding like a revivalist church. Te Papa has gone down the religious route.

To anyone outside Te Papa this visionary trifecta looks like a huge stretch for a public sector organisation. Te Papa aspiring to change the world? Is that what we even want from our national museum? Changing people (hearts, minds, lives) is one thing, but the question is, changing them to what? Whose version of NZ gets to set the goal? It all feels profoundly political and the trouble is that Te Papa-style boosterism has never proved the most effective way to make political change. Trickiest of all, if it's not political, then it is just more rhetoric.

So we the people need more from Te Papa about the world it sees all this change creating. Don’t look to the leadership (Michael Houlihan and Michelle Hippolite) for optimism:

"However, the world is changing and fast. The next ten years will see Aotearoa New Zealand and the planet grapple with massive issues of overpopulation, water, food and con´Čéict.”

Biculturalism is in the Vision docs front and centre. It's good to see Christchurch coming in for a bit of love and we like the effort to broaden the authority of knowledge. Digital is big of course, but then it is, isn’t it. But how will Te Papa decide what are the 'important contemporary issues'? The growing disparity between rich and poor New Zealanders seems to us to be one, yet how can Te Papa come to grips with that through their endemic culture of celebration? Why is the assertion of the 'breadth of the nation's culture' simply taken as read?

As for the 'A' word, you won't find it in the vision. Art is probably wrapped up somewhere in ‘culture' and 'important contemporary issues' and 'contemporary culture.' Feels like an under-performer when set against Te Papa's lol aim to 'foster the survival of species including humanity.'

You still have six days left to make your own comments on this vision thing here.