Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Te Papa’s cost per visit: surely some mistake.

Whenever you go into a museum and see someone click a small hand counter or notice a ‘magic’ eye, you are being added to the rough count of the institution’s attendance. Rough because these counts have to be adjusted to allow for multiple people passing the eye and only being recorded as one, the counter’s desire to boost the institution, staff entries etc. With ticket sales the only accurate gauge, it’s over to spot checks, demographic formulas and rule of thumb comparisons. As massaged as the attendance figures are (and as irrelevant as they may be to the actual experience of visitors) museums are usually keen to use them as facts.
Take, for example, the cost to the New Zealand taxpayer of each visit to Te Papa. It would seem to be a simple equation.

Based on the figures in Te Papa’s Annual Report, 1,334,712 visitors divided by the government contribution of $23,574,000 equals $17.66 per visit. Right?

Not according to Te Papa. It claims on page 3 that the cost per visit is $11.40 and remarks on how significantly low that is. For comparison, the City Gallery in Wellington (no collection and a fraction of the staff) aims not to exceed $12 per visit in subsidy from its primary funder the Wellington City Council and in March this year was sitting at $11.47 per visit. 

The problem with Te Papa’s $11.40 a visit on the Government dime is that to get to that figure, 2.07 million people would have to be going through the door, not 1,334,712. It’s a big difference.

It gets more dramatic when you take into account the total operating costs of the museum of $45.910 million (wherever the money comes from). So the real cost per visit is more like $34.40 which is closer to international figures. So why not just fess up that it costs a lot to entertain people the way they do?

We'll ask them on your behalf and get back to you.