Monday, December 03, 2012

Counter intuitive

Te Papa has just released its latest Annual Report covering 2011-2012 and it gives some interesting insights into how the institution is faring. Visitor numbers have pretty much flat-lined since a surge back in 2008; they are up three percent on last year but down 12 percent against the golden year of 2008. We didn’t see any hand clickers or door beams in a quick check yesterday so visitor numbers must be constructed out of surveys and sampling (the margin of error is not mentioned). Ticket sales are a very reliable form of counting but Te Papa chooses not to share them so no visitor numbers for paid exhibitions like Oceania: Early Encounters 

So why was 2008 such a strong year for Te Papa? The answer is in this year's Annual Report. “The strong visitor performance in 2008/09 can be attributed to successful choices around visitor experience, but especially Monet and the Impressionists, the Colossal Squid, and Rita Angus: Life and Vision.” Yes, art proved itself a major attractor for Te Papa (two of the Big Three 08 attractors) and is used constantly to push the brand. Of the seven shows Te Papa toured in New Zealand last year, five of them were art exhibitions.

Yet, art is still Te Papa's unwanted child relegated to unsuitable makeshift spaces up five flights of stairs or via a confusing lift/stair combo. The fact is Te Papa has still not put to rest the shadow of MONZ (Museum of New Zealand) in which the independence and credibility of art were gleefully destroyed by art bureaucrats. For a cold-water-in-the-face experience check out Gaylene Preston's extraordinary fly-on-the-wall documentary film Getting to our place. It's a chilling real-time record of the early development of Te Papa. You can view it here.

And what is Te Papa’s solution to the anti-art legacy instituted by Ken Gorbey and Ian Wedde? “Work is underway on the Proposition for Art project, which seeks to establish Te Papa as a nationally and internationally recognised premier institution for art and visual culture in New Zealand, from its earliest expressions to the present day”.

Next week we will have another look at the Te Papa report. Our question, where are the lost children?