Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Think small

Te Papa has finally announced it is moving North, it’s all very Game of Thrones. There has been a push for a National Museum presence in Auckland for a while, particularly by Hamish Keith. He called for a destination building on the waterfront to display the National treasures so Aucklanders could share in the richness of Te Papa’s collections.

Well that’s not quite what’s going to happen. What is proposed is a $30 million multi-purpose construction sited in Manukau, about 20 k south of the centre of Auckland. It seems the building will also serve as a Te Papa storage facility and potentially a place where other museums might hold exhibitions or displays. If Auckland can get its cultural institutions to work together in this way it will certainly be a breakthrough.

But $30 million? Seriously? The Auckland Art Gallery cost four times that with a reno and rebuild. The mothership Te Papa in Wellington cost $300 million back in the day and the proposed motorway that will eventually take you from the CBD to Manukau to see TePN is currently estimated at a minimum of $105 million per kilometre. And we found at least one house currently being built up North budgeted at around $40 million. So is Te Papa North going to be very small or very cheaply made? 

On Radio NZ on Sunday Te Papa CE Mike Houlihan gave a clue to the small category claiming Te Papa North would be "in scale with the local community" (Manukau City alone has a bigger population than Wellington). As to cheap, Houlihan again "it might be more like a classroom than a conventional gallery."

However they go showing the Nation’s treasures comes with a host of high-cost conservation, air conditioning, specialist staff, loading and packing facilities. Hard to believe that $30 mil is going to do much of a job. 

So while the idea of having a National collection in Manukau sounds like a new big idea and a real effort to expand Te Papa’s reach and audience mix, the money on the table is vintage Think Small.