Monday, September 08, 2014

Northern exposure

Happy anniversary. Today a year has gone by since the announcement that a mini Te Papa cunningly named Te Papa North would be built in South Auckland. You might remember the Minister Chris Finlayson expressed his determination to get on with the job. “We will develop a plan to consult with stakeholders over the coming months” and (as if that weren't enough to keep everyone busy) “a fully detailed and specified business case“ would be presented to cabinet in November 2013. Well that fell over. 

But help is at hand. The Dominion Post crowbarred some info out of Te Papa via the Official Information Act. Weirdly of the 183 pages, 100 were blacked out to withhold info from the public gaze. Oh, very CIA. And how do you line up such a mind-your-own-business response with an organization that calls itself a “cultural and intellectual leader” and claims to “signpost pathways to the future by initiating, hosting and engaging in debates that explore a wide range of contemporary issues”?

Still the DomPost did get something out of the exercise.  The budget for Te Papa North as at July this year is still set at $30 million with annual running costs estimated at $3 million. So no change there after a year but now have projected annual attendance figures. These have been put at 650,000. This is 30,000 more than the Auckland Art Gallery got the year it opened its new building and 200,000 more than it got last year. The Auckland Museum, a mega enterprise with 10 times the proposed budget of Te Papa North, attracts 847,000 a year.
If that figure of 650,000 reported by the DomPost from the Te Papa papers is part of the business plan, given the Napier experience, you do have to ask who is running the business. So here we go again with a small idea saddled with hugely unrealistic expectations, that is if it even gets off the ground.

And what are the chances of that?

Well, when you look at the agreement written up between the Government and the rest (Te Papa, Auckland Regional Council, Auckland Art Gallery, Auckland Museum and Otara rep) it was only ever to “explore the development of a proposal” or as former Te Papa CE Mike Houlihan put it “exploring the feasibility of a proposal ...” The latest Te Papa Statement of performance objectives describes it as a 'key priority.' So lots of wriggle room there.

Is there any real political will behind Te Papa North? There's no mention of it in the National Party arts and culture policy but then that’s because three weeks out from the election it hasn't published one yet (last election it came out 15 July). There was certainly no mention of Te Papa North when the Minister announced the latest round of museum building grants in June this year. Labour’s culture policy is supportive of the project and in a one upping gesture they have promised "a major presence in both South Auckland and Christchurch.”

Now that earthquake fever has subsided somewhat in Wellington and a new Chief Executive for Te Papa actually in the building is at least six months away, Te Papa North can probably be laid to rest for another year. Last words then to Douglas Adams, “'I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

LATER: In July 2014 Te Papa advertised the position of Project Director, National Centre for Collections, Exhibitions and Learning in Manukau, Auckland. (Thanks R)