Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Be nice

It’s open season on art museums in Wellington at present. The Dominion Post having headlined “Te Papa losing its gloss” in early September announced last week that “The gloss is coming off Lower Hutt's Dowse Art Museum.” So a bad gloss day for those two. The problem in both cases was falling attendance numbers although, in fairness, the Dowse’s weren’t falling, just staying put and you'd have to say that with a local population of 103,000 and an annual attendance of 198,000 it must be getting close to saturation even accounting for out-of-towners. The cost per visitor is also not too bad at $10.10 compared to the City Gallery at $13.32 and Te Papa’s $16.79. 

After a whack or two from the media you might have thought there'd be some collegial support from other local institutions but, not so much. Director of Porirua’s Pataka Helen Kedgley was tight-lipped and “reluctant to speculate on other galleries’ shortcomings.” She then explained that in Pataka's case high attendances were due to “quality exhibitions, its community hub design and engagement with residents.” There was a similar lack of support when Douglas Lloyd Jenkins resigned from the Hawke's Bay Museum not long after a public beat-up from his Council. No one from the profession bothered to publicly support him on Facebook or as far as we can see support him in public in any way. And when Chris Saines was fighting for his life with the big Auckland changes the professional silence was awe inspiring. 

To be competitors rather than collaborators is a risky strategy for most art galleries and museums. As their buildings have increased in size along with budgets, salaries and staff numbers they've become bigger targets for local politicians and Council admin. So you'd think it would make sense for them to be nice to each other. Someone should get them all in a room and tell them the ‘together we stand divided we fall’ thing.