Monday, March 23, 2015


News the other day that Te Papa is thinking of joining in on the scramble by NZ's museums and art galleries to cobble together foundations and friends groups. They're all hoping, of course, to get fresh meat to cough up for exhibition costs, public programmes, and acquisitions. This sudden interest in rich-people-who-like-art is driven by the current government’s insistence on philanthropy as the new driver for cultural funding. Te Papa sees itself as something of an expert in this field publishing guidelines for others, but this expertise is resolutely focused on Government funds via the public sector. Corporate and private sponsorship get exactly 40 words in the 3200 word document. It feels like an absurd end game all these public servants making applications to each other for public funding but, moving on, Te Papa's longstanding indifference to expertise and collectors, could make finding passion partners with open wallets a stretch. Add in the growing disinterest of the corporate sector (just check out the scale of some of the enterprises trumpeted as major funders today) and the task feels even more epic.

Of course there have been some successes. Since it was set up in 1987, The Patrons of the Auckland Art Gallery has been responsible for some stunning acquisitions (it has given more than a million dollars according to the Gallery). Amongst others the Chartwell Trust and the Walters Prize have also both been spectacular partnering achievements, as was the gift of the New Gallery to the AAG in 1995 by Jenny and Alan Gibbs. When you observe how well connected the AAG is to these partners, it makes sense. Philanthropy is built on close association and respect between the institution and the givers as much as it is on a call to civic responsibility. There are always ups and downs in such relationships, but for most philanthropists it's not just about passively dishing out the dosh. They see it as a form of activism, of being engaged, having input, making a difference etc. And dealing with that sort of approach is going to demand a very different mindset for institutions.