Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Tūhura OM facing $5M budget challenge

Watch: Dr Ian Griffin from the Tūhura Otago Museum is calling for Central Government funding for museums. Credits: Video – AM; Images – AM.

William Hewett, Tūhura Otago Museum says it’s facing $5m battle to operate, calls for Government assistance, NewsHub, 27 March 2023

The Tūhura Otago Museum is facing a $5 million battle each year to stay open and is calling on the Government to chip in.

The museum looks after more than a million national treasures but doesn’t get any central Government funding.

In fact, almost all of New Zealand’s museums don’t get Government funding and rely on support from local councils.

Director of Tūhura Otago Museum Dr Ian Griffin told AM on Monday the current model is not enough to preserve our taonga for future generations.

“We’re hitting a perfect storm. Our museum depends on funding from ratepayers of Dunedin. There are only 53,000 households here and yet we look after this immense treasure house of incredible objects ranging from hundreds of thousands of butterflies to enormous waka that fill galleries,” Dr Griffin told AM co-host Ryan Bridge.

Dr Griffin said the museum gets $4 million a year in ratepayer funding from the local council but it costs $9 million to run the museum.

This sees the museum reliant on the venue generating money through commercial events, items purchased in the shop and people paying to attend the museum.

He wants central Government to chip in and help fund museums around the country.

“My argument here is that why should the care of these really important national treasures depend on the size of the ratepayer base? To me, we need to have a national discussion about how museums are funded,” he said.

“This isn’t just a Dunedin problem, similar problems can be found in pretty much every museum across the country.

“To my mind, museums aren’t just about looking after old stuff. We are engines for economic and social development, so we play a very important role.”

The museum gets scientists visiting from New Zealand and all around the world who study the collections.

He told AM it’s a “national scandal” that these scientists aren’t paying to study the collection in the museum.

“Unfortunately, scientists don’t want to pay for some reason. They’re all on nationally-funded research grants and yet when they apply for these grants, they don’t actually put money in to cover the costs of running the museums,” he said.

“I think it’s a national scandal that goes on, quite frankly and the science community need to do something about it.”

When pressed by Bridge about why the museum wasn’t charging visitors, Dr Griffin said they “don’t want to” because he believes that service should be provided for free.

“Every museum has a large number of school kids coming through, that’s an event of immense value to the country and yet we got nothing from the Ministry of Education,” Dr Griffin said.

“As I say, this is a discussion that’s nationally important in my view and I think it’s time we had that discussion.”

Watch the full interview with  Dr Ian Griffin in the video above. 

Council of Australasian Museum Directors c/o Lynley Crosswell, Museums Victoria, GPO Box 666, Melbourne VIC 3001, © CAMD 2023
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