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Tūhura OM’s Ian Griffin on funding outlook

Hamish McNeilly, Campaign over dim future for museums and art galleries, Stuff, 12 March 2024

  • The country’s museums and art galleries attract 17.5 million visitors annually.
  • But many are struggling financially, and some may not even survive the decade.
  • Nationwide the institutions will switch off their lights as part of the Keep the Lights On for Museums and Galleries’ campaign.


Otago Museum director Dr Ian Griffin. SUPPLIED / TŪHURA OTAGO MUSEUM.

Some of the country’s most beloved institutions are facing an uncertain future as costs rise but funding dries up.

The long-term uncertainty for the galleries and museums from Northland to Southland, would be illustrated when they turn-off their external lighting as part of a new national campaign, Keep the Lights On for Museums and Galleries.

Museums and galleries were funded primarily through local council grants and their own revenue, but lack sustainable, long-term funding.

While the sector displays and cares for the country’s taonga its own self-portrait is bleak, with some beloved institutions unlikely to survive the decade, Museums Aotearoa chief executive Adele Fitzpatrick said.

New Plymouth’s Len Lye Centre taken at sunrise.. VANESSA LAURIE.

That includes some faced with insurance costs tripling in as many years, a stretched workforce an over-reliance on volunteers, while those in rural communities were held together “by goodwill and sticky tape”.

But larger metropolitan institutions were also affected.

“The whole industry is nearing crisis,” Fitzpatrick said.

It was an industry which attracted more than 17.5 million visitors – both international and domestic – visitors, while generating $272 million toward GDP.

Otago Museum all lit up for an after hours events. OTAGO MUSEUM / STUFF.

Dr Ian Griffin, Director of Tūhura Otago Museum, said the whole sector was struggling outside of Te Papa, the national museum, which received funding from central Government.

“Unfortunately those of us outside Wellington who have really important collections are really struggling.”

In Dunedin’s example, the city became wealthy due to the goldrush era and amassed a large collection which attracts interest not only in New Zealand but also from overseas.

But that museum’s collection was “way out of proportion with our ratepayers to support them”.

Footage of rare moa footprints found in a Central Otago river. View video here. Video first published in May 2019. VIDEO CREDIT: KANE FLEURY OTAGO MUSEUM.

Griffin acknowledged the cost to ratepayers, but said museums had been entrusted to look after collections well into the future “in appropriate conditions”.

It cost about $9m to keep the museum operating, of which half came from ratepayers and the other half from commercial activities.

The museum operated nine galleries, but the last gallery to be renovated happened two decades ago.

One of the more pressing issues was that part of the museum’s collection was not covered by sprinklers.

Griffin advocated for a national contestable fund, where a panel could help decide funding for museum and art galleries.

“I think that would make a big difference to what we can do as a sector.”

Another facing an uncertain future was the Wellington-based New Zealand Portrait Gallery Te Pūkenga Whakaata.

Director Jaenine Parkinson, said: “It could be lights out for us, not necessarily today or tomorrow but in the foreseeable future”.

“We are relying heavily on reserves and goodwill. The future for galleries generally and our own institution is precarious.”

Mairi Dickson of the Switzer’s Museum at Waikaia. RACHAEL KELLY / THE SOUTHLAND TIMES.

The $1.7m Switzer’s Museum at Waikaia became one of the newest museums in the country when it opened its doors in 2018, but it wasn’t immune to the challenges facing the sector.

The museum was volunteer run, and its bills included $14,000 for insurance for the buildingand a $400 monthly power bill.

Mairi Dickson said to help keep the museum afloat, those same volunteers often did catering for the likes of funerals in the Southland community of just 100 people.

She urged those who hadn’t been to the museum, which included Australasia’s last bottle house, to come and visit.

“We are a destination museum, we just want more people to come.”

Museum and art galleries, where applicable, will turn-off their outside lighting from April 15-25.