Te Papa versus the city council

While almost everyone else is encouraging the Wellington City Council to cut its spending in order to control the rates, one national organisation is campaigning in the opposite direction.

Te Papa is annoyed by the council’s decision to reduce its annual grant from $2.25m to $1m. It has responded by launching a campaign which threatens that Wellington “could miss out” if the grant is reduced.

The poster in the lobby of the national museum is a part of the campaign, which is branded “save our services.” It wants people to tell the city council not to cut its grant. The museum is arguing that the funding cut will mean “reduced services to Wellington ratepayers.” But it’s vague about what services would be reduced. Its website lists only four possibilities:

Charges to use Discovery Centres
Increases in charges for StoryPlace
Fewer free exhibitions
Fewer new exhibitions

The museum is also claiming that ‘$59m is spent by tourists in Wellington businesses because of Te Papa’ and that it ‘adds $91.3 million every year to Wellington City’s economy.’ Which is playing the council at its own game, as the council is similarly in the habit of claiming economic benefits for the activities which it pays for. Te Papa isn’t, however, explaining how the loss of $1.25m would make tourists spend less money, or how it would result in the annual total of 1.3million visitors being reduced. And though it says it sustains employment equal to almost 1500 jobs, it doesn’t say whether it intends to fire some of its staff when the council grant starts shrinking.

The campaign has been given a place on Te Papa’s website, where the online response doesn’t show any surge of anger about the grant being cut. The first (and only) comment on the website gives this advice to the museum about how to save money:

Cut some administration costs – endless reviews paying out thousands of dollars to consultants is a waste of money that could be used to run the place. I know this from experience, as I worked there, and was restructured out of a job for these reasons, so I’m not simply creating scenarios from my imagination. This is a real issue, which is rampant at all levels of public institutions in NZ. Te Papa could do well to use its prominence to buck the trend, and channel its funding to more productive ends.

Te Papa has also taken the campaign to its twitter account where it gives HUGE THANKS to the twitterers who have responded. But the responses are weird and irrelevant – here are some examples of “what you said” on the national museum’s twitter account:

What you getting into this weekend?
I’m athletic and I like my guy athletic.
Throwing strikes is the key to success
What a freakin semester
She be lying uglass LOL

In other words, there’s no proof online that anyone wants to tell city councillors to cancel their savings of $1.25m per year. But there is proof that Te Papa has some strange followers on Twitter.



  1. richarquis, 16. April 2012, 18:09

    The comment quoted above was my own, and I should add that as regards the latter section where I talk about art purchases – an ex-colleague who worked in the administration department drew it to my attention that I had misunderstood the situation: funding for purchases of artworks comes from a different source. So, I stand corrected on that section of my statement.

    However, my point about consultancy fees for reviews, I believe, stands. There have been many mentions of late regarding the inefficiency of paying consultancy firms to strip back government departments, only then to have to rehire the same people / refill the same positions, using consultants and private contractors at increased rates. Auckland City Council, before the supercity amalgamation, was asking Auckland City Libraries to cut its 10 year budget by $13 million, while at the same time spending around $59 million a year on consultancy fees – an annual cost of around 45 times more than what they were asking the libraries to shed. At a time when all and sundry are being given the “tighten your belts” lectures, the powers that be are continuing to display a thorough lack of concordance with their own rulings.

  2. Traveller, 17. April 2012, 8:52

    Judging by those twitters for which Te Papa is saying thank you, the national museum should be saving money by cutting back on its ill-targetted social media activities.

  3. Trish, 18. April 2012, 13:07

    I still can’t get over the guides at Te Papa in their bright shirts. I have been to lots of museums and galleries around the world. Apart from one special guided tour at the BM, I cannot recall any guides (as opposed to guards who one assumes are not there to answer questions). And I have never been welcomed at the entrance anywhere else. But my biggest surprise was to discover they they are not volunteers, but are actually paid.

  4. Kaige, 20. April 2012, 9:19

    The truth is, if Te Papa funding reduces, then it stands to reason that Te Papa’s ability to provide certain services will reduce. I have read all of the comments above, and the only one that may have some legs is the one about about consultancy fees. All I can say about social media activities is, Te Papa has always said it is a forum for our nation, and a place for all to stand. Discrimination doesn’t factor, so anyone making comment about anything using online forums is the norm. I can also completely understand why Te Papa has paid guides. I have worked with volunteers, and while volunteers make fantastic contributions, they can also be a difficult workforce to rely on day in and out. A paid workforce can be held to performance standards, that ensure a level of service, that clearly has been missing in the above person’s experiences at other museums and galleries.
    Te Papa has changed the face of Wellington in the past decade. We have become the arts capital. Reduced capability will impact on weekend excursions by New Zealanders if they can’t provide what they have in the past … Monet and so on. Will this also impact on Te Papa’s ability to market internationally? What impact would that have on visitation to Wellington?? I have lived in Wellington for 40 years, and visited Te Papa more times than I can remember with my family since it opened. I have seen the difference it has made to the Wellington landscape…Cruise Ships, Tour Buses and the growth of the arts scene in Wellington. While I conceed that we will still get visitors, because Te Papa is here, I also know that the things that Te Papa has provided in the past to bring visitors to Wellington, may well disappear. What they are, we will only see, if the funding is cut.

  5. Maximus, 22. April 2012, 14:49

    What Te Papa needs is MORE funding, not less. The internal planning of Te Papa is a mess. It really needs ripping out and starting again. Do you know that the sculpture garden on the roof deck has been discontinued? Did anyone notice? Does anyone care? Te Papa used to be our national gallery of art – now we don’t even have a faint attempt at a gallery on which to display sculpture – it is a national shame.

  6. traveller, 22. April 2012, 15:49

    Yes but … Te Papa does need more funding. But it’s not the city council’s responsibility.
    As for having a national gallery of art – the new Auckland Art Gallery has taken over that responsibility, with an impressively curated collection of New Zealand art which leaves Te Papa for dead.


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