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Back to the (museum) future

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Confused? Te Papa is short of money, with a deficit reported as being $8m. Yet the government is investigating the idea of creating a second national museum in Wellington.

The DomPost reports this morning that a feasibility study accepted by Cabinet in July has resulted in a business case being prepared for a National War Memorial Museum that could be open by 2020 in the old Dominion Museum building that’s now controlled by Massey University.

But hang on. Plans to create a war memorial museum in that same space are already taking shape – with huge input from Peter Jackson and his colleagues. However this project was described as temporary when it was announced in August:

Wellington’s old Dominion Museum Building is to be be home to a temporary First World War commemorative museum exhibition, developed by Sir Peter Jackson, from April 2015 and through the duration of the centenary period. The Commemorative Exhibition was announced by Prime Minister John Key and Sir Peter, who is leading the creative team developing the exhibition. Christopher Finlayson said the innovative temporary museum exhibition … will draw on and complement private collections and other museums across New Zealand including the Army, Air Force and Navy service museums, and the Auckland War Memorial Museum…. This historic building sits behind the National War Memorial and overlooks the site of the National War Memorial Park, which will be open in time for Anzac Day 2015. It is a perfect location for a temporary museum that will help tell the story of key aspects of New Zealand’s military history and the purpose of the park.”

So when the temporary museum was announced, the politicians had already okayed the preparation of a business case for a similar museum in the same space – on a permanent basis.

The DomPost, which got hold of the feasibility study as a result of an OIA request, reports that all costs have been removed from the document because they were “commercially sensitive.” An unconvincing excuse for some life and death issues – the deleted figures include estimates for seismically strengthening the 1936 building, as well as exhibit and running costs, not to mention the cost of buying back or leasing the building from Massey and the Wellington Tenths Trust, who are joint owners.

It’s not the first time that the idea of buying back the old museum building has been discussed. In June, Hank Schouten reported in the DomPost:

The possible plan to buy back the museum would need the support of the Tenths Trust, Massey University, Wellington City Council, service museums, Auckland War Memorial Museum and Te Papa before any work could be done on costings. Massey University vice-chancellor Steve Maharey said he welcomed the proposition as long as the university could reproduce amenities elsewhere on the campus… If all this comes off, this whole end of town will become lively with a major facility again, and the university will do a bit of new building as well.” Tenths Trust chairman Morrie Love also believed it could be a “win-win”.

A win win perhaps, but not for Te Papa, whose financial problems are now well known. With a reported deficit of $8m, it is no doubt wishing that it could get hold of some of the cash that’s being considered for either of the two museums being planned for the building which it vacated 18 years ago.

And it must be wondering about the issue of duplication. Not only a second national museum. Te Papa is also preparing an exhibition about warfare – its Gallipoli exhibition, being developed in partnership with Weta Workshop, is scheduled to open next year.

But perhaps the government is simultaneously considering a report on the finances needed to properly sustain Te Papa, as well as what would be needed to pay for another national museum.

In London: £40m spent to upgrade the Imperial War Museum