Hamish Keith on museums

by Hamish Keith / 05 December, 2011
A disclosure: I chair a working party of a bunch of museum professionals, with an eminent architect thrown in, who are making a case for exhibition space on the Auckland waterfront for the national collections.

Other than to note that there is ample precedent for that – Britain’s Tate has four branch offices and Russia’s Hermitage five – I won’t repeat the arguments here. What was fascinating was the fallout. Most frequently asked question: “Won’t this compete with the other Auckland museums and take away Auckland visitors to Te Papa?” That might seem an obvious fret, but as far as I am aware, not one museum on this planet has closed down because another opened.

New Zealanders have a taste for museums. Te Papa has annual attendances of over a million (and, yes, 100,000 or so of those are from Auckland). Christchurch must hold something of a record. The combined attendances at that city’s museum and gallery are around 1.2 million.

Auckland is a bit of a laggard – its War Memorial Museum used to boast attendances of over a million, but since it introduced a fee at the door they slumped and are slowly climbing back to around 800,000. Auckland Art Gallery’s earlier visitor figures would have taken the total to over the million, but the rebuilt gallery has done better than 100,000 in its first month.

Adding in the rest of the country, total visits must well exceed the total population. It would be pushing it to argue that the appetite for culture, as offered by museums, would suffer if compared with any sporting code – including the national religion. The real question is not “Do we need any more museums?” but “Do we have enough of them?”

Cultures will go on making and accumulating cultural stuff, and one generation’s rubber duck can turn out to be a precious treasure of the next. Short of wars and cataclysms to cull the things that comprise our ­cultural memory – and, sadly, there are many such disasters – these treasures just go on piling up.

There might come a time when building more museums will not be the answer, but that won’t be any time soon. The most pressing problem is access to what museums hold – digitisation can never provide more than a partial solution – but one simple step forward would be to not think of museums as monuments but instead as windows to their collections.

Latest

How to enhance your dining experience – with water
103174 2019-03-22 00:00:00Z Dining

How to enhance your dining experience – with water…

by Metro

A stunning dining experience isn’t just about food and wine. Water plays a big part too.

Read more
Facebook won't give up its insidious practices without a fight
103856 2019-03-22 00:00:00Z Tech

Facebook won't give up its insidious practices wit…

by Peter Griffin

Facebook came under fire for its response to the live-streaming of the Christchurch terror attack, but it's digital nudging that's also concerning.

Read more
In photos: The world unites in solidarity with Christchurch
103800 2019-03-21 15:36:46Z World

In photos: The world unites in solidarity with Chr…

by Lauren Buckeridge

Countries around the world have put on a show of solidarity for the victims of the Christchurch terror attack.

Read more
The tangled path to terrorism
103777 2019-03-21 09:59:55Z Psychology

The tangled path to terrorism

by Marc Wilson

The path that leads people to commit atrocities such as that in Christchurch is twisting and unpredictable, but the journey often begins in childhood.

Read more
If 'This is not New Zealand', let us show it
103768 2019-03-21 09:31:27Z Social issues

If 'This is not New Zealand', let us show it

by The Listener

The little signs among the banks of flowers said, “This is not New Zealand.” They meant, “We thought we were better than this.” We were wrong.

Read more
Extremism is not a mental illness
103785 2019-03-21 00:00:00Z Crime

Extremism is not a mental illness

by The Mental Health Foundation of NZ

Shooting people is not a symptom of a mental illness. White supremacy is not a mental illness.

Read more
PM announces ban on all military-style semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles
103805 2019-03-21 00:00:00Z Crime

PM announces ban on all military-style semi-automa…

by RNZ

Ms Ardern pledged the day after the terrorist massacre that "gun laws will change" and would be announced within 10 days of the attack.

Read more
No mention of right-wing extremist threats in 10 years of GCSB & SIS public docs
103770 2019-03-21 00:00:00Z Politics

No mention of right-wing extremist threats in 10 y…

by Jane Patterson

There is not one specific mention of the threat posed by white supremacists or right-wing nationalism in 10 years of security agency documents.

Read more