Prices to drop after museum slated in report

By Simon Hendery

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MTG chief executive Wayne Jack (left), Napier Mayor Bill Dalton and MTG director Douglas Lloyd Jenkins at the press conference yesterday.
MTG chief executive Wayne Jack (left), Napier Mayor Bill Dalton and MTG director Douglas Lloyd Jenkins at the press conference yesterday.

The region's flagship cultural facility, Napier's Museum Theatre Gallery Hawke's Bay (MTG), has "lost its way" and is not meeting the needs of prospective visitors, particularly locals, according to a hard-hitting independent report.

The Napier City Council has dropped the price of admission to the MTG from today and is planning sweeping changes to the facility in the wake of the highly critical report, which the council made public yesterday.

The report, from Wellington consultants McDermott Miller, said the MTG's market performance since its reopening in September last year after an $18 million revamp, had been "dismal".

Admissions in the current financial year are expected to be between 30,000 and 35,000, compared with 36,000 in the 2009-10 year before former Museum and Art Gallery Hawke's Bay was closed for the revamp. The report said the MTG's understanding of what its audience wants "is almost non-existent".

"It makes relatively little use of its taonga Maori and social history collection to tell the stories about the region which do appeal to its market," the report says. While the story of the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake is told at the MTG, other aspects of local society "are totally absent".

"A viewer might be excused for thinking that the earthquake destroyed all life and society in Hawke's Bay since there is no evidence in the museum of a continuing culture, economy or society," it said. "No wonder people are not flocking in."

The report suggests a shake-up is needed of senior MTG management, saying a deputy director role with a "strong marketing orientation" would best complement the "academic background" of director Douglas Lloyd Jenkins.

Last month the council announced it was working through a proposed staffing restructure at the MTG and chief executive Wayne Jack said yesterday consultation over the restructure was continuing.

"What we want the MTG to do is to connect to all sectors of the market. What we do acknowledge is that its present operation is not sustainable going forward but more importantly it's not meeting the public's expectations," Mr Jack said.

"What this review is all about is getting the MTG on the right track."

Napier Mayor Bill Dalton, who was chairman of the council's finance committee during the previous term of the council when the MTG revamp was carried out, said he accepted there had been problems resulting from the project, but they would now be addressed.

"It's an $18 million development that had some operational issues once we got under way and we're dealing with them. In a strict commercial sense that's what people do.

"Most big operations do not start off and everything's wonderful. They need adjustment and that's what we're doing.

"We are incredibly proud of this facility, it's a great facility. The building was brought in on time, on budget. Now we're dealing those operational issues. It's just a matter of prudence."

At a Napier City Council finance committee meeting yesterday, councillors voted to cut the MTG's adult admission fee from $15 to $10, returning it to the price charged before the upgrade. Students, senior citizens and community service card holders will pay $7.50.

Councillors also voted to proceed with the design and preliminary costing of a new storage facility, at the council's Napier depot, for artefacts that can't be stored at the MTG due to lack of space.

The MTG is home to the $45 million Hawke's Bay Museums Trust's collection of more than 100,000 items.

It was originally intended that the revamped building would accommodate the entire collection, but this did not happen due to changes in storage methods and specific storage requirements for Maori taonga.

"The MTG is a fantastic facility. There is nothing wrong with the facility," Mr Jack told councillors at yesterday's meeting. "We have a great product. It's about taking that product and connecting it to people."

Mr Lloyd Jenkins said the report's conclusion that the MTG needed more exhibitions and more space was positive.

"There are things in the review I don't agree with - it's an opinion - but the council is setting a direction and it's not an unattractive direction."

While there were "matters of opinion" where he did not agree with the report writers, those issues would be talked through, and he did not want to detail them.

Ngati Kahungunu Iwi Incorporated chairman Ngahiwi Tomoana said with Maori taonga accounting for about 80 per cent of the value of the museum's collections, the iwi's primary concern was to ensure it was adequately stored and displayed.

Given the size of the Maori taonga collection, it could take two or three decades to exhibit the items fully under previous space restrictions so the iwi agreed with the review's recommendation that taonga be given more prominence.

"We will do all it takes to ensure the taonga is properly stored and properly exhibited."

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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