MTG: All dressed up but not enough want to go

By Simon Hendery

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The Museum Theatre Gallery Hawke's Bay
The Museum Theatre Gallery Hawke's Bay

A report into the $18m revamped Museum Theatre Gallery Hawke's Bay by Wellington consultants found the facility had "lost its way" and was out of touch with ordinary visitors. Simon Hendery examines the report.
IT'S 4pm on Thursday and things are pretty quiet in the foyer of the MTG in downtown Napier.
The beautifully designed building feels warm and inviting but at this particular moment no one is taking up the invitation to come in to view the facility's valuable collection of art and history.
It's a scene that makes it easy to agree with the writers of a hard-hitting report which says of the MTG: "It is well sited and designed to draw people in, but they are not responding."
The McDermott Miller report - commissioned for and released this week by Napier City Council - uses much colourful language to set out the issues the consulting firm sees with the MTG.
More importantly - as far as the council is concerned - it sets out a comprehensive plan to turn around the facility's performance and bring more people through the door.
Reopened in September last year after a long revamp that cost $18 million, the MTG is a stunning, state-of-the-art building and home to what is acknowledged to be a treasured regional art and history collection, valued at $45 million.
But a number of factors, including a $15 adult admission charge, have kept visitors away, with fewer coming to the facility now than before the upgrade.
Napier Mayor Bill Dalton, a motor-racing enthusiast, compares the MTG's problems to that of an under-performing sports car.
"I've seen the most magnificently built race cars appear on the scene only to perform poorly.

What they do is they take them back to the workshop and hook them up to all the diagnostic machines, discover what the problem is, and they come out running as they should," he says.
"That's exactly what we have with the MTG. We've got a magnificent product that has performed poorly so we're effectively going back to the workshop for a diagnostic process - which is the review we've had done - and we'll make this thing work. It's going to be the cultural beacon of Hawke's Bay. No question about that."
He says the two key issues that have been identified were pricing and the mix of exhibitions the MTG has been hosting.
The council moved this week to lower the pricing, and had begun to address the issues of making the displays and exhibitions more attuned to what members of the public - particularly Hawke's Bay locals - want to see.
"We're absolutely committed to making it work," Mr Dalton says.
"We have produced a magnificent facility that just needs some fine-tuning to meet visitors' expectations - that's all it is."
Aside from the question of getting sufficient members of the public through the doors, issues have been simmering this year about back-of-house concerns at the facility around storage.
The initial vision for the facility was one where its entire collection could be stored on-site, along with room for expansion. But it emerged after last year's opening that up to 60 per cent of the collection would need to be stored off-site, adding cost as well as inconvenience.
New, more conservative storage protocols, involving heavier protection of artefacts, were introduced after the Christchurch earthquake, meaning less could be stored in the allocated space. It also became apparent that some storage space in the MTG was inappropriate for the gallery's extensive taonga Maori collection.
Mr Dalton says most museums around the world require off-site storage. The major cost associated with off-site storage is the required airconditioning and humidification equipment, which the council already owns, having bought it for the temporary storage requirements while the MTG was being built.
Napier City Council chief executive Wayne Jack said the council was committed to implementing the thrust of a "finish the job" strategy put forward by McDermott Miller aimed at increasing MTG visitor numbers.
The consultants forecast that visitor numbers could be lifted from an expected 31,400 this year to 44,000 to 58,000 per annum if their recommendations are followed.
That would lift the MTG's annual revenue from $421,000 to between $583,000 and $753,000, with a resulting drop in the council's funding for the facility.
Mr Jack said he believed those figures were achievable, and were something the council needed to aim for. Next week Napier City Council will meet with Hasting District Council to discuss the report and proposals for taking the MTG forward.
Hastings District Council contributed $1 million to the revamped facility, is a 50 per cent shareholder of the Hawke's Bay Museums Trust which owns the collection, and contributes an annual operational grant to help run the facility.
Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule said his council was particularly interested in ensuring long-term plans for off-site storage of the collection were safe, secure and appropriate.
"We have a significant and wonderful collection and we want to work constructively to resolve the issues in the report," he said.
"Hastings District Council staff who have reviewed the report want to understand that the space allocated for storage, the methodology of storage and the mix of meeting rooms and exhibition space is appropriate. The report lists a number of options for dealing with the storage shortfall and all need to be considered."
Meanwhile, Napier City Council is part-way through a review of staffing at MTG which Mr Jack said is aimed at making the facility more efficient and cost effective.
One finding of the McDermott Miller report was that the MTG needed more focus on marketing capability at senior management level.
"We understand the MTG Hawke's Bay director [Douglas Lloyd Jenkins] is from an academic background and his deputy, [public programmes team leader Eloise Wallace], has a postgraduate museology diploma plus five years' experience in the exhibitions department of a London museum," the report says.
"Top management is therefore focused on the supply side, and it seems the lure of the past outweighs the demands of the present. In our opinion, it would be preferable if the deputy position were occupied by a manager with a strong marketing orientation who could manage the public programmes within a well-researched framework which would guide curatorial and other staff regarding which exhibitions, events or other projects would prove popular with the local audience."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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