Art museum funding debated

By Alexandra Newlove

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Councillors say the inconspicuous entrance to Whangarei Art Museum needs addressing. Photo / John Stone
Councillors say the inconspicuous entrance to Whangarei Art Museum needs addressing. Photo / John Stone

Questions are being raised around whether ratepayers are getting bang for their buck out of Whangarei Art Museum, which is set to receive an extra $32,000 next year on top of the $278,000 annual grant it already gets.

Whangarei District councillors spent an hour debating the fate of the council-controlled organisation, finally voting to cap its funding at $310,000 for the next two years.

Councillor Greg Martin described the museum's cost per visitor as "huge", while others said the WAM trust was not getting enough and was being "funded to fail". Issues around the museum's low profile entranceway were also raised.

In the 2014/15 financial year, WAM had 8840 visitors. It received $272,000 of ratepayer money plus a $167,000 rent concession, equating to a cost per visitor at about $50.

"Compare it to the Waipu Museum, 31,889 go there and they get $58,000 [from council]," Mr Martin said.

WAM was run by a charitable trust and employed three fulltime equivalent staff, and 10 volunteers who contributed a cumulative 50 hours per week. The museum was open seven days and free to enter.

Councillor Cherry Hermon said visitor numbers were set to increase this year, the trust was performing well and had "several seasoned business people" on board. "What is he basing that on?" she said in response to Mr Martin's comments. "You can make figures say what you like ... It's not acceptable to toss comments into the air like that."

WAM's inconspicuous entranceway needed to be addressed immediately, Ms Hermon said. She had set up a meeting with staff to discuss this. Council shifted WAM from the Cafler Park Rose Gardens in 2011 and spent $1.1 million doing up its current building, but more needed to be done in terms of drawing attention to it, Ms Hermon said.

"If you want to set up a lawyer office you don't set up behind a butcher," she said, in reference to the fact WAM's entrance way was through The Hub information centre and bus terminal.

WAM had previously supplemented its council income with wind-up finds from Whangarei Tourism Trust, though this was expected to be exhausted by 2018.

Ms Hermon said if WAM was not given more WDC funding, it would have to reduce its level of service. "The first thing that's going to happen is they'll offer fewer days. If we fund them to fail, we'll have to pick up the pieces later. We're better to fund them to succeed now."

Councillor Brian McLachlan said he would like to see WAM seek funding from non-council sources.

"Until I see that I won't be supporting any major [funding] increase," he said.

WAM trust chairman Grant Faber is overseas and could not be reached for comment.

- Northern Advocate

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