Local focus pays off for art museum

By Alexandra Newlove

Chrisse Serville, from Kaiwaka, at the Whangarei Art Museum, which has had a record year for visitors. Photo / John Stone
Chrisse Serville, from Kaiwaka, at the Whangarei Art Museum, which has had a record year for visitors. Photo / John Stone

Foot traffic through Whangarei Art Museum has increased 43 per cent this past year, bringing visitor numbers to 12,630.

In the year prior, 8840 passed through the doors.

The increase is being put down to events and floor talks to support exhibitions, as well as promotion through social media, which had not been used well in the past, said WAM director Ruth Green-Cole, who took up her post in July 2015.

"The main focus was growing visitor numbers by focusing on the community and delivering what they were interested in, rather than just what the directors or curators are interested in," Ms Green-Cole said.

She named exhibitions by Northland artists Murray Gibbs and Dave Beazley as particular wins from the past year, which showed the value of focusing on local art.

"Northland artists have been something we've put a focus on because through word of mouth and networks, there's a lot of support."

The gallery had also established a community gallery, for which artists or aspiring curators could submit proposals showcasing their work.

WAM was a Whangarei District Council-controlled organisation and in May, councillors voted to lift the museum's funding to $310,000, but cap it at this amount for the next two years. WAM had requested $365,000.

In the 2014-15 financial year, WAM had 8840 visitors and received $272,000 of ratepayer money plus a $167,000 rent concession. Some councillors said WAM was not delivering good value for money.

Others said WAM was being "funded to fail" and Ms Green-Cole said the museum did, indeed, need more.

"I think WAM has operated under what we've needed for a long time. We need to get more extended sponsorship. It's not just about finding funding but working with other organisations. With [a recent exhibition] Rembrandt Remastered, for example, that was sponsored by Rotary."

Councillors also questioned whether WAM was seeking other funding to complement what it received from the council. WAM's exhibitions were free, though it took in about $4600 in koha the past year.

WAM trust chairman Grant Faber said the external funding environment was "challenging".

"WAM is, and will continue to seek, external funding."

Mr Faber acknowledged it was "logical" that funding was difficult to come by due to having to compete for support with the fundraising effort to build the $16.25 million Hundertwasser Art Centre.

- Northern Advocate

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