Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Council plans to put saving squeeze on gallery's cash

Chris Saines. Photo / Natalie Slade
Chris Saines. Photo / Natalie Slade

The financial scalpel is hanging over the Auckland Art Gallery only months after a failed attempt to put the 124-year-old institution on a more commercial footing.

Secrecy surrounds the likely cutbacks, but word has got out that "satisfaction levels" used to measure the experience of gallery visitors would be eased from 96 per cent to 90 per cent.

The changes come as the gallery is riding high. The refurbished heritage building has won the hearts of Aucklanders and won several architectural awards.

Gallery director Chris Saines has been made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for leading the $121 million project and the just-closed Degas to Dali exhibition attracted 98,944 visitors.

But behind the scenes, Regional Facilities Auckland - the council body that oversees the art gallery - has been investigating ways of saving money to cope with a funding squeeze.

Last month, Regional Facilities boss Robert Domm backed down after protests by art patrons on a plan unveiled in April to scale back Mr Saines' role and focus on the gallery making money.

Now the council body is taking a hard look at the gallery's operations. A report dealing with possible savings is expected to be discussed by the Regional Facilities board behind closed doors next week.

Neither Regional Facilities nor Mr Saines wanted to talk specifics yesterday.

But Regional Facilities' chief finance officer Patrick Cleaver warned councillors last week of reducing gallery patron satisfaction levels.

Mayor Len Brown's 10-year budget has set savings targets for all council-controlled bodies to achieve an overall rates rise of 3.6 per cent.

For Regional Facilities, this means trimming spending by $3.8 million, which a spokesman called a "challenge" but not one that would affect permanent staffing levels or important public facilities.

All Regional Facilities businesses, which include the art gallery, museum, zoo, Aotea Centre and Mt Smart Stadium, have been asked to come up with savings.

Motorists face paying millions more for parking in central Auckland streets to help Auckland Transport meet a $45 million deficit in operating expenditure.

And Waterfront Auckland has indicated cutbacks in the maintenance of parks and public spaces.

Yesterday, a council spokeswoman said council-controlled bodies had been told to produce savings of $15 million a year, or $150 million over 10 years. This was in addition to $1.7 billion of savings by the council.

- NZ Herald

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