Chris Finlayson: Culturally diverse Manukau move makes sense

The first point to make is that Te Papa is not a "Wellington museum".  Photo / Mark Mitchell
The first point to make is that Te Papa is not a "Wellington museum". Photo / Mark Mitchell

Last weekend, the Mayor of Auckland and I announced a proposal for a new cultural facility for Manukau, Auckland, to be developed with Te Papa, the national Museum of New Zealand.

At this stage, it is a proposal and no decisions have been made. We are now working with Te Papa on a detailed business case to be considered by Cabinet.

The first point to make is that Te Papa is not a "Wellington museum". It is the national museum of New Zealand, and guards our national collection on behalf of all New Zealanders. As the Herald rightly points out, there is a responsibility to make sure the most New Zealanders get to see their treasures.

This obviously means greater exposure in Auckland. This is where many of our people are. It's also closer to other museums in the provinces and will make lending those collections and sending them on tour easier.

There is also a seismic risk from earthquakes to collections in storage in Wellington. There has been on-going work to identify other areas to store parts of the collection to minimise that risk.

The proposal is for a new centre for collections, exhibitions and touring. It will be multi-functional: somewhere for a number of institutions to keep their collections, and to display them. It would also be a centre for learning - for everyone from school groups and tours to researchers and academics.

The Herald (editorial, Sept 10) said a better location was the waterfront around the Tank Farm on Wynyard Quarter.

That's simply not true, for a number of reasons. First and obviously, land is not available there for development. But, in a way, that is beside the point.

It is not an alternative to a waterfront museum. It is a unique proposition.

The editorial somewhat drily notes "many Aucklanders will not know where that is". I found that comment astounding, to say the least.

Manukau is not off the beaten track. It is not a backwater - it is a vibrant and alive town centre. It is the most culturally diverse area in New Zealand. It is a short ride by train from the central city - a ride that will get shorter with electrification and with the central city rail loop. It is close to the eastern suburbs by road. It is closer to the airport than the central city.

As the crow flies, it is but a few hundred metres from the Royal Auckland Golf Club, if this helps anyone still in doubt to get their bearings.

Tourists flock to Auckland's harbour and CBD, and so they should. But Aucklanders have an interest in encouraging those same visitors to explore the rest of their unique South Pacific city before departing for the skifields and adventure tourism beyond its borders.

But more importantly, the editorial overlooks the fact that South Auckland is a place where a great many Aucklanders actually live, and go to school, and work and raise children.

It is growing fast. The University of Auckland realised this when it expanded to its Manukau Campus.

In the end, that is why it is such an excellent site for this development.

There is ongoing debate about the role that museums have, especially in the internet age. What is agreed is that institutions have to be more relevant to the communities they represent.

South Auckland as a region has the largest Maori population in the country, and is the largest Pasifika urban centre in the world. They are a huge part of what makes Auckland the city is. Much of Te Papa's collection reflects this history and culture.

It only makes sense for a new cultural institution telling these stories to be located in Manukau where the institution can engage with those communities.

They have to be part of those communities.

Accessibility is not just about public transport and parking. It is also about how much of the value of our historical treasures can be delivered to the greatest audience.

This is not only an issue for Te Papa - the Auckland Art Gallery and Auckland War Memorial Museum are also involved in the collaboration, because a facility in Manukau will mean more space and opportunity for those organisations to share their collections across the isthmus.

They are not trying to "protect their patch" by backing this project - all parties recognise that as national or regional museums and galleries, South Auckland is their patch as well.

This proposal is a wonderful opportunity for the city and for Te Papa. It deserves to be supported while the concept is being developed.

Chris Finlayson is Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage.

- NZ Herald

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