If you had told the residents of Matamata years ago that one day art and culture would bring into the town more than $100,000 a day, they would have been incredulous.

Enter Hobbiton - the visitor experience born from the art of Tolkien and Peter Jackson makes this in gate sales alone. Add to this the jobs it has created and the knock-on effect of the crowds who come to Matamata in their thousands, not just to Hobbiton, but to the local eateries, accommodation providers and retailers.

Compare this with Tauranga Art Gallery. The city has invested generously in the gallery and still provides it with an annual grant to the tune of $864,348. Yet its financial future is in question after a council meeting on Wednesday revealed documents showing the gallery is forecasting an $18,126 deficit in the 2015/16 financial year.

Meanwhile, gallery director Penny Jackson has protested against the $17,000 that the council is looking to shave off the gallery's budget. This equates to just a 2 per cent cut. Not that bad when you look around town.


The city libraries face a cut of a million. Creative Tauranga $5000 and Sport BOP $6000 from their budgets. The Chamber of Commerce and Civil Defence also face significant cuts. Councillors are tightening their own belts, saving $14,000 by forking out for their own lunches.

These cuts, although tough, are a reality we must accept.

Councillor John Robson wrote in this paper recently that Tauranga City Council is carrying one of the highest per-ratepayer debt burdens of any New Zealand city, saying "this investment doesn't just impact the balance sheet - about one in four of your rates dollars is spent paying the interest on Tauranga's debt, and an even greater share of your rates is spent funding depreciation - effectively putting money aside to replace assets when they wear out".

He said the city needed to focus on economic development as it was wealth creation that determined success.

A city's cultural contribution also contributes to its wealth. An art gallery is an essential part of the city's cultural backbone. I am not anti-art. Anything but. As a child, I loved to roam Liverpool's Walker Art Gallery and, as an adult, have spent lots of time in art galleries worldwide.

The gallery may argue that it is not its role to be profitable. But the Tauranga Art Gallery is costing a lot without proving its popularity. Compare this with the hugely popular Incubator project in the Historic Village, which gets no funding.

The Tauranga Art Gallery seems in denial that it is failing to attract the mainstream. This week, Ms Jackson told reporter Natalie Dixon that the funding cuts could mean the loss of the school art bus. No wonder she is worried, as it could be that these buses ship in many of the gallery visitors - children and their teachers.

In February, it was reported that art gallery visitor numbers jumped more than 7000 in six months.


A total of 37,129 people visited the art gallery in the six months to December 31, 2013. Some of these are schools. In October, gallery chairwoman Phillida Perry said 9000 children had visited the gallery in the past year.

The gallery is also hired out for functions, another good move to bring in revenue and people.

Yet it is important to investigate how many visitors come because they want to see an exhibition and how many come because they are 8 years old or want to see Richie McCaw.

Tauranga Art Gallery needs to put on exhibitions that people actually want to see. "Great art" is in the eye of the beholder. And in the footprint of people who want to see it. There is no point in having art experts collect what they see as "amazing art" if few people want to view it.

Taking the art bus 'hostage' is not the whole story. It could stay if other budgets were adjusted. As a ratepayer-funded entity there needs to be transparency in how it is spending its money.

Ms Jackson says the only alternative to cutting the art bus is having fewer exhibitions. But this could be a good thing and a chance for the gallery to bring meaningful exhibitions that people want to see.

There are other options too, like charging a basic entry to visitors. The donations box could then be for the art bus.

I would love to see the Tauranga Art Gallery thriving.. I want it to be a success, but I believe that to do so it needs to shed its elitist image and attract wider audiences.

Ms Jackson needs to accept financial reality. It would be sad to see the art bus go but let us not be blinded by spin.

The gallery is staffed and funded generously.

There are other cuts the art gallery can make, and a first one could be cutting itself down from its self-imposed pedestal that seems to set it apart from the rest of Tauranga's thriving arts community.