Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum has closed its doors for an extraordinary situation once before. In 1918, at the height of the Spanish Influenza pandemic which caused the deaths of 9000 New Zealanders, the Auckland Museum was closed from November 3 to December 1, or nearly a full month. The museum's 1918-19 Annual Report notes that after re-opening "it was at least another month before the attendance became normal".
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Auckland War Memorial Museum too will open its doors again and play its part to help our city recover its equilibrium. In the meantime, during lockdown, we have been operating as an online museum, supporting the booming home education economy and maintaining our connectivity with Aucklanders and our global audiences. Our Museum at Home web hub provides regularly updated stories, activities, videos and puzzles designed to educate, stimulate and entertain.
When we re-open, it may take a little time for Auckland Museum to re-establish its pre-Covid levels of just under a million visitors. We certainly won't see the return of our tourist visitors until restrictions on international travel are lifted some way down the track. Like so many public attractions, we are reviewing our business model, which will mean that in the near to medium term we will pivot strategically to the domestic market.
We look forward to Auckland Museum's reopening and know in doing so we will play a part in re-establishing public confidence in civic life again. Market research across the globe tells us that museums are among the most trusted of public institutions. A poll of 3500 adults in the US published on April 1 suggests many people trust cultural attractions will not reopen unless they are a safe place for numbers of people to spend time. People said they would feel comfortable visiting again by the very action of the cultural entity reopening.
Auckland Museum was one of the fledgling city's first public buildings, opening to the public in a disused farm building in 1852, and growing rapidly to require a purpose-built building on Princes St by 1876. The present-day Auckland War Memorial Museum was opened in the aftermath of WWI, largely thanks to public donations and subscriptions. In 2020 that social anchor role remains fundamentally unchanged.
Auckland Museum has a responsibility to support the city's recovery following the decline of the Covid-19 contagion. Not only do large museums like ours have the floor space and facilities to enable continuing social distancing and the necessary health and safety conditions, they also offer people who have experienced weeks of isolation a safe place to visit and welcome respite from confinement. Our re-opening will signal the gradual beginnings of a return to normality. What's more, we can serve as hubs of education, information-sharing and collective reflection on the causes, responses and impacts of this global crisis. Our curators are actively recording and collecting the social and material culture of the lockdown experience for future investigation, exhibition and public debate.
The immediate post Covid-19 period poses multiple challenges for museums, but also some interesting opportunities. Whilst our bottom line has been severely dented by the loss of tourism revenues and our building transformation suspended, the lack of international visitors will enable us to refocus on our domestic audiences and local communities with new experiences and to return to our core function, as an exhibiting, collecting, educational and research museum.
If Aucklanders are going to be restricted from travelling overseas for some considerable time, the role of Auckland Museum in bringing the world to them is amplified further. Since its foundation, the museum has enabled Aucklanders to access world human and natural cultures. In 1878, the museum ordered 33 casts of Classical statuary for the art education of local citizens. Today Discobolus (the Discus Thrower) stands above the north entrance of the museum.
Despite the undoubted short-term logistics challenges, we remain committed to bringing a wide range of international cultural and natural history exhibitions for display in our new special exhibition suite. Loan exhibitions activate not only excitement and visitation amongst our local audiences but also stimulate new connections and dialogues between collections separated by history and national borders. This initiative will coincide with the launch of a new museum membership offer that will provide opportunities to explore these and our own rich collections in greater depth.
The greatest dividend for the museum in this post Covid-19 scenario may be felt behind the scenes in the catalysing of innovative responses and initiatives in the museum's core digital, learning and research functions.
With the swift emergence of the home-schooling market, we are taking the opportunity to create new online education products for schools and families, including those supporting the new New Zealand history curriculum. We look forward to continuing to extend the museum's reach and relevance when we return to "new normal". The global reach and utility of the museum's collections and expertise promises an exciting future as part of a well-networked community of cultural and scientific organisations.
Meanwhile, the pandemic has created diverse opportunities for new collecting and research ventures, particularly in the domains of public health, social and environmental impacts and community resilience.
We will see the Covid-19 pandemic feature in our planned public laboratory space, Tāmaki Data, which forms part of our new galleries devoted to Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, opening on completion of our current works programme.
Auckland Museum is closed as a cultural destination for the present. However, when the time is right it will be amongst the first visitor attractions to re-open to the public. When it does, it will spark hope, connectedness and, like all great museums, renewed curiosity about the world in which we live - its past, its present and, most critically, its future.
• Dr David Gaimster, Chief Executive, Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum.