'Artefacts ahead of people' at museum

MARTY SHARPE
Last updated 05:00 19/06/2014

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Hawke's Bay

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A highly critical review of Napier's new museum includes a litany of errors and oversights that have seen it shunned by visitors.

The 93-page report by McDermott Miller, commissioned by the city council earlier this year, was published yesterday. It was commissioned after a series of failings were recognised in relation to visitor numbers and storage space.

The review said MTG - for museum, theatre, gallery - had failed miserably at meeting its market, was being very unwelcoming, too expensive, and focused on artefacts instead of people.

It said that, to date, management had assumed its product was "inherently desirable" and that "audience research was unnecessary".

"A viewer might be excused for thinking that the earthquake destroyed all life and society in Hawke's Bay, since there is no evidence in the museum of a continuing culture, economy or society," the review said. "No wonder people are not flocking in."

No focus had been put on understanding or catering to the museum's established or potential audience.

The museum issues have been well publicised and include attracting fewer visitors now than it did before the old one closed in mid-2010, forecast visitor numbers being overstated, and the new building being able to store only about 40 per cent of the collection.

The review said the museum's programmes were pitched at "serious leisure-goers" from international and metropolitan areas, and MTG management had "indicated that the general population and lower socio-economic groups are not seen as potential audience segments".

The museum was "at odds with the more family-orientated domestic visitor market" and failed to attract people from Napier, Hastings and rural Hawke's Bay.

"Given MTG is funded by ratepayers, the Napier, Hastings and rural Hawke's Bay market should be of primary importance," it said.

Exhibitions needed to be popular and less about "artistic integrity", or the museum would face the possibility of requiring significant "propping up" by increasingly displeased ratepayers.

Mayor Bill Dalton rejected suggestions yesterday that he should bear any blame for the situation. "If you're trying to sheet this home to me . . . you're barking up the wrong tree," he told a media conference. "I accept responsibility as every councillor does."

Dalton and chief executive Wayne Jack said it was probably a mistake appointing the chief executive at the time, Neil Taylor, as project manager of the development. "I wasn't making the decisions then," Dalton said.

When Jack was asked if the council should have carried out market research before MTG opened, he replied: "Potentially."

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The review made several recommendations, particularly concerning marketing, and the council adopted these yesterday.

The entrance charge for adults drops from $15 to $10 as of today.

In coming months, the emphasis of exhibitions will switch to social history with more prominence on taonga Maori, and marketing and management will be refocused to become "more market-oriented and customer-responsive".

FROM THE REVIEW

MTG's "knowledge of, and response to, audience preferences for its products is almost non- existent".

Its exhibition programme "is not attuned to its market".

"The earthquake story is told, but what else? A viewer might be excused for thinking that the earthquake destroyed all life and society in Hawke's Bay, since there is no evidence in the museum of a continuing culture, economy or society."

MTG is "an institution whose potential has yet to be realised. It is well sited and designed to draw people in, but they are not responding".

"Iwi had expected taonga to be given appropriate prominence and status . . . They consider this has not been done." An iwi spokesman described MTG as "an aquarium where you can't see the fish".

MTG's galleries "recall the former 19th-century museum model", rather than the "less formal, more dynamic and more enjoyable spaces" of contemporary museums, and "people must wonder if they are really welcome".

It is "not a popular attraction for visitors, nor is it well supported by the people of the region".

Of 19 other institutions reviewed by the consultants, only two charged general admission. MTG received the lowest number of visitors, especially from its own region, and was second lowest for international visitors.

- The Dominion Post

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