Come clean on user-pays principle

Last updated 07:59 22/02/2013
lenlye stand
To pay, or not to pay, that is the question.

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OPINION: Art, and the language used to explain it, can be dark and impenetrable. Meaning can be elusive.

While the motives of the artist can be highly subjective and open to interpretation, the allocation and use of public funding in art is meant to be quite the opposite: Objective and transparent.

So it is odd and slightly unsettling that there should be any hint of the artist's obfuscation and intrigue in the debate over entry fees to the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery and the soon-to-be built Len Lye Centre.

Veteran councillor Lynn Bublitz has told the Taranaki Daily News that he believes money was donated to the Len Lye project based on the preference that entry remain free.

However, the paper understands that it is far from being a preference; rather, free entry was one of the conditions of sponsorship agreements that underpin the $10 million project. Put bluntly, much or all of that money has been given on the basis that no visitor be charged.

Which would render any discussion about entry fees redundant, wouldn't it?

The trouble is that many councillors seem to be under the impression that this contentious subject is still up for debate, that there is still some hope council will change its seemingly ideological stance.

Just this week Councillor Shaun Biesiek was successful in organising yet another discussion about entry fees to the gallery and Len Lye Centre. Oddly enough, he even drew support from Len Lye Committee chairman Lance Girling- Butcher.

And recently, senior council manager Cathy Thurston countered a number of letters to the editor on the subject by writing that the policy of free entry was buttressed by sound research suggesting that charging for entry impacted unfavourably on general attendance and also participation by lower socio-economic groups. (The Daily News was able to find its own compelling research that suggested entry fees had little impact.)

All of which makes one wonder at the level of genuine transparency around a project that has regularly surfaced as one of the most contentious and polarising of the past few years. The continued user- pays campaign of Mr Biesiek and other councillors suggests that our elected representatives are either ignorant of the facts or deliberately ignoring them because of their own ambitions and populist agendas.

The motives of the main players remain as dark and impenetrable as the thoughts of the artist approaching his or her new work.

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Unless the ignorance of Mr Biesiek and others is genuine. Could it be that this is another example of negotiations between commercial interests and senior management at the council not being communicated fully to our elected representatives?

If so it would not be the first time they have been denied information because of privacy provisions or commercial sensitivity.

Could it be that some within council would prefer these conditions to remain beyond full public disclosure because they are considered politically unpalatable?

- Taranaki Daily News

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