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President’s Column: February 2024

President’s Column: February 2024

An international perspective (continuing an earlier theme)

In my final column for 2023 I expressed the hope that, under the newly appointed New Zealand government, the Minister responsible for Arts, Culture and Heritage “will not be so busy that that Arts Culture and Heritage matters will be largely ignored or forgotten over the next three years”.

It seems that this issue is not restricted to New Zealand alone. A recent Letter To The Editor of one of the leading British newspapers develops a very similar theme, expressing concerns that Welsh museums may, due to economic necessity if government funding is withdrawn, start charging entry fees to visitors.

In the UK in 2001, a campaign led by the Art Fund successfully lobbied the (then) government to make national museums and galleries free for all. The introduction of free entry quickly led to a substantial increase in visitors and has remained a major cultural policy success ever since.

The letter makes the strong claim that access to Art is vital for a healthy society and that museums inspire and challenge us, support local economies, drive tourism, promote wellbeing and have a positive impact on communities. These points are all directly relatable to our position in New Zealand and are central to the Friend of Te Papa’s reason for existence.

The letter argued that British museums hold some of the finest art and objects in the world, that national collections belong to all, and that everyone in the UK should be able to enjoy them.

With free entry remaining for national museums in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the correspondent suggested the implementation of an entry fee in Wales would only create inequity and division. The letter urged the Welsh government to review proposed cuts to arts funding and increase investment in museums, so they can conserve and display their world-class collections and continue their important support for communities across Wales.

The situation outlined above is strikingly similar to that faced by the Arts, Culture and Heritage sector in New Zealand. Uncertainty around government funding support, whether at a national or local government level, is a major threat to the continuing viability of the museums’ offerings throughout New Zealand.

As Friends of Te Papa and therefore, by association, supporters of the Arts, Heritage and Culture sector in New Zealand, it is important that we all do what we can to promote the importance of continued focus and funding directed to the sector.