Viv Beck: Bold leadership on Art Gallery funding an encouraging start to 2018
Our mayor recently made a bold step to declare his support for allocating more money for the Auckland Art Gallery - Toi o Tāmaki in Council’s long-term plan. Bold - because it seems he listened to views that differed from his own and changed his earlier position. Bold - because funding is obviously tight and this is outside his stated priorities of housing and infrastructure. And bold – because he may have a job on his hands to get majority support from his fellow councillors.
It’s an inspired step forward and a credit to Dame Jenny Gibbs, Sue Gardiner, Andrew Smith and others who have galvanised supporters. But others are questioning how an art gallery can be put ahead of issues like housing and transport?
Heart of the City is a passionate supporter of the Gallery and late last year I wrote to mayor Goff to tell him why it’s so important to the success of our city. Perceptions as a vibrant destination and motivations to visit have grown significantly and today we have a transforming city centre that delivers around 20% of Auckland’s GDP and contributes rates to the wider region.
Arts and culture is one of the things that draws people in, along with events and festivals, dining and entertainment, shopping, beautifully designed and restored buildings and places to relax. The Gallery ticks all these boxes, a precious jewel right in the heart of the city. Thousands of people flock there when there is something they are keen to see – whether a room full of coloured dots, Lisa Reihana’s renowned works, or historic treasures from Florence, to name a few.
It’s easy to see the dilemma councillors may face. As a business association with a mission to ensure we have a great city centre, we stand firm in our support for the Gallery. We also want to see an end to homelessness and solutions to other issues that are clear to see.
But it is not an either or – we need to find creative ways to achieve both.
As Acting Director of the Gallery between former director Chris Saines and current Director Rhana Devenport, I can share a few examples of why it deserves the wider Council backing in support of the Mayor’s proposal.
Gallery work involves talent, passion and the input of people from all walks of life – from conservators to security guards, curators to those on reception. It’s not elitist, rather an expression of our culture and diversity.
Planning a major exhibition that people will come from far and wide to see takes knowledge, imagination, research, time and money, particularly when you’re talking about ferrying priceless artworks across the globe. And once they arrive, they need to meet high standards of care and be displayed in the right way, which often means spaces have to be physically transformed to suit. Many different skills are applied right through until the works are packed up and sent back.
Showing international groups and other guests through the Gallery was a regular pleasure, with people stopping to watch enthralled as kids from across Auckland rolled up their sleeves and discovered the joys of creativity in learning experiences outside their normal classroom.
The Gallery building itself is a major talking point. I recall being spontaneously asked to tell the story of the beautiful kauri roof design to a large international business delegation, which was clearly impressed with the magnificent building that houses the largest collection of New Zealand art. The value of positive perceptions formed by visitors is hard to quantify in dollars and cents but it matters.
There are many other highlights I could share and five years on, the experiences and people I met through that brief stint at the Gallery have left an impression that can only come from something special.
Finally, a personal perspective. I’ve been fortunate to have watched the All Blacks play in different cities around the world and I had a loose rule that if I was on a sports-related trip, it would be balanced with arts experiences. On that fateful day in Cardiff in 2007, the shock and numbness I felt following the loss to France was at least moderated by seeing the most surprising collection of impressionist art that very afternoon in the heart of Cardiff. All within walking distance of our hotel and the Millenium stadium.
To councillors not yet convinced, even if art is not your thing and you are worried about what you see as more pressing problems, please ask kids and parents in your area about their visits to our Gallery and take account of the unique contribution it makes to the success of our city.
The quality of exhibitions, the ability to appeal to an increasingly diverse audience, and high standards of service and maintenance, must remain a priority. Your support will help the Gallery to flourish as our city grows and evolves to a truly international city.