Central Otago News – 21 April 2022

After a difference of interpretation last year left Alexandra District Museum Inc (ADMI) without Central Otago District Council (CODC) funding, a new trust has been set up to foster sharing of resources between museums in the district.

The council’s 2021-31 long-term plan removed an annual grant of $49,000 ADMI had received since 2018, citing concerns with a lack of co-ordination between the district’s museums, which the council said was part of an agreement for which the grant was awarded.

The long-term plan offered options to fill the co-ordination role, including employing someone within the council to fill the position.

Maggie Hope, co-ordinator of the Central Otago Heritage Trust to which the district’s five museums belong, said the trust went to the council with an additional option, in which the sector co-ordinated among themselves.

That led to the drafting of the Central Otago District Museum Strategy – produced last year by the Central Otago museum sector, heritage trust and council – and ultimately to the establishment of the Central Otago Museums Trust (COMT).

The trust is made up of one representative from each of the museums – Central Stories Museum and Art Gallery run by ADMI, Clyde Museum, Cromwell Museum, Maniototo Early Settlers Museum and Teviot District Museum – and Ms Hope representing the heritage trust.

Owen Graham was elected as independent chairman at an inaugural meeting in December last year. The council also has a representative on the board of trustees in a reporting role.

The council awarded $50,000 per annum for a two-year period to support the work of the museums trust, which intended to use some of that to hire a part-time co-ordinator, Mr Graham said.

“The purpose of the trust is to provide a support umbrella to the five district museums in looking at policies, procedures and systems in running their own museums, while enhancing what they each have to offer,” he said.

The co-ordinator’s role would be to take the museum strategy, which can be viewed on the heritage trust’s website, and turn it into an action plan, Mr Graham said.

“As the co-ordinator gets into their role, they’ll be able to see priorities that need to be looked at.”

ADM trustee Malcolm McPherson said he supported the collections of all five museums having equivalent status, but it should not be at the cost of Central Stories’ viability.

“The CODC’s support of its museum sector is the lowest in the South Island for equivalent institutions, and probably the lowest in the country,” he said.

CODC chief adviser strategy and governance Saskia Righarts said the funding had been been allocated from district rates.

Previously, ADM had received a district grant but following the long-term plan process and the forming of the new trust, it would be funded solely by a Vincent Community Board grant, she said.

Trustee Andrea Ritchie, who represents Clyde Museum, said the COMT would be “incredibly helpful” in developing relationships between the museums.

“We will talk about how we can differentiate one museum from another, but also add value,” she said.

Cromwell Museum representative Peter Mead foresees sharing of specific exhibitions, in addition to shared workshops and expertise, in a similar manner to the photography exhibition of items from the Eden Hore fashion collection.

“Up until this point, each of the museums tended to operate within its own silo without thinking what its neighbours were doing,” he said.

Sam Inder, the trustee for the Maniototo Early Settlers Museum, said they felt the new trust would make funding, among other issues, more equitable.

“We always feel a bit of remoteness from the Alexandra centre on council activities,” he said.

Mr Graham said he envisioned the COMT would not only enable links between the Central Otago museums, but also between them collectively and institutions including the Otago Museum, Toitu Otago Settlers Museum and Te Papa.

“We have quite a long road ahead of us in realising all the aspects of the Central Otago District Museums Strategy,” he said.