A stoush over funding has left Central Stories Museum and Art Gallery “grappling” for funds. However, the Central Otago District Council says the museum was failing to deliver. Shannon Thomson reports.

The recent 2021-31 long-term plan decision by the Central Otago District Council to divert a $49,000 grant away from Alexandra District Museum Inc (ADMI) to the broader sector has incensed many museum supporters.

The council has provided an annual grant to ADMI since 2008, at present to the tune of $49,000, and there has been a service level agreement outlining four key areas ADMI is expected to deliver on.

Those key areas have been sourcing additional funding to develop initiatives that benefit the Central Otago district; providing space for the Eden Hore Fashion Collection to be kept; and providing advice and support to district museums; and educational delivery to Central Otago schools located outside the Vincent Ward.

Doubt over whether ADMI has delivered on these, and to what extent fulfilment of its district museum function heart of council’s decision to stop the funds.

Both parties are at odds as to whether the service level agreement was still in place.

The council believes the three-yearly agreement was rolled over in 2018 by agreement between it and ADMI, but Central Stories Museum and Art Gallery manager Brian Budd said that was not the case.

Mr Budd said he understood the agreement was not renewed in 2018 because at the time the council was engaged in a review of museums and libraries, which was yet to be concluded.

“It wasn’t rolled over and there is no provision for it to be rolled over,” Mr Budd said.

“[The agreement] says this service agreement for a three-year term commencing July 1, 2018′ understanding is there was never an agreement to renew it.

“On that basis, you could argue that certainly since June 2018, ADMI has no obligation to provide support to district museums, but it was doing so we were responding, as far as I know .. to any requests that came from other museums for information or whatever.”

Mr Budd, who started with the museum in August last year, said he only became aware of the agreement, and its requirement to fulfil a district museum function, in a meeting with the council last October, when it was first brought to ADMI’s attention the council was concerned about a lack of delivery.

Disappointed . Central Stories Museum and Art Gallery manager Brian Budd. PHOTO: SHANNON THOMSON

Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan said concern about the museum’s performance was reinforced at a November 2020 council meeting, when a report was put forward to consider the council’s role in the museum and heritage sector.

The report outlined the proposal of a new in-house function to be included in the 2021-31 long-term plan consultation process.

“As part of council’s engagement with the heritage sector, the sector identified concerns with the co-ordination between museums in the district,” Mr Cadogan said.

“A gap in co-ordination a job ADMI was paid to undertake identified.”

The council’s preferred solution to this in the long-term plan was to take the funds from ADMI and apply them to an in-house role.

During the long-term plan consultation earlier this year, community views were sought on whether to keep funding ADMI or three different options involving removing the funding.

A total of 471 submitters favoured funding being either brought in house or removed totally, while 152 felt it should be retained by ADMI.

The museum sector presented a fifth option, under which the sector undertaking the co-ordination would receive the funding rather than council staff.

In the finalised long-term plan, the council determined the ADMI funding would be applied to a sector-led initiative, provided the council was satisfied with the full proposal.

The museum sector was given three months to put a proposal together.

Mr Cadogan said when the report was presented in November, no ADMI board members took the opportunity to speak to it. Only Mr Budd as Central Stories manager spoke, noting the organisation was not against the establishment of the position the report suggested, but it should not come at the expense of a reduced grant to the museum.

“In essence, what the board through its representative was asking, was that even though .. significant components of what $49,000 a year was being paid for would no longer be undertaken by the board, the $49,000 should still be paid,” Mr Cadogan said.

ADMI’s submission to the long-term plan conceded the organisation had difficulty fulfilling the district role, and no indication was given as to how it intended to resolve that issue, he said.

“The board failed to take the opportunity given to speak to its submission, nor did anyone speak to the hardship grant application to council both times it came to the table.

“This is why I am more than a little surprised to find that the board is now, after the LTP [long-term plan] has been passed, attempting to have the decision reversed,” Mr Cadogan said.

However, ADMI disputes it was not delivering as required.

A statement released by the organisation expressed three of the four requirements were being fully met and “the advice and support to district museums was being delivered willingly when requested, which was the requirement under the agreement”.

Mr Budd argued it was unreasonable to remove the entire grant of 49,000 when some requirements were being met.

The council was provided with monthly board meeting minutes and an annual report of activity, and a council representative was present on the ADMI board as an observer, but it was not until October 2020 that concerns about non-delivery were expressed, Mr Budd said.

“I certainly am fairly disappointed there wasn’t more discussion with the council about the impact pulling the grant would have.

“You can’t just pull $50,000 from an organisation like this and not have it have an impact,” Mr Budd said.

According to ADMI, that impact would be significant and affect not only those directly involved in the museum, but those who frequented it, and would include staff losses, reduced opening hours, the risk of loss of cultural events and displays, reduced support for Central Otago artists and the introduction of an entry fee.

Mr Cadogan said no-one on the council took any pleasure from removing the funding from ADMI.

“However, [ADMI] failed to undertake significant components of the job it was being paid to undertake significant majority of Central Otago people submitted in favour of the funds being removed and the heritage sector stepped forward to provide the services itself.”

The four requirements:

1. Funding

a. Secure additional funding as required, through grants and sponsorship, to develop resources and initiatives that benefit the greater Central Otago district.

2. Collections

a. Provide space for the Eden Hore Fashion Collection to be kept, and allow access at the discretion of the council until such time that a decision is made on the permanent storage site for the collection.

3. Advice and Support

a. Offer expert museology mentoring and advice to district museums, as requested.

b. Provide joint promotional opportunities that encompass the museums throughout the district.

c. Co-ordinate and facilitate at least six-monthly meetings/workshops with the district museums to discuss topics that are relevant and of assistance to the district museums.

d. Create and maintain a communication network among district museums, encouraging knowledge sharing, inter-museum loans and the development of best-practice standards.

e. Conduct visits, as required, to museums throughout the district to assist with collections, exhibitions or other projects that require external assistance.

4. Educational Delivery

a. Work with, and host, Central Otago district schools (located outside the Vincent ward) to deliver learning experiences that meet the schools’ needs.

b. Promote activities that profile Central Stories Museum and Art Gallery exhibits and/or programmes to the greater Central Otago district.