Judith Taylor

Judith's on-the-road diary - Sept 2012 

Museums in the south are steaming ahead with new projects.

My day as a Museum Development Officer (MDO) involves working with museums on-site and helping with access to expertise and resources for all areas of museum work. New projects are a very exciting part of this and there are so many aspects to consider.

It’s inspiring to know that so much thinking and questioning goes into what will happen after a new building opens: what will the running costs be, is it sustainable, will extra staff be needed, will the building meet the needs of the future, and will it allow the museum to meet the expectations of connection with a wider community? There is real value in having a robust feasibility study carried out by a suitably qualified person with museum sector experience completed in the early stages. This is one way to use advice to avoid the pitfalls like over optimistic income projections and underestimates of operational costs. Guidelines for feasibility studies are available on National Services Te Paerangi’s website.

Funders sometimes require these, but all funders will have more confidence in your larger project, and will be more likely to support it, if it has a sound feasibility study. Boards and volunteer groups accountable for projects can be assured that they have done a thorough job. Many projects are being developed by energetic museum volunteers utilising services as required, and NSTP is part of the mix, providing advice and assistance as requested.

There was good attendance on the Mainland at the NSTP essential workshop series outlining the legal framework for museums. 

Ticking the Boxes workshop at the Gasworks Museum, Dunedin.

 Ticking the Boxes workshop at the Gasworks Museum, Dunedin led by David Woodings.

Rakiura/Stewart Island is planning a new museum. NSTP assisted with Expert Knowledge Exchanges (EKE) for exhibition design concepts and a workshop about repackaging methods to assist with the preparation for the collection movement being carried out by volunteers. Also in Southland, Awarua Communications Museum is well on the way to completing an ambitious refurbishment and extension.

Kaikoura Museum is also developing a new museum. This will be a stunning new feature on the foreshore there. Assistance is being given through an EKE for rebranding and marketing brief for the new museum on the waterfront.

Concept drawing for the new Kaikoura Museum. Photo courtesy of Kaikoura District Council.

 Concept drawing for the new Kaikoura Museum. Photo courtesy of Kaikoura District Council.

Ashburton Museum and Art Gallery’s building project has met opposition and has therefore been slow to take off, but now looks all set to go. EKEs have assisted with exhibition design ideas and specifications for fit out and environmental control. Also in Canterbury, Geraldine Historical Society Museum is working towards an extension.

Other projects in the pipeline include Buller District’s new museum display area in the main street in Westport. Waikaia Museum has a new museum extension planned. Waikaia Museum is tucked away in an idyllic valley in Southland and is famous for its beautiful river setting and the museum’s bottle tower. Waikouaiti District Museum is fundraising for an extension to use for storage and work areas.

Planning continues for the combined library, museum, and art gallery development for Kaiapoi. This is to replace the historic museum building demolished after the Canterbury earthquake in September 2011.

Basics are best

Some of the most promising progress is seen when museum people take time to cover the basics.

These are museums coming to grips with the essentials: developing collection policies or cataloguing using the eHive system. Murchison Museum has started on this and Mataura Historical Society has also made huge progress in this area. Having a catalogued collection and all your management processes in place is the best first step in any development project. You need to know what you have and gather as much information as possible about your collection. Recording and researching these items will allow you to illustrate the interesting stories of your area. Having a web profile and presence for free on NZMuseums.co.nz will also connect you with a much wider audience. 

Redevelopment of exhibition areas at Clyde Museum incorporated a very successful week-long workshop for brainstorming and teaching exhibition installation techniques. This was supported by an EKE and led by Jamie Bell, Interpretation Coordinator, Auckland Zoo. The team there were amazed at how much they learnt and achieved over the week.

Significance assessments with MDOs over the ditch

In early April, I visited Queensland MDOs Vicki Warden, Lydia Egunnike and Helen Pithie, to learn how they work. We started with thematic mapping at Pittsworth Historic Village and then, with consultants, carried out the first stages of a significance assessment at The Miles Historical Village at Gatton. These state-funded programmes benefit museums through thorough exploration of their collections with expert help. Assistance with in-depth research, recording, and presentation of the information is part of the process. Significance assessments are becoming tied to museum funding access in Australia (see Significance 2.0). Significance research is part of the cataloguing process and this document gives guidance on the area.

Thematic mapping is a way of asking ‘what are the main historical themes of our area?’ and ‘what are the strengths of the collection that could help tell these stories?’ There may be gaps discovered in the collection which can then be addressed. Deaccessioning can also become more straightforward following significance assessing and thematic mapping.

MDOs work more formally and have signed service delivery agreements with museums in Queensland. Vicki Warden worked with Pittsworth Historic Village volunteers on their Lady Enid Fletcher Lace Collection, now beautifully rehoused in a freshly refurbished room.

These initiatives are state wide and the aim is to gain information about all the collections held and which collections need support and strengthening. This information will also inform the government of the resources needed to maintain and preserve collections.

Many thanks to Vicki Warden, Museum Development Coordinator Queensland Museums, for arranging my schedule.

Judith Taylor