Wrapping up 2019...

2019 has been a huge year for team IPAG!
It’s hard to believe that only 12 short months ago we were packing up our beloved gallery space at 5 Don Street and shifting over the road to the Invercargill City Library and Archives. We thought we were going to be short-term tenants in our new home, but as our one year anniversary approaches, it’s fair to say we have been here a little longer than expected!
With this in mind, we would like to thank the library staff for taking us in and doing all they could to make us feel welcome. They have shared their spaces with us without hesitation, put up with our somewhat cheeky sense of humour and accompanying loud laughter and most importantly, given us free reign to decorate their new walls with our beautiful collection. Allowing the public to still access these works during our closure has meant the world to us.
Throughout 2019, our primary focus has undoubtedly been the development of our new collaborative transitional space with the Southland Museum and Art Gallery at 42 Kelvin Street. There is so much that could be said about this project, but for us, what stands out the most is the relationships. Although always collegial, IPAG and SMAG have historically worked in silos, separated from each other. Being involved in the coming together of our two groups for the greater good of both the community and the sector has been a highlight of 2019. Likewise, the relationships that we have developed with local Iwi and Mīharo as part of this project have been invaluable to us.
The power and importance of these combined relationships was best illustrated for us at this year’s Hui-ā-Iwi. Te manu tītī, te manawa o te tangata was just a taster of what the future holds, and we can’t wait to share the rest with you when we open our collaborative space in 2020.
Whilst busy with the above, IPAG has continued to work behind the scenes over the last year to ensure the safety of our collection. We finished the move from Anderson House in April and have since been working on our works on paper collection with paper conservator Marion Mertens. Knowing our collection is safely tucked into its new home for the foreseeable future is a huge weight off our shoulders and a wonderful way to round out 2019.
2020 is going to be an even bigger year, and we cannot wait to usher it in and get cracking. For now though, we would like to thank all our colleagues, funders, friends, and followers for their continued support over the last year.
We wish you all a safe and happy Christmas and New Years with your loved ones.



Look Mum, Maybe I do have a Talent

In the last few months I have discovered I have a new skill. Thanks to my copyright work I have learnt that I am creepily good at tracking down artists or their estates; a born detective. I don’t want to call it stalking but effectively, online stalking has been my mode of operation. I scour the web hunting for any snippet of information relating to the artist in question and try to paint a better picture of their life.

Unfortunately I had no budget to operate on so I couldn’t buy copies of wills or death certificates to locate more information. All I had was me and my computer. The more I made like Alice and followed the White Rabbit down numerous rabbit holes, the more useful outlets I found. Eventually I was delving through cemetery records, Facebook profiles, newspaper articles, dealer galleries, art gallery websites, online collections, Wikipedia, Te Ara Encyclopedia online, obituaries, and the physical backs of the artworks in our collection. Unfortunately the Cheshire Cat was not stumbled upon. I feel that he would have provided me with a whole new angle upon the situation, or confused me entirely, as if I was not confused enough following endless Smith surnames.

Alice in Wonderland aside, I was often reaching out to people explaining who I am, what my project was and asking if they are in fact who I think they are. Sometimes I was taking a stab in the dark, however, these stabs in the dark definitely paid off. As weeks passed many of the people I reached out to replied and most of them were correct. They were in fact the artist, who has now relocated to the UK or the children of, or the estate holder for the artist I was investigating.  Suddenly it became very exciting getting emails and Facebook messages. Each time I could see it was a reply from a source I had spent time and energy tracking down I became eager to see if I had solved the case.

Most people who I have struck up random conversation with are interested in my project and are very lovely. If they are able to put me in touch with a better informed person in their family, they do, or if they have the information in their own head they often, without prompt, shared their stories and appropriate contact information with me so I can send the updated copyright agreement to them in due course.

For example, one morning I was at work alone and the phone rang. On the other end of the line was a much older gentleman. Immediately I assumed he was ringing the old library phone number and all he wanted was some books renewed, as this happens to us on our office phone frequently. However, I soon realised he was calling for me thanks to a relation passing on my details. He was ringing about artwork by his father and informed me that he and his brother are the estate holders, but his brother isn’t at all interested in dealing with it, so I was to deal with him. That morning I had a lovely chat on the phone to this 95 year old man who gave me a wonderful insight into the type of person his father was and all about where his works have been exhibited. It is the outcomes like this that really make the work worthwhile.

Sadly, every great project has some difficult parts. In terms of copyright this comes in the form of death. Due to the age of our collection, and a large proportion of it being collected during the 70s, a lot of artists have died recently. Often I think I’m right on track to contact someone just to find out they passed away last year and I just missed them.  Just a few weeks ago one very talented artist, by the name of Llew Summers, passed on. The letter I was creating at the exact same time will now never make it to him. On another instance, I discovered that a copyright permission we hold which was signed in 2012 was probably the last that artist ever signed, as he died just a week later. These discoveries are tough. They gave me constant reality checks and made me go home to my family and tell them how much I love them. What kept me going and positive is knowing that any contact I make with people is for the longevity, exposure and benefit of our collection. The positives are worth it. Hopefully, within the next month, I will be extremely excited to receive the mail, as replies start to come in from the copyright letters I am due to send out. Too bad our mail delivering caretaker is called Pete and not Pat, as in my childish investigative glee I can almost guarantee I will want to sing “Postman Pat, Postman Pat and his black and white cat”.

Loren Baxter
Assistant Project Registrar

Its been a long time coming...

That’s why I jumped in the car and drove for two and a half hours to the IPAG annual general meeting back in early June, to hear for myself about the new and strong collaboration in the Southland public art world.

I’d even heard, praise be, about work going on to set up a big shared display space in central Invercargill.

[A bit of boring history: I re-joined the Anderson Park Art Gallery Society when I returned home to the south in the 1970s, after several years away. I was elected to the council. Who wasn’t, in those days? I was also elected to the Invercargill City Council in 1977 and was appointed to the Southland Museum Trust Board. This gave me a governance role for both the city’s art galleries and I was quickly convinced that running them separately was, by and large, pretty dumb.]

I know there are members who yearn for the old days at Anderson House. I’m one of them. I was there from opening day in the early 1950s. Michele and I even lived there for a while when the society had no live-in caretakers.

I loved the architectural and parkland setting and how it could glow with good art, good exhibitions and musical events, and I loved how the collection grew in scale, modernity and quality. My years as president through the ‘80s were some of the best in my life.

We knew there were insuperables: storage, work space, climate control, security, wall space, and distance from the city. That last one was not a problem for those who loved the house, the park and the sheer joy of driving out there.

But the Anderson Park collection was never built up for an elite. It needed and deserved to be accessible to everyone in Invercargill, everyone in Southland for that matter. It needed to be a daily possibility for families, schools; for the young and the old…..and that meant Don or Kelvin Street, not McIvor Road, Waikiwi.

That those unsurmountable issues are being resolved, by two public collections confronting their homelessness by working together, at last, was what took me to the AGM in June.

What a joy it was to see the professionals from SMAG and IPAG standing together, speaking about their shared work and vision, about how the shared exhibition space in Kelvin Street would look and work. It was so good to hear how, at the public library’s archive, the IPAG collection was being cared for, repaired, and readied for re-emergence into public view in a central and accessible space.

Awhi Rito is a wonderful project, overseen by a project team made up of governance reps from both IPAG and SMAG. It’s exactly the sort of thing that Alf Poole, Russell Beck, John Husband and I talked about in the mid-1980s. We never got close to making it happen. It took fear of earthquakes and our not very resilient buildings to do that….and staff and board members enthusiastic about collaboration and sharing expertise. Bless them all!

I drove home to Dunedin after the AGM feeling very good about the future of public art in Invercargill. I even dared to see Kelvin Street as a step towards a new, purpose-built arts centre in central Invercargill….and to see a role for Anderson House as an adjunct exhibition space at some future time. Wouldn’t that be nice.

Michael Deaker
IPAG Patron

The Scottish Open Palace Programme

The Scottish Open Palace Programme (28th April – 17th May)

For my annual break this year, I chose an excursion that was less of a holiday and more of an educational tour. Although my brain did not get to relax, the change of scene to the lochs and castles of Scotland was very refreshing in itself. 

For those of you who have not heard of the Open Palace Programme here goes my attempt at an explanation: It is a programme designed to give heritage professionals a chance to truly experience how heritage, of all forms, is managed and functions, in a country very different to their own. It is targeted at people based beyond the UK and it works to forge wonderful relationships between the participants so they not only learn from the people running the course, but also from each other. 

My 2019 intake for the Scottish programme was 22 people strong, with one male and 21 females. The group meshed very quickly and despite the head cold that travelled through most of us we all continued to make the most of every presented opportunity. Every day involved a new place, or even two, with tours, tasks and feedback sessions. All sessions had a particular educational focus or desired feedback/discussion topic for us to consider as we explored each venue. (Hopefully, I can attach the digital programme itinerary to this blog so I do not have to list all locations for you).

Now, over 20 days of outstanding sites is a bit much to cover, so I have chosen to share my top three learning wise:

Alnwick Castle stood out to me from the day I saw its photograph in the booklet. This was for two reasons: firstly, it was the one that looked most like your typical childhood, make-believe castle, and secondly, it’s Hogwarts (which is pretty darn hard to beat within my generation of Potter fans). However, on the day we went to Alnwick Castle, no flying lessons were to be had due to the “typical Scottish weather”. Needless to say, this was truly one day that I was immensely grateful for both my hardy southland nature and the large black puffer jacket that I had lugged to the other side of the world. The focus for the day was on education programmes and, to help the education team out, we were to trial two programmes, one very new, and give feedback. So yay, we got to be adults at play, but…… playtime was outside, under shelter yes, but outside, in very cold, very wet conditions.  This couldn’t be altered either as, despite being a well-funded and organised castle, due to its nature as a home first and foremost, there was not a lot of available space, so there was no inside education room.

So, having stood through the storytelling Harry Hotspur experience we were already frozen before beginning activity two, the Fantasy Fortress castle building interactive, involving one of my worst nightmares, math. Combine that with constant cold and I can began to get quite grim. Thank heaven for our programme directors shouting us all hot beverages while we added and multiplied our way through our ideal fantasy castle, within budget. Massive praise to the Alnwick Castle education team though. Not only did they remain positive and judge the dynamics of the group incredibly well, but they are open to constructive feedback and, as a result, have created programmes which keep even me, doing my worst subject ever, amused and proud of my achievements.

Now when I say palace, most people think of Buckingham Palace. Falkland Palace, where we spent two days, is nothing of the sort. It was a hunting lodge of the Stuarts and, after a great fire and periods of neglect, large amounts of it are no longer standing. Rooms are tiny and have been rebuilt and restored to be lived in and not necessary true to the original. Despite all this, the team at Falkland have to tell the sites varied and layered history, without typical museum display techniques. They cannot add wall panels or plinths. They have to also control visitor flow and route, therefore, their main techniques used are tours and in room guides. The Falkland team knew their narrative telling and tours needed some work so they asked us to experience all three types of tours (Self-guided, small group guided and large group guided) and give informative constructive feedback.

Our first tour was a small group tour. We did all available rooms and one stop on the exterior of the palace. Then we were to be secret shoppers and self-tour the site. Then, on day two we divided into groups and pretended to be 100 people and experienced the large group tour, which included less rooms but much more of the grounds. It was quite astounding how difficult it was to gain any narrative about the site on a self-guided tour. If you entered a room without a guide there was little to no interpretation available. Also, if you entered a room mid explanation you had to decide to wait amongst the crowd and ask the room guide to start again or just look and move on. On the contrary, the large group tour, with more exterior inclusions and less internal rooms, generated a much simpler and more complete narrative. However, the success of the narrative coming across does all come down to the skill of the guide. On the large group tour one group had a guide who mainly spoke about their favourite things causing them to learn next to no relevant information; incredibly different to my groups’ experience. Before this site I had never even considered how much a guide or tour can influence your interpretation and takeaway of a site or space. The lesson of how great this can be will never leave me. It was wonderful though to be appreciated as a group of knowledgeable and intelligent heritage professionals and know that our feedback was actually going towards improvements on a site.

Finally, Holyrood Abbey is the Queens official residence in Scotland and one of the past homes of Mary Queen of Scots. It is beautiful but incredibly busy. They have already done wonderful things with their visitor route and flow management with their brand new audio guides that all visitors are expected to use. Usually audio guides bore me to tears, so when I heard we were testing audio guides for the site I was not very enthused. These guides however were incredible and really made me eat my own internal words. They are more accurately multimedia guides as they are on iPod touches with interactive videos, interviews, and activities. The team have clearly taken into account a typical visitors average attention span, language level and the variety of ways that people learn. The language on the guide is variable and there are captions on the screen for those who cannot listen. The images and videos on the screen add information to the room such as comparisons whilst pointing out to you essential things to note in each room. No content is longer than 2 minutes (that I noticed) and I managed to get around the whole house, playing the games and listening to the odd extra all without reaching my information fatigue point, which is simply quite remarkable!  Some of the games and interactives were things such as rubbing the tapestry to reveal its original colours or bringing the ruined cathedral to life with virtual reality. I personally feel Holyrood are leading the way in this field as they also have a children’s version to allow families to progress through at the same pace whilst keeping the children entertained at their level.  This is obviously the product of years of work, research and a lot of money meaning that it is a best practice example that is unachievable by many, but the lessons that museum professionals can learn from this visitor route and engagement technology application are vast. If possible, it is a must experience in my books.

To conclude, I leave you with my beauty pick and my quirky pick. Beauty wise Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute was unbeatable. Zodiac stained glass windows, marble pillars, crystal stars that screw into ceilings, immaculate gardens, and elaborate door hinges; absolutely no detail was spared. Quirk wise you can look no further than the Hill House designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Unfortunately, Mackintosh’s lack of research into his materials and focus solely on overall aesthetics, has left this architectural gem in quite some peril. A massive, first of its kind, conservation attempt to save the house and allow it to dry out gradually has been launched. Hill House is getting a roof built over its head that allows people to walk over the top and see it from many different, usually inaccessible, angles and views. It has mesh sides that allow it to breathe yet remain fairly visible whilst acting as an effective rain shield. Due to open to the public again soon it will be interesting to track the houses progress and how much attention this conservation effort attracts.

Well folks that was a lot of food for thought. Hopefully I haven’t lost you along the way. If there is one takeaway from my Scottish adventure I would say it is the power of the narrative and how much work goes into getting that across in many different types of heritage sites (also, in case you were wondering, I did try haggis and it was darn good!)

Bye bye for now.

Loren Baxter
Assistant Project Registrar

One Chapter Ends and Another Begins (The Best Kind of Story)

On behalf of the team I apologise for our rather large radio silence on the blog front. It has been a massive few months with a long list of events, shifts, and changes requiring our full attention. So here is a pretty quick recap:

For starters, our Don Street home is now a pile of rubble. Many people, including ourselves, have been rather intrigued watching the slow and careful demolition as the old building on the corner was chewed away piece by piece. I relocated my office for the day to the window right in front of the action, in the library study area, for a bird’s eye view of the building coming down.

However, let’s rewind. How did we get here? That is quite a good question. It took all hands on deck and a lot of kindness from the entire GLAM sector here in Southland. The loss of our temporary gallery and the lack of a confirmed new home left us in limbo. The wonderful team at the library knew our situation and took us in with open arms.  After a few of their team members helped us shift our entire art collection over the road, we then helped them clean out a small, fish bowl like office on the second floor of the library, to be our new temporary home. I personally really enjoy being here at the library where I receive lots of morning hellos and have visits from lovely members of the public. For someone who usually hides out the back and works alone I am thoroughly enjoying the social increase. We couldn’t have been made to feel more welcome.

On top of this we have finished shifting the remaining collection out of Anderson House. WOO HOO! Just last week the staff got together at the Black Shag Espresso and Eatery to celebrate (highly recommend the Reuben Sammy there – delicious). It was especially lovely for me to see Chris again who spent many weeks helping me condition report, pack, then unwrap, D-ring and hang the unglazed items of our collection in the library archives. These racks are now full to the brim and the sight of them makes me reflect on the numerous people who helped us get them there. Thank you to you all, from the library staff who held doors for us, or those who helped us carry awkward shaped items up stairs, every little gesture helped. Special mention to the library staff member who snapped a photo of me wheeling in two plaster busts and turned it into a meme of them talking and stuck it near my desk – you rock.

Now that phase one of my project is officially complete I can breathe a sigh of relief. Luckily I am already exactly halfway through phase two – sorting copyright and unframing the works on paper collection so they can receive conservation attention to ensure their longevity from the wonderful Marion Mertens, Paper Conservator. The unframing in particular has been very rewarding. Many dates and even a few artist names have been discovered on the back of artworks. My progress in this area is largely thanks to the delightful Sam, our new volunteer who helps both us and the archives team every Tuesday. Sam is very dedicated and has a very careful and focused nature making her perfect for this task and her other passion of book binding. Thanks to afternoons with Sam I have now developed an addiction to criss cross chips for lunch on Tuesday from the night and Day. If this is the worst outcome of this partnership, I’m not complaining in the slightest.

Speaking of other awesome developments, the ‘Dream it up’ curatorial team for our new collaborative space, which includes Sarah and Gemma from IPAG and David Luoni, David Dudfield, Ari Edgecombe and Lindsay Hazley from SMAG, have been meeting regularly. This group is coming up with some truly wonderful ideas for shows that can happen in this new space. Seeing the two institutions come together and combine brain power and creativity is a very cool thing. IPAG as an institution has, it’s fairly safe to say, never been more involved and connected to the other GLAM institutions in this city (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums). Only good things are coming from this combined team effort and I can’t wait to see some of the final products.

So, even though I had a bad morning, with missing alarms and escaped foster kittens, writing this blog, and recapping all of our achievements over the last couple of months has made me feel very good about our progress. Sometimes you just have to pause and look back at where you have come from as opposed to the rest of the mountain that lies before you. Keep that perspective. Great things do come to those who work for them.

Thanks for sticking by us in this transition.

Loren Baxter
Assistant Project Registrar