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Exciting opportunities ahead

Michael Fallow wrote a superb article (June 19) describing the difficult history of the Southland Museum and Art Gallery (SMAG). There are similarities with the history of the Invercargill Public Art Gallery (IPAG).

When the founders of our public art collection lobbied for a purpose-built gallery in the centre of the city they were given Anderson House as an attractive, but easy solution. The Southland Museum added an art gallery to their facility because many wanted a gallery closer to the city centre.

As with the SMAG, IPAG struggled to contain and care for a valuable and growing collection in a building that was no longer fit for purpose. Obtaining a sustainable level of funding was also an ongoing challenge. The gallery survived financially early on because John Husband (our original Director) largely worked for free and Assistant Director (and later Gallery Manager) Helen Nicoll had huge amounts of good will. We also owe a lot to Stephen Davies’ vision in ensuring a strong temporary presence in the city centre and good will has continued with our current staff (Sarah, Gemma and Loren) who do much that is unseen by the public.

Few are aware of the backroom work that occurs in museums and art galleries now. Engaging public programming and the care and cataloguing of valuable collections ($4.3 million in IPAG’s case) requires a high level of professional expertise, especially if we want our public treasures to be available for future generations. We can no longer rely on good will and temporary fixes. Our current staff are professionals with post graduate qualifications specifically related to their roles. We need to value their skills and retain their knowledge

The building closures have served a harsh but useful purpose, it has made our local community realise the value of institutions that many took for granted and also highlighted the ongoing operational challenges for staff.

The up-swelling of support for SMAG and IPAG have provided a strong mandate for future Council decisions. I think that we should recognise that the current long-term plan has a greater investment in art and heritage than has occurred for many decades and the Arts & Creativity Centre is an exciting proposal. What we now need to do is collaborate as a community, learn from the past and finally establish sustainable solutions that will serve us well into the future. Having an accessible transition plan is obviously a priority so that staff can be clear about their job security and the community can feel fully informed about what is planned.

It would be great to see the membership grow in both institutions and have skilled people step up to take on governance roles. While we often wait for an inspiring leader to appear, it is actually skilled teams with unified purpose, good process and community wide collaborations that will get things done in the end. We also have the opportunity to lead the country with innovative and cost-effective solutions. We don’t really have problems, we have some amazing opportunities.

By attending the Invercargill Public Art Gallery AGM on June 14 there is an opportunity to see what is really involved in running an art gallery (with a behind the scenes tour led by our talented staff) and hear about our future plans. If you have some useful skills you may even consider putting your hand up and joining our amazing board (contact Gallery Manager/Curator Sarah Brown for an application form) and be inspired by our Strategic Plan.  

Let’s “Embrace What Art Can Be” and get on with it!

David Kennedy
IPAG President

What defines a museum...

Museums Aotearoa defines a museum as an organisation which is primarily engaged in collecting, caring for, developing, exhibiting or interpreting the natural and cultural heritage of Aotearoa New Zealand.

The Southland Museum and Art Gallery, whose building was recently closed to the public, can continue to do this. In order for it to, one thing needs to be made very clear from the outset.

A museum is not defined by its building.

Instead, a museum is defined by its people; the staff who work passionately and tirelessly to preserve and give access to a community’s cultural heritage. A museum is defined by its collection; the objects that are imbedded with the stories of generations past. A museum is defined by its community; the people who actively engage in its offerings and support its work.

For these reasons, the recent referral to the ‘death’ of the SMAG has made me uncomfortable. I do understand the need to give staff and public a chance to grieve and process what has occurred, as the loss of jobs and the physical presence of the museum has been shocking for the Invercargill community. But SMAG, as an entity, it still very much alive. Death implies an inability to go on and move forward and whilst their current building is closed, the essence of SMAG and its reason for being has definitely not ceased.

Having experienced the closure of our own iconic building that housed our art collection, I know how deeply entrenched a physical location can be in the psyche of Southlanders. I do believe however that in order for the cultural renaissance that Invercargill so desperately needs to occur, the core reasons why museums and galleries exist need to be at the forefront of all our minds. For, when you focus on these, the solutions are then about purpose and capacity rather than just bricks and mortar. This doesn't diminish the need for a place to operate from but makes the priorities clearer and expands what is possible.

Sarah Brown
Manager/Curator

Clearing up some mistruths...

As the Manager/Curator of the Invercargill Public Art Gallery, I have become quite accustomed to hearing misinformation about our move from Anderson House, the public art collection that we care for, and the future direction of the arts and cultural scene on a daily basis. Most of the time, both myself and the gallery staff brush these comments off and keep on keeping on…a decision largely based on knowing that we know the facts of the situation, and that we are doing all we can to move forward in a positive manner.

Lately however, it is becoming harder and harder to let these mistruths linger. So I would like to take the opportunity to clear some things up.

The decision for IPAG to leave Anderson House was neither kneejerk, or without consideration of how this decision would sit amongst the wider community. Before the closure at the beginning of 2014, IPAG was painfully aware of the house’s limitations and the very visible effects that these were having on the art collection. Built as a home, not a gallery, Anderson House has no climate control, causing a number of conservation issues and the store rooms, which included the attic, were bursting at the seams. Accessibility was an issue with the top floor of the house and the public bathrooms being off limits to those with mobility issues. Not to mention the constant challenge that having your main art gallery outside the city boundary brings. Change was desperately required, and indeed planning for this had begun, but none of us were anticipating what was around the corner.

Cue January 2014 and a failed seismic survey, and we were faced with one of the biggest decisions in the gallery’s history. Discussion and debate ensued over the next two years and under the guidance of our then Manager/Curator Stephen Davies, we focused on considering what was best, in the long term, for the public art collection of Invercargill. I know it’s not easy, but when you remove the emotional attachment that Anderson House and its beautiful surroundings have for a lot of people, and evaluate it purely on its merits to house a valuable art collection, its inadequacies become very clear. Lately we have had people suggest that the house could be upgraded during its earthquake strengthening to meet these requirements, and of course theoretically this is an option. Just look at Pah Homestead in Auckland or the Sarjeant Gallery in Whanganui. Doing this however would not address the need that has been illustrated both by the SoRDs committee and the ‘art in the heart’ consultation process which all call for an art gallery in the city centre.

The decision was made to leave Anderson House and move the collection into temporary storage in the CBD until a purpose built space is ready to house it permanently. Due to limited staffing and funding, this process is still ongoing. Currently 45% of our collection is housed at our temporary gallery in 5 Don Street, many of which are works on paper which are currently being un-framed, cleaned and pest checked. The remainder of the collection is still housed at Anderson House, of which about 35% is packed, awaiting the installation of our racking system into the Invercargill City Library and Archive. We hope to remove the last piece of work from Anderson House by the end of July 2018. I don’t know how this will feel as Anderson House has been our home since 1951, and is therefore an integral part of our history and story. We by no means want to forget that; this is just a new chapter.

As we await the outcome of the ICC Long Term Plan and the proposed Art Centre which may one day house us, we are dedicated to maintaining an active and engaging presence in the CBD. Our temporary gallery at 5 Don Street may be small, but it is staffed with people whose passion for what they do make its presence in the community huge. I must also stress that as members of Museums Aotearoa, their Code of Ethics informs all the decisions that we make. This document places collection care and public access to collections at the heart of museum/gallery work, and so do we, every day. If you have any questions about our collection, our shift from Anderson House to the CBD, or our future plans, we urge you to come and talk to us directly.

Sarah Brown
Manager/Curator

Networking at its finest

With the recent closure of the Southland Museum and Art Gallery and the timeline for the I.L.T hotel development yet to be confirmed, it is safe to say that there has been feelings of uncertainly at IPAG. What we are certain about however is how important it is for the GLAM (Gallery, Library, Archives and Museum) sector to work together for support, guidance and collegiality in this time of flux. As such, Sarah, Gemma and I decided to spend a day out and about visiting Mataura Museum, Eastern Southland Gallery and the Community Gallery in Mandeville (Riverton you shall be next!).

First stop was to the Mataura Museum where we were wonderfully greeted by David Luoni with our morning caffeine fix in hand. He gave us a tour of the cottage and historic orchard (which has some amazing sized pears and crab apples of present) and explained how things used to be. Seeing photographs of the cottage as it was when originally purchased really put the restoration effort into context.

Everything at the Mataura museum has been done with the community’s needs in mind, this includes keeping the upkeep and running requirements to a minimum so as to be manageable for the small elderly volunteer workforce. This workforce, however, is not to be underestimated. Under the guidance and support of David this volunteer team has managed to expertly catalogue, pack and digitise their entire collection, albeit it a small one. Walking into their purpose built storeroom was collections management heaven. Very soon all three of us had started asking David many collections based questions, such as, who supplies his storage crates and what materials he prefers to use out of the range of approved options for his collections storage. We certainly picked his brain for knowledge and he happily obliged.

David also updated us on his research into the proposed regional storage facility and explained to us why he believes Ehive to be so integral.  Many regional museums and galleries have no idea of the exact number of items or space requirements of/in their collection. If they enter their entire collection, piece by piece, onto Ehive they will soon have a clear and accurate record of all items including measurements. This will ultimately provide a much clearer space requirement for the proposed regional storage facility and assist greatly in its planning. IPAG ourselves have recently finished entering the base information for our entire collection on to Ehive so we understand exactly what this process entails and are pleased to hear that support is coming for the smaller institutions who need to learn this process.

We then popped along to Gore and met briefly with Jim Geddes. Even with people flowing through the door like a tide, Jim managed to offer us a cuppa, show us around the latest exhibition and educate us on the proposed upcoming art developments in Gore. It was very encouraging to see that Gore is investing for the long term benefit of the arts in the community and it gives me faith that Invercargill people will too.

Following this, we stuck our heads in at the Honokui Moonshine Museum so that I, the only one who had not seen it before, could briefly experience the wonderful dioramas that present the hidden processes of the moonshine industry (Gemma’s favourite part). Sadly we had to give the whiskey tasting at the end a miss (it being a work trip and all). The team there are in the midst of installing the Sergeant Dan Exhibition which will, by the looks of things, be well worth a visit!

To finish the day we headed to Mandeville to see the wildlife photography exhibition currently displayed in the new community gallery.  This community space for Eastern Southland is held in the foyer area of the Croyden Aviation Heritage Centre (Croyden Aircraft Museum). It is a lovely bright space with a very conveniently located café and gift store nearby (well worth a visit ladies!).

At the end of the day we left feeling substantially more positive and uplifted. Our car journey home was much faster than that mornings, probably due to the change in energy and team bonding that occurred over the day. Following this, it was also wonderful to have a surprise visit from Jim on Tuesday to our gallery to see our current exhibition Adrienne Martyn: Shift for himself.

Keep it up fellow GLAM sector employees! Stay positive and the good changes will come.

Loren Baxter
Assistant Project Registrar

 

Adrienne Martyn: Shift - A Personal Connection

In October 2016, I returned to work from maternity leave. My child was four and a half months old and while I left my role as Assistant Manager of Anderson Park Art Gallery, I returned as Manager/Curator of the Invercargill Public Art Gallery. In my absence, the gallery had undergone a massive reevaluation of its core purpose and my previous manager/mentor/in-house barista, Stephen Davies, had resigned. To say it was a shock was putting it lightly. I went from naps and nappies, to meetings and making important decisions – all while trying to survive on broken sleep. Looking back, it was a crazy time.

In the midst of the craze, Adrienne Martyn, a renowned photographer, contacted me about undertaking a photography project at Anderson House. She had been in contact with the IPAG board while I was away and, after catching up on the details, it became apparent how awesome this opportunity was. She wanted to document the empty interior of Anderson House and our collection shift, donate several of the finished works to the IPAG collection, and hold an exhibition at the project’s culmination. At this time, full time staff at IPAG consisted of just me, and as such I was excited, but daunted, by the enormity of the task ahead. We pushed on and over the course of the year we worked through the details and red tape, as well as revising the project to suit the collection still being on site.

As you can imagine, I was thrilled come October 2017 when Adrienne finally arrived in Invercargill, camera in hand, to undertake this project. By this stage, my team of full timers had grown to three and the juggle of management and motherhood has become my new norm. I was more than ready to sink my teeth into this project.

Watching Adrienne work was eye opening. I have observed sculptors and painters undertake their practice, but never a photographer. Watching the methodical way she set a scene and waited for the light, was a testament to her attention to detail. For me, however, seeing the spaces how she did, through her lens, was the highlight. The interior of Anderson House, although always beautiful, had become confining for me due to my time spent there during its closure, before our operations moved to 5 Don Street. Through Adrienne’s camera, the rooms were stripped bare and the essence of the gallery spaces became the focus. Light and airy, the images she captured show the rooms at Anderson house, in my opinion, at their best.

After a week of intense work, labour and discussion, Adrienne had what she needed and flew back to Wellington to create her final bodies of work, which arrived at IPAG in early March 2018. Hanging these works was an interesting and cathartic experience for me, as it was as if our past had met our present, with our collection shift being the defining thread between the two. The final exhibition Adrienne Martyn: Shift, represents the first time that I have been involved with the entire process of an exhibition, from inception to completion. As a curator, we are so often presented with the finished works, without any insight into their creation. For that reason the works in this exhibition will always have significant personal meaning. For me, this exhibition also signifies the changes I have undergone professionally, and how much I have ‘shifted’ since returning to work. A project that I was initially daunted to take on has become a reality and I have loved the entire process. I thank you Adrienne, for giving me this opportunity.

Sarah Brown
Manager/Curator