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