Auck­land arts fund­ing is in­creas­ingly de­pen­dent on pri­vate bene­fac­tors.

Auck­land arts fund­ing is in­creas­ingly de­pen­dent on pri­vate bene­fac­tors.

Metro Magazine NZ - - Contents - TEXT — AN­THONY BYRT

Auck­land has been given two re­mark­able sculp­tures this year. The first is Michael Parekowhai’s muchdis­cussed The Light­house: that mag­nif­i­cent, neon-filled home to a stain­less-steel Cap­tain Cook on the end of Queens Wharf. Hap­pily, Auck­lan­ders have em­braced it with a fer­vency di­rectly in­verse to the naysay­ing that greeted its pro­posal (*cough* New Zealand Her­ald) — and which, for those who ac­tu­ally knew what Parekowhai was seek­ing to achieve, was com­pletely pre­dictable.

The sec­ond was re­vealed in mid-July: Judy Mil­lar’s colos­sal Rock Drop, which marches down the stairs of the Auck­land Art Gallery’s South Atrium. Enor­mous in­ter­lock­ing pieces of wood, cov­ered in blown-up strips of Mil­lar’s swirling streaks and strokes, stride for­ward like an an­gry 3-D puz­zle try­ing to escape the red ropes re­strain­ing it. It is, ac­cord­ing to Mil­lar, a ref­er­ence to a pas­sage in Homer’s Odyssey, in which rock forms seem to move of their own ac­cord, ship­wreck­ing sailors. It’s a won­drous thing, lurk­ing, as so much of Mil­lar’s best work does, some­where be­tween ob­ject and im­age, with a sub­lime Lil­liputian phys­i­cal­ity.

Both Mil­lar and Parekowhai are Auck­lan­ders. They’ve been key fig­ures in con­tem­po­rary art for the past 25 years, and have both taught at Elam School of Fine Arts (where Parekowhai is still a pro­fes­sor). They’re vi­tal fig­ures in the city’s cul­tural life, and ex­actly the kinds of peo­ple we’d hope our coun­cil and the Auck­land Art Gallery would com­mis­sion ma­jor works from. And yet the fi­nan­cial bur­den of both sculp­tures (am­bi­tion like this doesn’t come cheap) has fallen on pri­vate bene­fac­tors and in­de­pen­dent trusts: that in­fa­mous mil­lion bucks from Barfoot & Thomp­son to­wards the Parekowhai sculp­ture, plus an­other $500,000 from an un­named pa­tron; and for the Mil­lar work, $60,000 from the Auck­land City Sculp­ture Trust, $50,000 from the Auck­land Con­tem­po­rary Art Trust, and an un­spec­i­fied re­main­der raised by the Auck­land Art Gallery Foun­da­tion.

This is symp­to­matic of the new shape of sig­nif­i­cant arts fund­ing in the city. The Auck­land Art Gallery in par­tic­u­lar is hav­ing to turn more and more to pri­vate col­lec­tions and bene­fac­tors. Were it not for Rob and Sue Gardiner and their Chartwell Col­lec­tion, for ex­am­ple, the gallery’s con­tem­po­rary art sec­tion would be a pretty bar­ren place. And be­cause of a big push un­der di­rec­tor Rhana Deven­port, the gallery now has more than 4000 mem­bers and about 250 peo­ple spread across its three phil­an­thropic groups.

In a per­verse way, we could see this as a kind of met­ro­pol­i­tan suc­cess — more peo­ple are recog­nis­ing the im­por­tance of con­tem­po­rary art to the city’s life. But this shouldn’t let the coun­cil off the hook or be seen as a re­place­ment for its civic duty to ad­e­quately fund one of the city’s great­est cul­tural as­sets (fi­nan­cially speak­ing, proba- bly its great­est, if we con­sider the value of the gallery col­lec­tion). And yet the gallery has had a big fund­ing cut this year, de­liv­ered via Re­gional Fa­cil­i­ties Auck­land (RFA).

In 2014-15, RFA had re­quested ad­di­tional fund­ing for the gallery, to bring it up to some­thing re­sem­bling a sus­tain­able bud­get. It got $800,000, on the (weird) ex­pec­ta­tion that this would drop $400,000 in 2017-18.

This year, there was also a sur­prise ad­di­tional cut to the RFA’s bud­get from the coun­cil of an­other mil­lion dol­lars, which it spread across its busi­ness di­vi­sions. And the word around town is there’s in­creas­ing pres­sure on the

gallery to raise its own funds, while con­tin­u­ing to de­liver a world-class pro­gramme. RFA is go­ing in to bat for the gallery soon, as the coun­cil de­vel­ops its next 10-year plan. And, okay, we could ar­gue that a deal’s a deal — that the gallery knew it was go­ing to get its fund­ing cut this year. But let’s put that against its per­for­mance. The mem­ber­ship is pretty re­mark­able for a city the size of Auck­land. Half a mil­lion peo­ple vis­ited the gallery last year. Al­most 100,000 of them went to the Got­tfried Lin­dauer ex­hi­bi­tion: a show built pri­mar­ily around the gallery’s own hold­ings, which also re­sulted in a ma­jor new book and dis­cov­er­ies of pre­vi­ously un­doc­u­mented works. And in a study com­mis­sioned by a steer­ing group co-chaired by RFA and Auck­land Mu­seum, the an­nual spend by vis­i­tors to Auck­land at­trib­ut­able to the gallery was more than $60 mil­lion.

Reg­u­lar read­ers of this col­umn will know I don’t love ev­ery­thing the gallery does. I thought the Lin­dauer show was great, and Space to Dream, the gallery’s sur­vey of re­cent South Amer­i­can art led by re­cently departed cu­ra­tor Zara Stan­hope, was out­stand­ing. The Wal­ters Prize — also funded by the gallery’s pa­trons — has been ab­so­lutely essential in scal­ing up the am­bi­tion of con­tem­po­rary New Zealand art over the past 15 years. I didn’t like The Body Laid Bare, though, with its con­ser­va­tive, colo­nial un­der­tones. I love Tate Bri­tain’s col­lec­tion of good-look­ing naked white peo­ple, just not in a post­colo­nial city try­ing to hold it­self up as pro­gres­sive, mul­ti­cul­tural and in­clu­sive. And the $23 charge, I thought, was un­likely to en­cour­age a di­verse au­di­ence.

But what I do ap­pre­ci­ate is that the city has an in­sti­tu­tion where I’m riled, jolted or de­lighted ev­ery time I walk in. That its obvious suc­cess isn’t be­ing re­flected in a more gen­er­ous bud­get is all the more galling given that, not so long ago, the city spent

$120 mil­lion re­de­vel­op­ing it. A few hun­dred thou­sand dol­lars ex­tra each year is small change by coun­cil stan­dards. But it would make a mas­sive dif­fer­ence to the qual­ity of the ex­hi­bi­tions pro­gramme, and the ac­qui­si­tions bud­get — we should never for­get that the gallery is one of New Zea- land’s most im­por­tant col­lect­ing in­sti­tu­tions, and the as­sets it ac­cu­mu­lates are ours.

This is more than a ques­tion of bud­get pri­ori­ti­sa­tion, I think. It’s an ide­o­log­i­cal de­ci­sion, and it’s one we con­front so of­ten now that we barely ques­tion it: whether we see a cul­tural as­set like the gallery as a good for the com­mons or be­lieve it should be par­tially funded through a “user-pays” model — that the mem­bers, the pa­trons and peo­ple who visit it most should also pay for the priv­i­lege. We could, I sup­pose, have a se­ri­ous con­ver­sa­tion about this. Ex­cept that mayor af­ter mayor, and year af­ter year, we’re told Auck­land is be­com­ing a bet­ter place: a cul­tur­ally di­verse, op­por­tu­nity-rich, cos­mopoli­tan, in­ter­na­tional city. The gallery is essential to this, and it con­tin­ues to de­liver un­der ab­surd fi­nan­cial pres­sure. Let’s all re­mem­ber that, the next time a mayor or coun­cil­lor tries to el­bow in on its suc­cess.

The gallery is one of New Zealand’s most im­por­tant col­lect­ing in­sti­tu­tions, and the as­sets it ac­cu­mu­lates are ours.

LEFT— Judy Mil­lar’s Rock Drop at the Auck­land Art Gallery.

ABOVE— Michael Parekowhai’s The Light­house, at the end of Queens Wharf.

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