Statement on the Proposed Restructuring of City Gallery Wellington Te Whare Toi
Wednesday 9 June
The Museum Watch Committee (MWC) expresses its great concern regarding action by Experience Wellington to restructure the City Gallery Wellington Te Whare Toi, a well-regarded institution of particular importance to the local, regional, and global art scenes. The planned restructure will disestablish specialist roles of director and senior curator at City Gallery, thereby destabilising the institution by reducing its ability to develop quality content necessary for a cultural institution.
Experience Wellington, which is a Wellington City Council-controlled and -funded organisation, operates Capital E, Space Place, City Gallery, Nairn Street Cottage, Wellington Museum, and the Cable Car Museum. In April 2021, Experience Wellington announced a confidential restructure proposal for the six institutions under it, and later consulted with its 147 staff on the proposed reorganisation. The consultation period ended on 9 May, which was followed by two weeks of internal discussions before the final decision was announced on 26 May. For a publicly funded institution operating a breadth of institutions integral to Wellington’s cultural life, Experience Wellington’s restructuring process did not take into consideration the very public it serves. Its residents and members of New Zealand’s art ecology has, through various platforms (see: Open Letters to Mayor Andy Foster, an open letter to the Mayor, and various news articles, example here), voiced their disappointment at the lack of public consultation or consultation with the Council under which Experience Wellington operates. The legality of bypassing the Council came into question on 29 May.
On 3 June, the MWC, through its President Mami Kataoka, issued a letter to Mayor of Wellington Andy Foster reiterating that the cultural strategy set out in the proposed restructuring of the City Gallery Wellington and the institutions under Experience Wellington needed to be rethought. On 9 June, Experience Wellington released a statement announcing that the restructure of City Gallery Wellington would proceed as planned. We are greatly disappointed that negotiations between members of the arts in New Zealand and the Mayor have not resulted in any reconsideration of the original decision.
Experience Wellington’s plan to disestablish the roles of director and senior curator at City Gallery Wellington will destabilise the institution by reducing its ability to develop quality content necessary for a cultural institution. Removing two key, highly-specialised posts would strip the Gallery of the expertise required for the curation of exhibitions, thereby diluting its reputation as a contemporary art museum and jeopardising its current position as a cultural institution of global standing. While the restructuring makes an attempt to ‘de-colonise’ the museum and address systematic gaps in representation through the proposed appointment of a curator of Maori art, the suggestion is disingenuous if the institution finds itself otherwise lacking in rigour and credibility.
The fact that this proposal heralds the institution’s destabilisation and the degradation of Wellington’s cultural milieu is rooted in previous attempts for changes to a similar effect elsewhere in New Zealand—Hamilton, Dunedin, Townsville, Newcastle, Launceston, and most recently in Perth—from which the cities’ cultural reputations might not yet be recovered. Experience Wellington’s disestablishment of City Gallery Wellington Te Whare Toi is, unfortunately, part of an alarming global ‘emptying’ of museums noted by the MWC, where artistic and academic content is increasingly de-prioritised through diminishing positions of expertise. We have brought attention to a similar occurrence in South-Eastern and Central Europe. This worrying trend in museum governance continues with City Gallery Wellington.
In representation of the CIMAM Museum Watch Committee integrated by:
- Bart de Baere, DirectorM HKA — Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen, Belgium.
- Sarah Glennie, Director, National College of Art and Design. Dublin, Ireland.
- Calin Dan, Director, MNAC Bucharest—National Museum of Contemporary Art. Bucharest,
- Malgorzata Ludwisiak, Independent Art Critic, Curator, Ph.D. Warsaw, Poland.
- Victoria Noorthoorn, Director, Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires, Argentina.
- Eugene Tan, Director, National Gallery Singapore and Singapore Art Museum. Singapore.
CIMAM – International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art, is an Affiliated Organization of ICOM.
Articles about City Gallery Wellington
ICYMI: The week's top news in the arts. 11 June 2021
Arts CCO confirms new structure and roles. 09 June 2021
Changes at City Gallery – issues of concern and risk. 2 May 2021.