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Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Te Papa #lianza #keynote5

Michael Houlihan (at Te Papa since 2010)

Passing an item around the audience, asking for an identification.

Theme of transformation coming up again. How do we engage in changing lives?

Museums originated in disciplinary society hoping to educate working class and expose them to middle class behaviour - and even now the first thing we see going into museums is a list of rules about behaviour.

Libraries have the power for change.

Te Papa is now 13, a spotty adolescent, getting into that awkward phase. Can't keep living day one, needs to develop a new narrative. Have posed themselves twelve questions.

1. What's your story? Curatorial vs educationalists, marketers. Tension within organisation. Tensions regarding money too. How do we build a narrative that we feel comfortable with but gets these tensions out on the table?

2. Who are we here for? Paradox of globalisation vs fragmentation.

3. Why? What's so special about what we do? Te Papa is unique in being bicultural. (Wales is bilingual but not bicultural.)

4. Where? Visitors/audience/customers are in fact the owners.

5. What? 36,000 toilet rolls per year at Te Papa. We're a business - we have to make sure people have a comfortable visit. Need to generate money, but also tell a story. Curators' research is funded by shop's money.

6. Are you transformational? Impact on the nation is very important; equally important is impact on ourselves (our organisation).

7. Accessing all areas? How are we sharing our collections, skills, knowledge, with community? At Te Papa story has been about "to here"; next 13 years will be about "from here" - getting collections out. Decision was to bring all history into one place that people would come to, but movement now with iwi reasserting rights/ownership to care for their own taonga. Demographics - how to respond to big demographic shift north of Taupo? Also have an international responsibility, show NZ to the world and the world to NZ. Cultural tourism will place new demands on us.

8. Being a forum for the future? Create and act as catalyst for discussion around culture, environment, politics.

9. Treauring the treasures? Museums talk about knowledge, not about wisdom. Have been challenged that we collect the natural environment, but not science. Where do we go to see the history of science in New Zealand? Inspiration for the future is critical.

Language - we have a responsibility to act as a bridging role. Need to work on supporting Te Reo and mātauranga Māori.

10. Have you got an issue? Te Papa will be pushing the environment for the next 5-10 years. Doing international research. Also responsibility to act locally. We like to preserve things in NZ - which we do by slapping up air conditioning which is bad for the environment.

11. Connecting with people? Te Papa does this well. Currently make learning engaging and fun but need to focus on learning outcomes too.

Co-creation very important in future. Genealogy is about people telling their own stories. People don't want to be given a narrative, but to create their own.

Museums becoming more personal rather than supposedly-objective.

12. Mana taonga / sharing authority? Te Papa working with iwi to help/let them tell their own stories. Need to bear in mind that Te Papa only holds collections in trust - and it needn't be in Te Papa, but can happen in the community too.


What about the impact on ourselves? Need to change how we do things, get a different focus, and these can be the most difficult areas to deal with.

Going digital? It's about how you build capacity and capability. No shortage of ideas! No extensive research about how sites are used - how do they meet objectives about changing lives?

Keeping fit? How to be a learning organisation. Future depends on continuous development of staff. Staff need to be involved in determining values. Also important to evaluate.

Staying in touch? Governance here is less transparent - people get shoulder-tapped. In Wales meetings were open and all documents published. How do we engage with individuals to keep them involved? How do we engage with youth? Values are critical to give you a framework about the future. Has never worked in an organisation with effective internal communication.

Getting down to business? Value for money. What does the organisation do that's special? this will give you ideas.

Telling your story? Institutions have to blow our own trumpet, because no-one else will. Social, cultural, economic capital. Added value to tourism, employment - politicians understand these arguments.

Building sustainable leadership? One of NZ's big challenges is - well, the reason he's here, all the way from Wales. Why couldn't there be an NZer in this role? We need to develop staff for leadership. How do we become the employer of choice? This is a long-term thing but is about transformation.


Item going around is a heel of a boot from 1914 British Army. That boot was probably at Battle of the Somme, at Mametz Wood 1916 when the Welsh army came in to attack. Shows a photo of the field where he found it. Starting to build context, a story, around it. We've been able (or some of us!) to touch history. What libraries and museums do is unlock the obscure, give meaning, create emotional reaction - can provide knowledge, but essentially unlocking a world.

Q: Many GLAM institutions have moved together - what are your thoughts on ways we can support each other?
A: Many good examples of that eg in New Plymouth. Where there's a strong sense of community and what's important. Idea of memory can drive museums and libraries. There's an intellectual synergy but may be an economic synergy too. Thinks it's a good thing. Need to explore potential around this, especially digital. With synergy can explore idea of community forum. Harder for individuals but easier with larger bloc.

Q: Where an item's maintained in a community, whose responsibility is it re preservation?
A: Belongs with community but preservation is an issue, and iwi are very aware of this. Museum has responsibility re care and preservation. Challenge is not just about giving rules, but getting involved. Not impossible to do it, there are already steps to take, opportunities to share collections instead of just being colonial about it. Permanent arrangements are the harder challenge. Te Papa as mothership and getting collections out there to work.