The historical moments that have defined Whakatāne Museum over the past 80 years are fairly simple. In the 1930s a group of community leaders with a keen interest in heritage and local identity formed an organisation to identify Māori settlement sites, collect books and objects, and encourage writing about history. They formed the Bay of Plenty Maori and Historical Research Society, and the dream of Whakatane Museum begins with their pre-War efforts.
In 1952, the Whakatāne and District Historical Society followed as a community-driven heritage organisation dedicated to three major areas of focus: the natural environment around us, Maori culture and living traditions, and our town’s social history throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. That vision continues into the 21st century.
As the number of objects and archives grew, a dedicated home was needed. In 1958, fundraising began to build a local repository for the increasing collections and research activities. After a decade of work, the first Whakatāne Museum was opened in February 1972 and quickly became a beloved cultural resource. As the years passed, a professional curator was hired, extensions and galleries added, District and Harbour Board archives collected, and by 1990 a second floor was needed.
Another major milestone was passed in 2012 with the opening of a beautiful new library and exhibition centre, now known as Te Kōputu. Our galleries there are programmed year-round with heritage collections, contemporary art, and a healthy dose of local creative opportunities. The most recent milestone came in 2017 when the Council broke ground on a redeveloped Boon Street facility dedicated to the collections, books, archives, photographs, objects, and stories of Whakatāne District.
Then last week, Whakatāne's hometown museum passed one more major milestone. With our new building nearly done, we have now moved beyond the bricks and mortar—into a new stage of people, ideas, and partnerships. The physical redevelopment has continued without a hitch, and now it is time to resume full stewardship of cultural services, research, and community engagement. Prime Minister (and Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage) Jacinda Ardern has accepted our invitation to formally open the new facility in October. The Museum's next few months will be about testing, inviting, collaborating, and building ideas and shared vision. It will be all about the human element.
To begin that process, we recently invited supporters and community leaders inside. This past Friday, eighty-six people got a guided preview from our staff, volunteers, the architect, and Council colleagues. That same night in our galleries at Te Kōputu, we announced the establishment of a new Whakatāne Museum and Arts Charitable Trust—and we hinted at some big audacious plans yet to come. Our latest milestone is all about people, programming, and plans.
With many of my Council colleagues, I’ve started talking about Whakatāne Museum’s Big Hairy Audacious Goal. That sounds funny, but it is an actual management term used frequently in the corporate world to encourage bold thinking and, over time, sustained efforts to make the impossible real. The concept was first outlined in the book, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, and I’ve always liked it for its inspiring and fearless implications.
So here’s our hairy secret: the Museum staff, partners, and local supporters do not want to be just another regional museum. We don’t want to open the doors of a great new building and let it be a boring uneventful place you might not really ever visit. Our plans are big, bold, and audacious:
We will evolve Whakatāne Museum into the most exciting, diverse, collaborative, interesting, community-minded, regional museum in the Southern Hemisphere. We will manage and develop Museum and Arts programmes and experiences in our district so they change lives, inspire people beyond words, drive tourism and economy, tell our stories in wondrous ways, and result in a robust, creative, compassionate community.
Big enough for you? Audacious enough? We are serious about building a bold future of people, culture, and partnership. When the dust settles later this year, Whakatāne District Council will have a dynamic exhibition centre with four public galleries at Te Kōputu. And our heritage community will have a wonderful new collections and research facility a few blocks away. It will be a brand new home to our community’s archives, books, taonga, and heritage objects—kept safe, studied, and celebrated for decades to come. The bricks and mortar will rival any facility in regional New Zealand. But with this latest milestone, it is now time to start building the wondrous, human, active side of Whakatāne Museum.
The Eastern Bay of Plenty has extraordinary communities, passionate and interesting people, and a museum that began decades ago and has grown ever since. Together, we are keepers of a remarkable environment and unique cultural traditions worth celebrating. It is now time to invite the living element back into Whakatāne Museum and develop bold, audacious, meaningful new programmes and opportunities. Let’s open the doors, share ideas with one another, and make an extraordinary 21st century cultural institution. It is time to look back on our beginnings, imagine the future, and dream again.