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'Self-Destructive', 'Outrageous', 'Absurd'

Photo credit: City Gallery Wellington.
Nothing is held back in this passionate open letter, challenging the proposed restructuring of one of the country's cultural crown jewels.

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Many in the Aotearoa arts world are rallying against the proposed restructure of the much-admired City Gallery Wellington.

On top of the move being challenged in the media and on social media - a letter-writing campaign is underway, direct to those responsible for making the final decision, the Wellington City Council and the board of Experience Wellington.

Andrew Wood is one of the country’s most prominent arts journalists, critics and commentators. He’s agreed to make his letter an open one to express his feelings on the matter.

 

Dear all,

I am appalled by the proposed changes to City Gallery Wellington and must express in the strongest terms how wrong-headed I believe it to be. 

Elizabeth Caldwell is one of the finest directors of any art institution in this hemisphere and held in the highest regard nationally and internationally. Robert Leonard is a national taonga - few understand the contemporary art scene and its development in Aotearoa as deeply as he does and we would surely lose him to Australia again should his position be disestablished. 

Such de-professionalisation of an essential national resource and one of Wellington's cultural crown jewels is unthinkable.

The current in-house Gallery culture of expertise, memory, contacts and relationships is a precious and delicate ecosystem, which, on top of City Gallery's reputation - decades in the making - makes the Gallery a nationally precious asset. 

It is an essential draw for cultural tourism. Its exhibitions are legendary for their ability to draw on resources around the world. It is very unlikely that an exhibition such as the upcoming Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future, from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, would even be possible under the proposed restructuring. I can assure you that this exhibition is going to bring mass attendance from throughout New Zealand and, bubble willing, Australia.

Securing a touring exhibition of Hilma af Klint's work - seen here at The Moderna Museet, Stockholm - is seen as a major coup for City Gallery Wellington. Photo: Asa Lunden. 

Such de-professionalisation of an essential national resource and one of Wellington's cultural crown jewels is unthinkable.

There is no business case provided for this proposal, and I cannot see one that would actually benefit the Gallery. It appears to be a cynical attempt to impose greater control by a Council and attendant bureaucracy over an institution that is most effective without such interference. 

To regard as merely an operational matter something that affects such a huge national audience and the invested cultural stakeholders of the nation's cultural capital is absurd - a cynical ploy to exclude public consultation. 

It's outrageous, condescending, and displays a callous disregard for the public good and all the people that you supposedly represent.

Attempting to camouflage such a restructuring as embracing Te Ao Māori is, frankly, offensive, cynical and patronising. No clear interpretation of how this would be implemented is provided and it seems highly unlikely that it would be achievable without a specialist Māori curator within the Gallery who has an extensive understanding of contemporary Māori art. An external general manager simply would not understand the specifics, politics and delicate negotiations of contemporary Māori art. It would be far more to the point to make the necessary funding and resources available for a Māori curator.

Photo credit: City Gallery Wellington.

It's outrageous, condescending, and displays a callous disregard for the public good and all the people that you supposedly represent.

This proposal makes an utter mockery of Wellington's branding as a city of culture. 

Even from Christchurch, I visit City Gallery three or four times a year and I am hardly alone in that. This would not be the case were the unique character of the institution not able to put on such important, vital shows unseen in the rest of the country. 

Respected arts journalist Andrew Wood. Photo: Supplied.

I don't come for Te Papa. I don't come for public sculptures by Weta Workshop. It is a point of uniqueness for Wellington that should be celebrated, supported, and protected, not sacrificed on the altar of neoliberal economic policies that were already looking ropey in the previous century.

This proposal makes an utter mockery of Wellington's branding as a city of culture. 

I vehemently assure you that the issue will not be allowed to merely pass under the radar. I and the rest of us who present the issues of Aotearoa's art world in the national media will not let this stand without making very clear what an awful, cynical, self-destructive proposal it is and how detrimental it would be to Wellington and the rest of the country.

 

Yours Sincerely etc.

Dr Andrew Paul Wood

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