journal of museums aotearoa
A meeting of hearts and mindsThis conference, organised by National Services Te Paerangi, brought together over sixty public intellectuals, academics, professionals, iwi and hapū representatives for two days of sessions. Conference speakers, who were predominantly indigenous, presented a wide range of issues to the delegates. Key themes discussed during the conference were partnerships, the development of cultural centres, and the preservation of cultural resources. Michelle Hippolite from Te Papa introduced the conference topic and briefed us on Te Papa’s hopes and aspirations for Māori working in and around museums, cultural centres, taonga conservation and potential future technologies.
Brand powerThe legacy of the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute (MACI) was described by Chief Executive, Te Taru White. His speech, both invigorating and poignant, captivated the audience. He spoke openly of the challenges faced when the cultural centre underwent brand transformation to become ‘Te Puia’. Having steered through these changes, he stressed how vital it is to establish clear goals within any organisation. More importantly, staff must understand these changes to ensure the organisations goals can be achieved. He encouraged employers to, “take your people with you,” as they are the faces of your organisation.
Lilian Te Kore Hetet introduced an insightful session, describing her experiences in both the tourism and retail industries. She has been involved with Māori Treasures development and Koha gift retail stores, located in the Wellington region. Drawing from personal experience, she explained the intricacies of trade marking particularly for businesses pursuing the rights of branding Māori names. Interestingly, she outlined her ongoing struggle to maintain the name ‘Koha’ for her retail stores. She emphasised the necessity for businesses to actively protect their brand.
As part of the programme, Te Puia hosted a premier cultural and dining experience exclusively for conference delegates. It provided conferees the chance to relax and be guided through the centre. This pleasant evening experience outlined the diverse range of products and services of a cultural centre particularly portraying Māori culture and demonstrated the value of a well-developed brand.
Telling insights – presenting and preservingKarl Johnstone, from Waiariki Institute of Technology, introduced, ‘What’s the story and whose version is it?’ In his presentation, he explained the process and structure of storytelling. He specifically mentioned that stories told by multiple voices should not be edited, as contradictions are perfectly acceptable.
In a session named ‘Protecting our Places’, conservator Dean Whiting from the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, led an informative discussion of marae preservation. Whiting stated that marae could be classified as a type of cultural centre with a unique collective association. He acknowledged that these marae are vulnerable to disasters, as five are destroyed by fire every year. He suggested that precautionary measures such as sprinkler systems can be expensive, especially for those marae that are under-funded. According to Whiting, it is important for small institutions to seek assistance and collaborate with larger organizations. He outlined a range of conservation programmes that can help marae and recommended that cross-iwi programmes should be considered, particularly for more remote marae.
Tharron Bloomfield, Conservator for the National Preservation Office, introduced the next session ‘Pūpuri ki nga taonga tuku iho’. Through the use of images, Bloomfield described the effects of a natural disaster. His graphic pictures reinforced for the audience the significance of protecting valuable resources. It was astounding to see the destruction caused by nature and the impact on a museum in Niue. An unforgettable image of Niue after the last storm that devastated the island reminded us all of the value of ensuring archives and taonga are cared for in the best possible way within the available resources.
Interrogating artefactsSarah and Wayne Ngata from Te Aitanga a Hauiti in Uawa, otherwise known as Tolaga Bay on the East Coast, began their session by posing the question, ‘What makes an artefact a taonga?’ They explained that according to their hapū, “taonga are those things that add value to the hapū.” It was no surprise to learn then that this coastal community had developed a strategy to reclaim their taonga, some of which can be found in various places around the world. Given the limited hapū resources, and the subsequent reluctance to establish a venture as resource-intensive as a cultural centre or museum, the hapū chose instead to develop a free-to-access web-based resource. With the taonga then so accessible, the site became a catalyst for networking amongst whānau groups locally and globally and, consequently, the development of a strong sense of identity for users as kin of Te Aitanga a Hauiti.
While there were some participants who expressed concern about this system’s potential to be detrimental to those Māori groups seeking repatriation of their own taonga from museums around the world, the Ngatas were unyielding in their view that, for their hapū, the combination of technology and innovative ideas exemplified in the free-to access web-based resource was an effective local solution to a global issue relevant to many indigenous people.
Grand finaleThe final presentation was by the keynote speaker Lisa Watt, Consultant for the Tribal Museum Planners and Consultants in Portland, Oregon, USA. She gave a fascinating insight into Native American Cultural Centres. Speaking via audio conference, she articulated how planning, is an integral consideration when developing a cultural centre. As a member of the Allegany Seneca Nation, Watt offered a uniquely indigenous perspective of cultural centres in the United States. She provided examples of successful cultural centres each built with a different purpose in mind. One example was a centre that has been designed to be used exclusively for certain members of the community – with no public access granted. In this building she noted that exhibitions were regularly rotated and allowed members not only to view artefacts, but also to learn about their own history.
Conversely, she identified another tribal museum that shares their history and eclectic imagery with a non-native audience. Watt stated that multi-million dollar corporations have financed many of these developments. Without monetary support, she suggests that it is difficult for cultural centres to be self-sustaining. Some of the realities to consider are operating costs and location costs. One of her challenges to conferees was to create strong governing documents to assist cultural centres in becoming sustainable.
The networking opportunities were great and in the breaks much discussion was had between all conference participants. All in all, this was a superb conference in an ideal location.
Te Ara - Journal of Museums Aotearoa ; Volume 33; Issue 1 & 2; November 2009
LAST UPDATED: 28/06/2010