Monday 5 January 2009

Pay as you go

Last year, there was a lot of speculation about what the credit crunch would mean for the art world.

It's widely expected that 2009 is going to be tough for institutions that are heavily reliant on sponsorship or endowments, art dealers, and artists who needs sales to pay the rent. Mark Amery suggested a return to the garret wouldn't be a bad thing for our artists - a view Cheryl Bernstein rebutted. Jonathan Jones has recently argued that the economic situation won't stop kids from starting bands - but may change the attitude that's developed towards the arts in the last 15-20 years:

"People will suffer – are already suffering – so to wonder how much money will be made at art fairs next year, or how many new books will be published, seems irrelevant. But in saying that I've already announced the first consequence of economic recession: culture will be widely shrugged off as a luxury."

Last year, I briefly speculated about what this might all mean for galleries and museums as local councils started to look at their budgets. Last week that started to cut closer to the bone as the Wellington City Council put up proposals to save money, including charges for non-residents to visit galleries and museums (and cut library opening hours, which I find even more depressing).

While other mayors in the greater Wellington region appear to have come out against the plan, I haven't seen responses from any of the institutions (or from the umbrella organisation, the Wellington Museums Trust) except this snippet:

Museum of Wellington spokeswoman Kim Young said Wellington was a "different market" compared to Rotorua where museums are free to locals only because they compete against national museum Te Papa.

... which I think, reading through the garbled syntax, is an argument that Wellington institutions have free entry only in order to compete with Te Papa. Really?

There are a lot of points to discuss here, and I'm still too holiday-brained to really get into it. But one thought that pops into my head is this: every year, these organisations are expected to increase visitation, and their funding is linked to (or at least reviewed in association with) visitor numbers. Could policies like this - which are likely to reduce visitation - cause a downward spiral in funding? And might it be better to instruct these organisations to find a 5% budget saving, and let them determine the best way to go about it?

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