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Meeting the future

5 MarCommunity

Palmerston North’s Te Manawa Museum of Art, Science and History has taken its next step toward becoming a museum of the future.

In 2018 it became one of only 20 worldwide organisations – and one of only two in the Southern Hemisphere – to have been accepted into the first wave of ‘OF/BY/FOR ALL’, a prestigious global mentoring programme led by Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History in California.

In January, People & Partnerships Leader Janet Ellery and Inclusion & Accessibility Coordinator Pru Pim travelled to Santa Cruz to meet representatives of other organisations in the first wave. They spent three days immersed in workshops, panels and discussion about enabling a sense of belonging and ownership in a museum’s audience, a goal that is essential to the vision Te Manawa has for the future.

“We spent an amazing three days with the OF/BY/FOR ALL Change Network First Wavers,” says Janet. “We learned so much about inclusion and accessibility, and made connections with people dedicated to throwing the doors of institutions open to the communities they serve. We left feeling invigorated, determined and grateful. There’s a lot to get stuck into!”

OF/BY/FOR ALL follows the great success of the Santa Cruz Museum’s Director, Nina Simon, in turning her organisation into a thriving centre for community and cultural life, with visitor numbers and revenue both thriving. She is a published author and is well recognised across the world for her work on making cultural institutions more dynamic, relevant, and essential places. She is called upon worldwide to share her knowledge with organisations with the goal of working more inclusively.

The goals of OF/BY/FOR ALL are things essential to the vision Te Manawa has for the future, says Te Manawa chief executive Andy Lowe. “Manawatū is a tremendously diverse place, a real melting pot of cultures, values and ideas. It is crucial to ensure that our services, spaces and programmes cater to the needs of our people.

“We also want to attract more people from out of Palmerston North to our region and showcase our unique culture and creativity. If museums want to stay relevant in the 21st century, they must become much more customer and visitor focused – it’s a matter of survival.”

“The opportunity to be mentored by a figure like Nina Simon is huge for us in Palmerston North and for the New Zealand museum and cultural sector,” Andy says. “This work will inform the redevelopment planning currently underway at Te Manawa and make sure our community is part of this process so that the museum continues to thrive into the future – 2025 and beyond.

“The great thing is that we know by listening to our community and working together, we will remain an active and vital civic space.”

Image: Pru (left) and Janet (centre right) with American community organisers Susan and Vanessa. Susan represents Artz Philly in Philadelphia, an organisation working with those dementia through inclusive art practice. Vanessa works for Movement BE in San Diego, which helps people in marginalised communities find their voice and tell their story.