Collecting after Covid

20 JanCollections

Collections manager Cindy Lilburn shows a visitor through the Te Manawa heritage collection.

Every year Te Manawa adds dozens of items to its collections. Artworks to the art collection; artifacts of our society, past and present, to the heritage collection.

Long before anyone had heard of Covid-19, collecting was to be paused during the first six months of 2020. When a community is as generous with its donations as this one, says collections manager Jeff Fox, sometimes you need to stop to get your breath back.

“We had a lot of collection management things that we needed to do, like looking after the acquisitions that we’d already made, and getting the collection valued – no small task when it contains upward of 46,000 items!” he says.

“So we just needed to put a little bit of a hold on that for a while, to catch up with things.”

Then Covid happened, putting a pause on much more than just collecting.

But when the lockdown lifted, Jeff and the team had the space they needed to do that catching up. Even with the virus eliminated in the community and life returned almost to normal, the rate of collecting is taking time to recover.

“We tend to get a burst of interest in donating around October or November, as people are spring cleaning, and it didn’t happen until the start of December,” says Jeff.

In addition to items related to the pandemic – a Covid testing kit, the poster with the Te Manawa QR code – the museum has acquired children’s fancy dress costumes from the early 1980s, objects from the now-demolished Wesley Methodist Church, a wooden table made locally 150 years ago, and more.

Will collecting look different in the years to come?

“We look at the region, what imagery of the region can we build into the collection. I think we want to build strength in what the local area has created,” Jeff says.

“One of the great things about working in a museum is you don’t know what’s going to come in day to day, particularly with regards to the heritage collection, most of which is donated.”