Auckland Museum Medal Awards

Hon Carmel Sepuloni

Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage

Auckland War Memorial Museum

22 February 2018


Ngā mihi o te wa kia tatou.

Ki te hau kainga, tēna koutou.

Otira ki ngā kaiwhiwhi taonga, ano nei aku mihi e ngā Rangatira.

No reira, tēna koutou, tēna koutou, tēna koutou katoa.

[Greetings of the time to us all.

To local mana whenua, greetings.

Acknowledgements and congratulations to the awardees for your contributions.

So greetings, greetings, greetings.]



Kia ora koutou, talofa lava, good evening.

It is a privilege to be here this evening in my capacity of Associate Minister of Arts Culture and Heritage representing the Minister of Arts Culture and Heritage the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.  The Prime Minister would have loved to have been here to night but had another engagement however did ask that I pass on her regards and apologies.   

I’d like to start by acknowledging:

  • Dr William Randall, Chair of the Auckland Museum Trust Board
  • The Director of the Museum, David Gaimstar
  • Our Kaumātua tonight, Bobby Newson
  • Board members and staff of the Museum
  • And of course the main reason for this event, the people that have brought us together tonight - Stuart Park, Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, Dante Bonica and Jack Grant-Mackie

My congratulations to each of you for this well-deserved acknowledgement of your contributions to our treasured Auckland cultural institution, the Auckland War Memorial Museum and its wider community.

I appreciate that your particular contributions have already been formally acknowledged this evening – but I do want to add my own personal thanks:

  • Stuart – your outstanding work steering this Museum during your years as Director, and your contribution to Te Papa which helped shape the institution in its early stages.
  • Ngahuia – your significant contribution to the representation of Māori culture in museums, and to knowledge of our indigenous heritage. I also acknowledge your significant academic and governance work.
  • Dante -  your contribution to maintaining and preserving skills and knowledge in the making of traditional objects, and your invaluable work on the Hotunui conservation project
  • Jack – your significant contribution to scientific literature and our understanding of New Zealand’ natural history – and the inspiration you have provided for others in your field.

Tonight is also a chance to acknowledge the outstanding Auckland War Memorial Museum to which each of these four medal recipients has contributed so much.

This is a fine institution with a history that reflects the history of Auckland and of our nation. What started out in 1852 as a humble two-room farm cottage has evolved into a sophisticated modern museum as colourful and diverse as the region it serves, connecting New Zealanders and international visitors to the unique history of Tāmaki Makaurau.

The social, environmental and economic value of the museum sector

I want now to share some thoughts about the broader context of the museum sector.

For a relatively small country, New Zealand’s museum sector is teeming with innovative places, people and ideas. There are more than 470 museums and galleries spread throughout the country, with 14 million objects held in collections, attracting over 12 million visits a year.

The new Government recognises the valuable role museums and galleries play in relation to regional and national economic growth, supporting Māori and Pasifika cultural objectives and those of other cultures, and promoting a sense of community inclusion and participation.

We all know museums are important, but how do we measure their value?

We need a comprehensive lens to account for all of the benefits that museums give back to New Zealand – economic, social and environmental.

As an example, I was very interested to read the Social Return on Investment analysis from Auckland Museum’s 2013 exhibition Moana – My Ocean.

The report noted that the value created by the exhibition exceeded the investment into the exhibition’s development – in fact for every dollar invested, $4.66 of social, environmental and economic value was created.

Visitors to the exhibition also reported increased pride and a strengthened sense of connection with their marine environment.

With this type of analysis we can better gauge the true value provided by museums, and make a compelling case for their place in the lives of all New Zealanders.

The changing face of the museum sector

Indeed, museums and galleries already form a core part of the social fabric of many New Zealand towns and cities, but increasingly their role is expanding. 

They are no longer defined solely by their walls and the physical objects housed within them. Their reach has broadened to previously unimaginable places and audiences.

Diverse programmes, exhibitions and research are driven by the changing face of our nation and that of the museum visitor.

Gone are the days when the museum was a fortress of knowledge that only catered to certain pockets of society. Museums increasingly play the role of the facilitator of knowledge, rather than the absolute authority - sharing knowledge and authority with other communities and recognising that knowledge exists in many places, not just within the museum’s walls.

This idea of co-creating knowledge is important because it empowers communities, particularly Māori and Pasifika communities, and recognises indigenous tradition as a legitimate source of knowledge.

One example of this from the broader heritage sector is the changing way we treat ancestral human remains.

Last month I had the honour of attending a ceremony for the first-ever repatriation of ancestral remains from Aotearoa to Rapa Nui, ensuring the safe return of two tupuna to their home and their people.

This moving occasion was the culmination of a process set in motion when a repatriation request was made on behalf of the tangata whenua of Rapa Nui.

I was very proud to be part of this ceremony, which was the fourth time New Zealand has repatriated ancestral remains to another country.

Trading in human remains was a shameful chapter in human history.  It is heartening to see nations around the world, including our own, begin to acknowledge past wrongdoing and show respect for traditional knowledge and culture.

The importance of collaboration

I have been interested to see the innovative ways in which Auckland Museum has been collaborating to provide greater access to its collections, particularly through its Pacific Collections Access Project.

Starting in 2016, this Project is a partnership between the Museum and Auckland’s Pacific communities, which opens up access to the Museum’s Pacific taonga and forges stronger connections with Pacific communities.

With more than 30,000 objects, Auckland Museum has one of the most diverse and significant Pacific collections in the world. Through the Pacific Collections Access Project, it works closely with ‘cultural knowledge holders’ in order to enrich its collections.

Pacific communities are sharing indigenous names for objects, identifying materials they are made from and advising how they were used. This knowledge is then incorporated into the Museum’s database and made available online.

I applaud this initiative for its nuanced approach to telling history and the way it empowers Pacific communities to share their knowledge, which might otherwise have been lost.

I also commend the Museum’s engagement with Ngāti Kuri in the Far North – forging new ways of carrying out research alongside local iwi. As part of this, researchers and curators from Auckland Museum, together with researchers from NIWA, Landcare Research and Canterbury Museum, spent time with Ngāti Kuri to set priorities for a mutually beneficial relationship and to guide research in the area.

Another recent project saw Auckland Museum partnering with the Google Cultural Institute, providing over 2,000 images from its natural science collection for Google’s natural history portal.

All of these partnerships put Auckland Museum at the forefront of contemporary museum practice in New Zealand, and I look forward to seeing what other projects arise from the connections it has made.

The importance of the cultural sector in Auckland and its role in connecting diverse communities 

As an Aucklander, I am proud of the vibrant and diverse mix of culture that this city has to offer.

This city is the home of a third of New Zealand’s population, and almost 40 percent of Aucklanders were born overseas. We need cultural institutions and events that reflect and connect Auckland’s diverse communities.

A quick glance at Auckland’s cultural calendar shows this is already happening. Events like Diwali and the current Chinese New Year celebrations are a great way for communities to showcase their culture and engage Aucklanders from all walks of life.

Events like these offer windows into the many cultures and communities that are thriving in this city, and we are all richer for it.

Challenges to the sector and concluding remarks

But of course, this dynamic sector is not without its challenges.

The museum is not just a building – it has another life outside its doors. The big challenge is to become global, not only talking to a local audience but embracing transformative technology and new forms of storytelling.

Ageing demographics present a challenge and we must also keep in mind the need to engage younger visitors, who will be the main audience of tomorrow.

And there is always room for improvement but as we’ve seen tonight, Auckland Museum is already excelling in many of these areas, setting a fine example for other museums across the country.

It’s an honour to be in a room with so many people who are committed to making sure that this iconic institution continues to reflect all of the stories and ways of knowing that make up the unique culture of Auckland and Aotearoa.

Stuart Park, Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, Dante Bonica and Jack Grant-Mackie – again, I offer my congratulations to all four of you. Thank you for being the reason for this fine occasion.

I hope you enjoy the rest of your evening.

Thank you.