Killing the Goose: Auckland Art Gallery an incredible asset


We all know the story of The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg?   Apparently not. If you weren’t brought up with the bizarre hideousness of Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood or Rumplestiltskin, a goose laying differently coloured eggs may not have been part of your parental repertoire.

It’s really one of those life lessons like “semper paratus – always ready”. Today there’s probably a TedX talk about delayed gratification and asset conservation that’s a contemporary repetition of the goose message.      

In case you missed the goose story and the TedX talk; if you’ve got an income producing asset like the goose you try really hard not to eat it the first time you realise you forgot to collect the click and Maccas is unexpectedly shut.     You get one of the golden eggs off the bookcase and off you go to see what edible items you can trade it for.   You keep the goose for all the future golden eggs you’ll get. 

I’m not suggesting the Auckland Art Gallery go through the bequest collections and have a garage sale and my current knowledge of the scope of the gallery’s money making endeavours is probably the same as Auckland’s new Mayor – nil.  The only difference is I love the art gallery.   I regard it as one of the fragments that makes up the jigsaw of the city. Something that represents more than the retail shop windows, cafes, restaurants and office buildings.   So if all of you who have contributed to one of my favourite Auckland places will forgive me, I wonder whether you’ve noticed:-

While there are varying entry fees for special exhibitions, currently entry to the Auckland Art Gallery is “free” for everyone whether you pay rates, reside within the enormous city boundary or are currently seeing the sights from elsewhere in New Zealand or abroad. (This overall policy seems consistent with major international galleries such as the QAGOMA(Brisbane) and the Tate(UK)).

The Tauranga Art Gallery, a tiny establishment when compared with the Auckland Art Gallery, suggests a koha from locals and New Zealand residents and charges international visitors $7.   Further up the road The Elms, a charitable trust caring for an example of early colonial Tauranga, (which in 2015 got $150,000. Council funding), has a graduated scale of entry charges. Tauranga residents $7.50, New Zealand residents $10.00 and international visitors $15. Children of Tauranga pay $3.50, others $5. and an international child $7.50. Family passes are $18.50; $25 and $37.50. respectively.   You can also hire The Elms chapel and “events” have been held in the lower level of the art gallery.   Comparatively ironic isn’t it. 

As no one seems to like my idea of charging every visitor to New Zealand a flat $200. contribution to fund facilities such as infrastructure, arts and culture, environment, health, ACC etc (and unlike the Swiss, or is the Italians, you don’t have to buy an annual visitor’s pass to drive on New Zealand roads). As my suggestions of a 1c bank paid tax on all financial transactions and a 1c a litre charge on all water (bottled or bulk) exported from New Zealand are thought unkind; I recommend the Auckland Art Gallery starts to charge out of towners (including me) and international visitors.   If the Tauranga Art Gallery thinks it’s worth $7. a visit and The Elms thinks it’s okay to charge them $15. then the Auckland Art Gallery would still be an outstanding deal at $10. for out of town New Zealanders and $15.-$20. for international visitors.    And compare $10. to $20. with the price of a ticket to the recent Eden Park hosted musical soiree – laughable.

Are there regular package tours from “the provinces” in conjunction with an Auckland hotel (preferably one not forever remembered as a quarantine facility).   Yes, I know other gallery “Friends” have organised the occasional busload for imported exhibitions. I’m suggesting that there are regular tours organised by the Art Gallery itself which incorporate an element of profit for the gallery. A behind the scenes look at the conservation work, a peek at some of the collection not on display, a talk from someone interesting about something interesting. Morning tea in that wonderful gallery café with its beautiful locally grown tea.     And want to get people back more than once? Add in different galleries at different times of the year.   Dare I say, Auckland has suburban art galleries in places you (or Mayor Brown) wouldn’t believe and that includes Mangere, Papakura and Pukekohe.  

Want to attract overseas visitors of the get on the bus variety?   New Zealand is littered with art galleries – think Len Lye and Hundertwasser – multi-day tours. One of just the North Island or a longer one through both islands.  

And for those who don’t want to or can’t get on the bus, what about a paid subscription series to online visit special exhibitions, hear artist’s talks, visit behind the scenes, see selections of works not currently displayed.   Think the Metropolitan Opera.

I can’t remember what’s in the beautiful gallery shop. I remember lots of books and prints.  Something useful like an Art Gallery printed shopper (think Countdown) would tempt me. Little gifts like that locally grown tea in a special gallery presentation container. Or locally made chocolate in gallery unique wrapping.

So today I went online to have another look at the gallery shop. Some weird stuff like socks and reading glasses, several beautiful and comparatively inexpensive art reproduction tea towels (and cushion covers; yes cushion covers) and many versions of the printed shopper (look me I’m a culture vulture). Some of the items were “sold out”. Beautiful jewellery. A comprehensive print collection. Many were what I would regard as expensive but then I’m not exchanging my currency for New Zealand dollars and getting a wonderful increase. So items I thought were expensive would probably be good value for an international tourist.  

I notice the roof and windows of the Auckland gallery are leaking and need repair. Mr Brown seems to be acquainted with the very rich and very famously rich who he could approach to chip a penny or two into a repair and restoration fund. Or, perhaps the gallery could do what community groups and private schools do and get you to buy a brick…. Believe me it works. It would be interesting to know just how many community buildings (that’s what the art gallery is) have been built around Aotearoa New Zealand with bought bricks.  

And of course the Auckland Art Gallery should have a regular raffle. Prizes don’t have to include food but perhaps a first prize of a two day stay at one of the more unusual boutique hotels that have sprouted around Auckland and its suburbs (think The Convent Hotel, Grey Lynn) with breakfast somewhere special, morning tea at the Art Gallery café and dinner ….   That has be worth $20. a ticket (don’t laugh if you’ve seen what people pay for Lotto tickets).

One of those expensive “long lunches”…..Tauranga specialises in them but down here the speakers seem to male and sports oriented. They include auctions and make heaps of money for charity so use the model, change the content.

An annual gallery fund raising public concert….Eden Park here we come. And a good old fashioned fete or fair.   Bet the White Elephant stalls would be an international draw card.

Mr Brown is concerned that people from South Auckland don’t come into the city to go to the art gallery.   Well they won’t be coming in by train for a very long time. Down here in tiny Tauranga the gallery has an Art Bus which brings the children of Tauranga in to the gallery.   There is an education room on the ground floor that is often full of children making art after a gallery tour – starting them young so there is never “threshold fear” of art galleries, museums and major public buildings. The bus is supported by the Friends of the Tauranga Art Gallery.    What a wonderful project for Mr Hart et al to support for the wider (and wider) Auckland.

The last time I was at the Auckland Art Gallery there were groups of young children being taken round the building. I recall it being suggested to me that it wasn’t appropriate. (Not of course what I think). So, have maybe two days a week set aside as children’s days and let other visitors know there will be children’s groups with all the noise and enthusiasm around on those days.

And, I’m sure the Auckland Art Gallery provides touring exhibitions. One of the very rich and very famous might like to sponsor smaller, regular touring exhibitions of some of the stored works to the “burbs”.

Instead of making snide remarks and revealing his lack of awareness of the value of the Auckland Art Gallery to the city Mayor Brown would be more useful and real if he asked some of those rich mates to form a fund raising group.

These are hard times. Hard times which need innovation not slashing and burning.The facade of the original library – gallery now forming part of the Auckland Art Gallery

Author’s Note: From my early teenage years I was privileged to live in rented accommodation within walking distance of Central Auckland.  The Auckland Art Gallery, the Auckland Library, the Museum and the wonderful Domain replaced my countryside journeys.  Since moving to Tauranga I have been privileged to meet and write about the creative institutions and the individuals who enrich them and me in the process.  I’ve travelled to many of the provincial towns surrounding Tauranga to visit their art galleries and exhibitions – art and galleries are a fundamental and integral part of the community.     Art has been part of the life of humanity since we could make patterns in the dust and mark the walls of caves.  The issue of the affordability of rates in lower socio economic areas is not about art galleries it’s about whether a mature city should acknowledge areas of disparity and have a graduated rating scale.  I would find Mayor Wayne Brown’s concern for the welfare of income restricted South Auckland residents more credible if the issue of closing free Council supported childcare centres hadn’t also been suggested as a cost cutting measure!

 Check out Parts I and II of Busted – my pre-Covid bus trip to Auckland to visit the then Black Asterisk gallery in Ponsonby and the Auckland Art Gallery

Busted: Auckland & Black Asterisk – Part 1

Busted: Auckland & Black Asterisk Part II


Rosemary Balu. Rosemary Balu is the founding and current Managing Editor of ARTbop.   Rosemary has arts and law degrees from the University of Auckland. She has been a working lawyer and has participated in a wide variety of community activities where information gathering, submission writing, community advocacy and education have been involved. Interested in all forms of the arts since childhood Rosemary is focused on further developing and expanding multi-media ARTbop as the magazine for all the creative arts in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand


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