The reasoning behind my decision to close down the Jack C Richards Decorative Arts Gallery at The Tairāwhiti Museum, Gisborne
On 23 December 2011 the Museum and I signed an agreement that the museum trust would build an extension, to be known as ‘the Richards Gallery’ to be funded by Jack Richards at a cost of some $350,000.
The agreement stated that the gallery would primarily be used for the purpose of housing and displaying objects on loan from Jack Richards’ collection, but also items from the Museum’s own collection and touring exhibitions. The agreement also specified that items from the Richards collection would be displayed in a different section of the gallery from items from the museum collection. The MOU states:
“The museum may exhibit items other than Jack Richards collection for up to four months each year in the general exhibition component of the gallery”.
My intention for the gallery was that it would be an asset for the museum since it would be the only decorative arts gallery of its kind in New Zealand. It would showcase a Gisborne resident’s unique, personal and valuable collection of different types of decorative art items that have been assembled over a 50 year period of focussed and curated collecting. The gallery would serve to showcase a changing selection of items from my collection, reflecting my individual taste, judgement and interests in the field of decorative arts. Since the gallery opened, until recently it has been used to display exclusively items from my private decorative arts collection. Today however, many of the cabinets contain a mix of items from my and the museum’s collection, the latter of which have been selected without any consultation from me and which I feel distract from the nature, quality and visual impact of my collection.
My goals for the gallery as well as the museum’s wish to clarify my vision for the future of the gallery led to a meeting in Wellington on 8th October 2021 between myself, the director of the museum, and the chair of the board of trustees of the museum. One of the goals of the meeting was to discuss the contents of an updated MUO between myself and the museum trust.
One of the most pressing issues that was discussed at the meeting was the museum’s recent practice of including items from my collection and items from the museum’s holdings in the same display cabinets. I expressed strong disagreement with this practice. This resulted in friendly and animated discussion which also revealed irreconcilable differences of opinion about the purpose of the gallery, and also led to my realization that the museum and I did not have a shared understanding of the significance of my collection nor of my concern that it be curated to the standard I believe it deserves. Rather than letting this continue as an unnecessary distraction between the museum and myself I though it timely to review my commitment to the decorative arts gallery in the future, particularly in view of the fact that is has now departed from my original intentions. I accept that museum’s priorities change over time and the museum suffers from a shortage of display space, meaning that much of its permanent collection is rarely seen. The space occupied by my gallery could well be better used rather become a distraction to myself and the museum.
Another issue that the meeting raised for me was the practical issues involved with the maintenance of the gallery over time. I must admit that in establishing the gallery I did not consider the implications involved in keeping it as a permanent future of the museum. In funding the gallery, I was mainly looking for an opportunity to share my decorative arts collection with others and did not really pay much attention to its long-term sustainability. Obviously to maintain the quality, relevance and interest of the gallery over time, several things would be needed: an on-going acquisition process to enable the collection to be enriched with further examples of decorative arts; a dedicated storage facility with museum-standard facilities in terms of humidity, security etc; the services of someone who could deal with ongoing management and maintenance of the collection.
However, achieving these outcomes would involve a substantial financial commitment on my part that I don’t think I could justify or wish to provide in view of the issues discussed above. The gallery has attracted a great deal of positive feedback over the years, and it has been a pleasure to see people discovering and appreciating the items that have been displayed and for me to receive many compliments from visitors. On reflection and in light of the present circumstances I think the gallery has achieved its original purpose, but without resolution of the initiatives identified above I do not think the gallery is sustainable in its present form. It is therefore time to consider other opportunities and I am happy to support initiatives that would involve alternative use of the space the gallery currently occupies.
In view of the issues above I have therefore decided that I do not wish to maintain the Jack C Richards Decorative gallery in the future and would like to make the gallery space available for the museum to use for other purposes, as soon as is feasible. While this decision is regrettable from my point of view, on the other hand it is not necessarily a negative for the museum. I believe that a review of the status of the decorative arts gallery comes at a very good time since it now provides the opportunity for the museum to plan changes to the gallery space in relation to other ongoing changes that are being considered for the museum. I look forward to seeing how these will lead to positive new possibilities for the museum.
Jack C Richards