Judith's Winter Diary

Are there lessons here?

Damage at Sumner Museum

Damage at Sumner Museum

While we were realising the extent of damage to collections after the February Canterbury earthquake, the Tohoku Pacific Ocean Earthquake, the largest earthquake ever recorded in Japan hit. This was only four months ago and although we don’t hear about their cultural recovery in the news, there is information about how the situation has been dealt with there. The Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs has information related to the disaster recovery.

Commissioner of the Agency for Cultural Affairs Seiichi Kondo reported that more than four hundred cultural properties were heavily damaged by the earthquake and tsunami. “Many National Treasures, Important Cultural Properties, Special Historic Sites and Special Places of Scenic Beauty have also been affected. Several properties will require a long time to recover, while some are totally lost…”

There is recognition that “Culture and the arts serve the very important role of comforting people and providing spiritual power, strengthening regional bonds, and offering people hope for tomorrow.”

Lessons are clear from the Canterbury and Japanese events; culture and arts are critical to our sense of well being. Institutions involved with the care and interpretation of collections and heritage need to be prepared for any disaster. Preparation does make us more resilient. Clear communication, community-based planning and response, decentralisation and self reliance are essential.  Museums need to revise and update emergency plans and to reassess risks regularly.We are in the process of arranging Canadian risk analysis expert Robert Waller to run a series of Level 3 workshops throughout New Zealand to assist museums with this process. There are many great resources available on-line to help, particularly disaster planning resources HRRG 6 and 7.  

National Services Te Paerangi is working with Christchurch publicly funded heritage agencies who have been meeting to develop strategies for sector recovery and to consult and report to CERA.   

Update on the Lyttelton Museum

On July 16 Christchurch City Council and New Zealand Fire Service worked with a team of 10-12 USAR -trained members and nine Airforce Museum (Wigram) staff to catalogue, photograph, pack and transport the Lyttelton museum collection to safe storage. The collection of local and maritime items was successfully retrieved with the exception of some large items that have been carefully covered. The Museum’s full collection of Lyttelton Times is stored at the Lyttelton Library. Emptying the building will initially allow a full assessment and then possible deconstruction or repair to the building without any impact on the collections.  Retrieval was extensively planned and based on detailed analysis of the building structure, focusing on safe areas, avoiding hazardous areas, and making plans for emergency response. Compacting shelving seemed very robust until struck by the February Canterbury earthquake. Museums have reported shelving jumping off tracks and many items being inaccessible when shelves no longer open. 

I spoke with a broker about insurance implications for museums following the Canterbury earthquake (and other recent extreme events). A recommendation is that museums/galleries have up to date facility reports, documented hazard registers and treatment plans. Any risk management work undertaken would be regarded favourably. There is a possibility that museums grouping together can negotiate lower insurance rates.

As a sector we can also work together on reviewing our response procedures and improving our channels of communication for disaster response, develop communication with Civil Defence (that could allow for earlier access to collections and buildings) and find more ways to effectively collaborate during recovery.

Small is good 

Wallace Early Settlers Association at the museum Te Hikoi in Riverton has developed a new exhibition on the effect of war titled “For your Tomorrows”. This opened as part of Anzac Day Commemorations. Volunteers contributed many hours of research, planning and their comprehensive range of skills to achieve this great exhibition addition. They built and organised everything to a standard that you could expect to see in a larger, well resourced museum. With the assistance of Roving Museum Officer Jo Massey, all was achieved on a slim budget using innovative techniques and researching possible suppliers. Although the space is small the exhibition doesn’t feel crowded and stories and graphics are very well presented and it is not cluttered with surplus objects.  Dave Asher (President) said that the team had always intended to develop a military display because after maritime stories of the area (including whaling and sealing) “the World Wars had the greatest impact on the lives of New Zealanders and small communities”. Personal stories convey facts and emotions. Letters and memorabilia include a poppy sent home from Flanders Field. 

Collaboration is good; six museums working together

Standards Forum

Standards Group

Six museums in the Clutha District are continuing to work through the NZ Museums Standards Scheme as part of an initiative to start working more closely together. I’ve been involved in several meetings to start this process and can already see the benefits for the museums involved, especially in identifying areas where museums can cooperate and support each other.  

Kaaren Mitcalfe, Director of Owaka Museum comments that “Although we are all committed in so many ways already, without a good benchmark to follow it is easy to never quite get around to it or even to be ignorant of all that is required in a “healthy and functional” museum structure. The Standards folder is an easy-to-follow, join the dots approach to what an ideal, professional museum with all the structures in place would require. For a small museum looking to the future and asking the question how do we progress? It is possible to have eyes opened and increased awareness of guidelines on how to introduce new codes of practice or to develop a better policy.”

At the end of this year the six museums will have completed all the modules and be ready for the peer review that will give them more feedback and ideas and contribute to the development of a regional strategy.

“Working as a cluster group to do the standards scheme brings us all together on a regular basis to share ideas and form more of a network. We are finding shared potential to be tapped into. Some areas are best tackled individually, others can be effectively done as a group,” Owaka Museum. “South Otago Museum has found attending the National Standards seminars to be very beneficial. Being part of a larger group project has brought about a feeling of optimism. By working through and completing the National Standards Scheme together, we feel the six Clutha District museums will form an effective unit. Further, South Otago Museum anticipates this unified group will be proactive in the future, working effectively to ensure heritage gets the respect and protection it deserves here in the South,” South Otago Museum.  “Taking part in the NZ Museums Standards Scheme has prompted us to review our structure and procedures, and encouraged us to discuss forward planning with our membership. Reminding us of the knowledge we already have at our disposal,” Milton Museum.

Need costume covers?

The Airforce Museum, Wigram has developed a range of standard costume covers for hanging military garments.

Costume covers 

Costume Covers

These are made of recommended museum materials and have been designed with every detail carefully considered. There’s an opportunity for bulk orders of these or other covers. Contact Collection Manager David Watmuff for more information. David.Watmuff@nzdf.mil.nz