Over the past few months we have had a lot of people contact our office to express their concern and disappointment about Newcastle City Council’s (NCC) most recent management restructure.
As a result of condensing 25 senior management positions down to 19, these changes cut director positions from the Newcastle Museum and Newcastle Gallery, replacing them with one Cultural Facilities Manager position, with responsibilities also for the Civic Theatre.
Museums and galleries that are succeeding are the ones that provide adventurous and well-constructed programs, have strong committed leadership and well developed, and diverse, revenue streams, through cafés, merchandising and successful grant funding.
Late last year I was grateful to have had an opportunity to meet with Newcastle City Council’s General Manager, Ken Gouldthorp to express industry wide concern – in effect to argue that these changes made no sense.
In adopting their preferred structure, NCC envisage savings not only in salaries but also via the development of a combined gallery, theatre and museum marketing strategy, one that will thematically link programming across visual and performing arts and social history. Anyone with an operational knowledge of how cultural facility programming works, understands how impractical and cumbersome (even silly) this combination would be.
I suggested that a more practical and operationally sensible approach would be to keep the museum and gallery leadership positions in place and have them report to the Manager Libraries, there being greater synergies between collecting institutions – with the gallery and museum already sharing collection store facilities – savings in the collection management area alone could grow (and Council would not need a highly paid Cultural Facilities Manager).
Most importantly, I expressed the view to Mr Gouldthorp that cultural facilities of the size and significance of Newcastle Museum and Gallery need authoritative and outward facing leadership. They need directors capable of engaging broadly across their areas of expertise – people adept at leading and continuing to grow what are not insignificant high profile institutions.
In Newcastle, these outcomes, that kind of success, is about to be neutered.
It’s an inescapable fact that wherever you look nationally, state-wide and locally, museums and galleries that are succeeding are the ones that provide adventurous and well-constructed programs, have strong committed leadership and well developed, and diverse, revenue streams, through cafés, merchandising and successful grant funding. Increasingly they also attract their share of philanthropic and private giving, a source of support predicted to exponentially grow over the next 30 years or so.
In Newcastle, these outcomes, that kind of success, is about to be neutered. It is a sad time that ironically coincides with the imminent launch of the first NSW (state-wide) Cultural Policy. Imagine the outcry if The Australian Museum, Art Gallery 0f NSW and Powerhouse Museum lost their leadership and a manager was appointed to direct the business of all three.
Michael Rolfe, CEO M&G