Campaign to save Aotearoa New Zealand’s museums and galleries launches

10 March 2024

Museums Aotearoa, the industry body for New Zealand’s museums and galleries, has recently completed qualitative research with its members, and the results paint a bleak picture for the future of the sector:

“It could be lights out for us”

“For the New Zealand Portrait Gallery Te Pūkenga Whakaata, it feels as though we are eating our future right now. Our ability to continue to deliver the impacts we do is looking uncertain long-term, especially as we receive no core funding and must fundraise for everything.

“It could be lights out for us, not necessarily today or tomorrow but in the foreseeable future. We are relying heavily on reserves and goodwill. The future for galleries generally and our own institution is precarious.”

– Jaenine Parkinson, Director, New Zealand Portrait Gallery Te Pūkenga Whakaata

“The ability to continue doing all this is doubtful”

“The Kauri Museum is the largest built visitor attraction north of Auckland. Since 1962, we have brought significant tourism dollars to the area and hold vast collections of taonga. Despite this, we receive no council or government operational funding. We educate large numbers of children and tell the story of our past, our peoples, and our country, and have hosted more than 2 million visitors.

“The ability to continue doing all this is doubtful without confirmed operational funding from any quarter. We have a fragile economy after the cyclone and storms of last year, and now SH1 highway to our institution is being closed, damaging revenues for another summer season. The way museums and galleries are funded in New Zealand needs to change if we want to keep them.”

– Dr Jason Smith, Director, Kauri Museum

“We represent a marginalised community”

“We are the main institution in South Auckland. We represent a marginalised community and therefore visiting a large institution in central Auckland is beyond the reach of many of our community. We operate on limited resources and meeting constant requests that come from local school groups, community organisations as well as the general public is a continual challenge.”

– Kay Thomas, Manager, Papakura Museum

“Ratepayer base should not be responsible for safeguarding our cultural treasures”

"Despite housing nationally and internationally significant collections, engaging in widespread educational outreach, and supporting impactful scientific research influencing New Zealand's policy, including crucial areas like climate change, Tūhura Otago Museum finds itself in a truly challenging position. Just to keep the doors open, we need to generate approximately 50 per cent of our operational expenses from commercial ventures and short-term, project-based grants every year.

“As the most visited cultural institution in Southland and Otago, we are a major tourist attraction whose economic impact is similar to the Forsyth Barr stadium. However, Dunedin's limited ratepayer base should not be responsible for shouldering significant responsibilities in education, research, and safeguarding our cultural treasures. It is clear that these should be funded by central government. Sustained long-term funding is imperative to ensure the continuity of invaluable institutions like ours.

– Dr Ian Griffin, Director, Tūhura Otago Museum

“If making art is limited to the independently wealthy, we are doing a disservice to New Zealand”

“Art is vitally important to any society, and galleries feed the future of creativity in Aotearoa when they support artists and their practice. Adequate funding for the sector has the potential to shape so much: community cohesion and growth in cultural experiences, our children’s education, tourism and business innovation, and sustain the careers and impact of artists especially to make works they can’t without additional funding. If making art is limited to the independently wealthy, we are doing a disservice to New Zealand as citizens and communities.”

–Dr Zara Stanhope, Director, Govett-Brewster | Len Lye Centre

Museums Aotearoa CEO Adele Fitzpatrick says she’s concerned that beloved institutions in the sector may not survive the decade, without sustainable, long-term funding.

Museums and galleries are funded primarily through local council grants and internally generated revenue.

“People are really feeling the pressure out there. The picture we have is of a very stretched workforce, an over-reliance on volunteers and staff working well over their mandated hours, massively increased costs and shrinking funding. Some institutions have said their insurance costs have tripled in the last three years. Small museums and galleries in rural communities are really being held together by goodwill and sticky tape, and many are not sure how long they can continue like this, but larger institutions are affected too. The whole industry is nearing crisis,” Fitzpatrick says.

“Investing in these crucial institutions is of net benefit to all New Zealanders.”

Aotearoa’s museums and galleries’ value at a glance:

Approximately 17.5 million people – both international and domestic - visit museums each year, generating at least $272 million in GDP.

Nearly a million students will visit a museum or gallery each year as part of their formal education.

The value of the educational impact for future productivity of these visits is approximately $24.6 million per year.


Concern about the future of our museums and galleries has prompted a public awareness campaign, Keep the Lights On for Museums and Galleries.

And on April 15, museums and galleries from Southland to Northland, and even in the Chatham Islands, will be turning off their external lighting as a symbol of what may be coming without sustainable, long-term funding.

Costs such as insurance have tripled in the last three years and sources of funding are drying up,” says Fitzpatrick.

“If we value museums and galleries, we need to support them.”

Key dates

Nationwide campaign launch: 12 March.

Lights Off activation: 15 April

Campaign end: 25 April