Inspiration from Toitu's past

Jennifer Evans, recently appointed as director of the Toitu Otago Settlers Museum. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Jennifer Evans, recently appointed as director of the Toitu Otago Settlers Museum. Photo by Craig Baxter.

Attendance at the Toitu Otago Settlers Museum is high, after a major redevelopment, but recently appointed director Jennifer Evans still draws some of her inspiration from earlier, tougher times.

Ms Evans (51), who became director this week, still vividly remembers meeting a previous museum director, the late Elizabeth Hinds, in the 1980s, and subsequently being impressed by her vision and commitment.

''It was her passion for the museum, and her determination to do the best for the museum in very difficult circumstances,'' she said.

''Passion, it's really important,'' Ms Evans added.

Mrs Hinds' decision to paint some parts of the museum exterior in lively colours had raised some eyebrows at the time but was a ''statement to say we are here''.

She had been director from 1983 to 1996 and had to contend with limited resources and a leaking, rundown museum complex.

And Mrs Hinds had warned museum treasures were being put at risk because of the leaks, and big swings of temperature and humidity, with little internal climate control.

Ms Evans said times were now much better at the museum, after a successful $37.5 million redevelopment.

Also, there had been 268,739 visitors in the past financial year.

The nearby Dunedin Chinese Garden - now administered by the museum - also attracted a record 40,208 visitors in the same financial year ended June 30.

That meant an ''impressive'' total of more than 300,000 visitors at both attractions.

Dunedin-born, Ms Evans was delighted to be ''giving something back'' to the ''fabulous'' city in which she had grown up.

Closer links between the museum and the Dunedin Chinese Garden were already creating a ''win-win'' situation for both attractions, she said.

The museum took over administrative responsibility for the Chinese Garden, also a Dunedin City Council-owned facility, on July 1 last year.

Ms Evans said the museum and the garden would retain their separate identities, but planned new information material for the museum would link its attractions more clearly with the garden.

The garden also symbolised Dunedin's successful sister city relationship with Shanghai.

She was keen to attract more visitors to the garden, and more work had to be done to boost income there.

The museum's recent redevelopment had delivered strong museum infrastructure, but there was still scope for further improvements and refinements at the museum, including in smarter energy use and more focus on sustainability.

''We're still learning how to drive the building,'' she added.

She aimed to foster more ''innovation and community participation'' , and also planned an upgrade of the museum internet site, as well as further moves to increase public access to the collection.

john.gibb@odt.co.nz

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