Loss of institutional wisdom decried

Former long-serving Otago Museum Trust Board member the Rev Dr Warren Featherston is ''greatly concerned'' about the museum's direction, after the post of senior manager Clare Wilson was disestablished.

Dr Featherston, who spent 26 years on the board from 1979 and is also a former board chairman, contacted the Otago Daily Times late last week to say it was a ''retrograde step'' removing Ms Wilson.

Ms Wilson, who has been collections, research and experience director, had made a major contribution in her 20 years at the museum, he said.

And she had ''grown'' into the job after beginning as a personal assistant to former chief executive Shimrath Paul. The museum's new director, Dr Ian Griffin, had disestablished Ms Wilson's post within three months of taking up his job.

Dr Featherston believed that decision had been ''rushed'', without a full appreciation of her value to the museum, and he was ''extremely disappointed''.

''I think it's very short-sighted.''

He was also concerned about a loss of ''institutional wisdom'', including valuable fund-raising links Ms Wilson had built

with funding bodies and the networks she had created with overseas institutions.

Given the large numbers of visitors the museum attracted - more than 460,000 a year - and the museum's success in generating considerable amounts of income, he believed the Dunedin City Council should increase its funding.

Despite its strong contribution to the Dunedin community, the museum was effectively being treated as a ''second-class'' institution, given that council funding levels had been frozen for three consecutive financial years.

Dr Griffin said he respected Dr Featherston's contribution to the museum and his right to express his opinion about a ''much-loved'' institution.

He denied his restructuring decision had been rushed and said he had been thinking about future challenges the museum faced.

He had been consulting widely since his appointment and not just since he formally took up his post in May.

And his plans were fully backed by the museum board.

Sometimes difficult decisions needed to be made as a museum director, and he had to deal with the actual situation facing the museum at the moment, and ''not as it was'' at any previous time.

''From my perspective, it's about shaping the museum for the future,'' he said.

- john.gibb@odt.co.nz


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