Museum collection plan queried

Concerns have been voiced about the Otago Museum's future collection care following the disestablishment of the museum's former conservation officer post.

When the former conservation officer, Laurence Le Ber, left the museum in April, it was decided not to fill the previously full-time post, museum officials said.

Dunedin writer and fine arts curator Peter Entwisle said disestablishing that post was "another step away from the core business" of the museum.

Mr Entwisle, who has long urged the Government to provide funding for the country's major regional museums, said Otago Museum's overall funding remained "ridiculously small".

The museum was home to a huge collection of widely varied artefacts, and it was essential for a museum of such size and significance to have at least one full-time conservator to meet core museum needs, he said.

Francois Leurquin, who is also a specialist conservator, is employed as collection manager at the Otago Settlers Museum.

A fine arts conservator was also based at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, Mr Entwisle said.

An article in the latest Otago Museum newsletter notes that, with effect from September, the museum had switched from its earlier system of having two curators each in natural sciences and humanities to having appointed a research and interpretation co-ordinator in each field.

A "collection co-ordinator" in natural sciences and another in humanities have also been appointed, in a change of title from the former "registrar" posts.

A member of a group of former Otago Museum staff concerned about museum issues said reducing the number of curator-level posts and ending the conservation post significantly reduced the museum's overall collection care experience and expertise.

That raised concerns about future museum collection care, he said.

A water leak which had affected a few artefacts in the Sir Edmund Hillary "Beyond Everest" show, displayed at the museum in 2004-05, highlighted the need to have specialist conservation expertise on the museum staff to deal with any emergencies, he said.

Museum acting director of collections and research Clare Wilson this week rejected criticism of the museum restructuring, and said the museum's conservation efforts had actually been significantly strengthened, not reduced.

The museum continued to employ highly experienced senior staff, and conservators with specific expertise would be brought in under contract to deal with specific conservation needs as they arose, she said.

The museum could also cope well with any emergencies.

After carefully thinking through the issues, the museum had adopted a new staff structure which reallocated some of the previous resources.

These changes would actually result in improved conservation care of the museum's two million artefacts, she said.

She also rejected suggestions that claimed dusty conditions in the Maori gallery showed that collection care standards had slipped.

Museum officials said the galleries were checked and appropriate cleaning was carried out.

• The two collection co-ordinators will co-ordinate collection care and the development of information about the collections and contracting specialist conservation services as needed, the newsletter noted.

A collection officer will deal with documentation, and facilitating access.

Research and interpretation co-ordinators work with experts and researchers internally and externally, co-ordinating research on collections, and contributing to exhibitions, the newsletter said.

john.gibb@odt.co.nz

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