New name for renewed museum 'important'

Lee Vandervis
Lee Vandervis
Despite significant community backing for the status quo, the Dunedin City Council should seriously consider changing the Otago Settlers Museum's name, city councillor Lee Vandervis says.

After citing the need to avoid potential "prejudice or disadvantage" to commercial activities, the settlers board excluded the public from discussion on the name issue at an extraordinary meeting late last week.

The name is being reviewed, and community views have been sought, as the museum's extensive $39 million redevelopment nears completion.

During the closed-door discussion, the board considered a report on the issue and then recommended the current name be retained.

The issue will be considered again by the council community development committee today and a final decision is expected to be made at a council meeting later this month.

Retaining the name is strongly supported by members of the Otago Settlers Association, which founded the museum, brought together most of its treasures and has run the institution for most of its history.

In a recent online poll of eight possible museum names, 51% (1694) of the more than 3300 votes cast supported the "Otago Settlers Museum" name and a further 6% backed a shorter version: "The Settlers".

Cr Vandervis, who is a member of the board, declined to discuss matters that had been discussed when the public was excluded.

The current name had been strongly supported in the community poll, but only about 3300 votes had been cast, he said.

This name summarised the museum's "context and history", and traditionalists and the Otago Settlers Association understandably supported that.

But instead of adopting a "business as usual" approach, he hoped the council would seize an "exciting" chance to try something different.

The council faced a very important decision because the name was "actually, very important for marketing" what was effectively a new museum.

Given the many millions spent on the redevelopment and the desire to nearly treble attendance to about 180,000 visitors, a new name might be more effective in attracting a new audience, he said in an interview.

If the community development committee decided to recommend a new name today, this should be immediately made public, enabling the community to consider it and respond before the council's later vote.

Another board member, Dr Melville Carr, said there was "huge heritage" behind the current name, which was strongly supported by many people.

Fellow member Cr John Bezett said it was unlikely the council would opt for a "controversial" choice.

Asked if council would come under pressure to change the name because of the substantial redevelopment spending, Cr Bezett was confident that would not happen. Unless there was "very good reason", it would be "silly" to change the name, he said.

Fellow board member Phil Dowsett, who arrived from England in 1978, said the term "settlers" included the country's first Maori settlers and many others who had arrived much later.

- john.gibb@odt.co.nz

 

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