As a museum operator in New Zealand, Shantytown Heritage Park are pleased to see the recent release of the economic report valuing our country's museums and art galleries at $5.6 billion.

This report, conducted by economic researchers BERL, highlighted the worth of New Zealand collections, totaling over 45 million objects, at $3.6 billion, as well as the value of our buildings at $2 billion. It’s clear that our sector, which employs 3365 full-time equivalent workers, is a significant contributor to the economic and cultural fabric of New Zealand.

However, as the main body for the museum sector, Museums Aotearoa, has pointed out, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused challenges for many institutions. Lost visitor revenue and rising inflation have made it difficult to maintain collections and pay staff. 

Shantytown Heritage Park hugely relies on visitor spend and successful grant applications. Offset in the quieter ‘Winter Season’ by our West Coast Events Centre income.  We have no other external regular funding sources.  This sets us apart from many of our peers. 

One of the issues facing our sector is the ad hoc nature of guaranteed funding, with many museums and galleries relying on support from councils. This can lead to disparities in funding between different areas, and puts some institutions “at the mercy” of their local council, even if they hold nationally-significant collections.  

In addition to their economic value, museums and galleries also have incalculable social and cultural value. They provide a place for students to discover local histories, inspire and educate them.  For Shantytown, this is further emphasised through our onsite Marsden Valley Education Centre learning facility.  

Unfortunately, since the start of the pandemic, many museums and galleries have lost contracts with the Ministry of Education for school visits and have seen voluntary donations and other revenue sources disappear. It’s particularly concerning that funding is being shifted away just as the new New Zealand history curriculum is set to be implemented in schools.

Museums Aotearoa believes that the $5.6 billion valuation is a “very conservative” figure, as it is based on publicly-available asset information. This highlights the potential for our sector to return significant profits, as any business with an asset base of this size should. However, this is not currently happening due to the pandemic and other challenges. It’s time for the government to recognize the value of our sector and provide the support it needs to thrive.