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Crunch time for Aratoi

By Don Farmer

[email protected]

The future of Aratoi, Masterton’s Art and History Museum, is on the line due to grants from Lands Trust Masterton being slashed by $120,000.

This was confirmed yesterday by Aratoi Board chairman Frazer Mailman who said Lands Trust had withdrawn its normal Opex Grant of $100,000 used to meet operational costs, along with an exhibition grant of $20,000.

As a result Aratoi faced a funding shortfall and an uncertain future both of which will dominate proceedings at a board meeting scheduled for next Friday morning.

Mr Mailman said the grant money had been taken from Aratoi as Lands Trust Masterton had said it is cutting back on grants this financial year.

That has meant Aratoi has been unable to sign off on its Memorandum of Understanding with the trust and its service agreement with Masterton District Council.

Mr Mailman said Aratoi could have been “lured into a false sense of security.”

“Each year since 2002 we had received an Opex grant of $60,000 a year plus a $20,000 Exhibition Grant but in 2012-13 were we informed the Opex Grant would be increased to $100,000 mostly to cover the cost of exterior painting, and some other expenses.

“In 2013 and 2014 we got $100,000 but no exhibition grant and then last year we got the $100,000 Opex grant and the $20,000 exhibition grant.”

Mr Mailman said Lands Trust provides a “rent concession” of $324,000 which, in effect, means Aratoi pays no rent.

“Four years ago the policy changed.

“The rent concession used to be written-off but now it forms part of the annual accounts.
‘It is my understanding that right from the time Aratoi was built we would not have to make any rent payments,” he said.

Mr Mailman said once the Aratoi board got news the funding was to be slashed a special meeting was called to discuss the financial implications and there was “unanimous agreement” that it meant the Memorandum of Understanding and the Service Agreement could not be signed off.

“The future of Aratoi in its present state is in the balance.

“Friday’s meeting will discuss the ramifications for Aratoi itself and for the staff,” he said.

Staffing was normally three full-time and three part-time staff but recently only two full-time staff have been employed.

That was due to the exhibitions manager leaving on promotion to another facility.

“Staffing is the only area we can reduce operational costs and we are already one staffer down,” Mr Mailman said.

He said the board members would also need to look at the impact on each of them.

“Members could well be concerned that they carry financial liability and that could lead to board resignations,” Mr Mailman said.

As far as the public is concerned the financial shortfall created by the claw back of grant money from Lands Trust could mean more static displays which do not need staff involvement, restricted opening hours and entrance charges as opposed to entry by donation .

Everything possible to save money internally had already been done, he said.

Mr Mailman said the board would also review ways it could attract other large scale donations either from individuals or from corporates.

Among the cost savings the board had taken on its own initiative in recent years had been delaying the appointment of a director after the departure of Marcus Boroughs.

“Holding up the appointment for a year gave us some time to build up reserves.”

He said the present director Alice Hutchison had raised $450,000 from external funders such as Lotteries and Creative New Zealand to allow for top end exhibitions to come to Aratoi.

“We cannot raise funds for operational deficits,” Mr Mailman said.

As things stand financially Aratoi will not be able to go ahead with scheduled iwi exhibitions nor meet its Treaty of Waitangi obligations, he said.

Mr Mailman said it was now time for people in the Masterton district to decide if they want to retain Aratoi “ as is.”

“If so then we all have to take collective responsibility,” he said.


  1. Why is the foundation of Aratoi not raising funds for the museum? They have no charitable status re recent auction unless.

    We trust that people in power will do the right thing.

    Sometimes this is just not the case.
    Those responsible for the recent decision to cut funding to our long-standing Arts institution (Aratoi Museum of Arts and History) are exercising a misguided misuse of power.
    This decision lacks the foresight, any culturally aware, intelligent, experienced group of individuals, or individual in such a position should be expected to maintain, and speaks more of such an individuals perceived position in society, rather than growth potential for our region. Given that the Wairarapa Arts Center was originally conceived with a vision that stands today.
    Any community that wants to grow, and move forward with integrity, and hold on to its 20-40 year old population, attract other culturally sensitive human beings from oh I don’t know lets say Auckland or Wellington, and all the gifts of bounty they offer, intrinsically needs to have a heart. At the very least, a University, a Museum! Wairarapa can be struck of the list from this influx of money due to a lack of amenities. Porirua, New Plymouth, Palmerston North, Lower Hutt,all look like more attractive destinations all with similar if not superior Museum Art galleries
    Aratoi’s current Director Alice Hutchison left her life in LA to come and be the Kaitiaki for a long-standing institution, in need of her experience to breathe new life, new opportunities, and mana to our region.
    So far our petty politics arguing over the meager dollar amount that is necessary to perform the very basic operation of our heart seem to have thwarted and beguiled an institution, that by its very existence gives us a landmark of prestige that has ties with Te Papa, and all other cultural institutions in Aotearoa, that stands for an entire region of 45,000. Possibly a few people of limited understanding of what it means to have a museum with a collections store, the purpose of Aratoi seems to have gone over their heads.
    Perhaps due to personal issues, and conflicts of interest for people in such a power seat, need to take a good long look at the influence behind this decision, and what the real cost of cutting funding would be long term.
    Let alone the moral obligation, to adhere to the original agreement.

Comments are closed.

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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