New director to bring fresh ideas for museum together
by Marianne Gillingham
Thursday, 19 January, 2006
TAIRAWHITI Museum enters another new era with the appointment of its fifth director Monty Soutar, who took over the reigns from acting director Robyn Bickford last week.
Dr Soutar spent his first week meeting individually with staff to discuss their aspirations for the museum as members of the museum team.
Their ideas and his own will be melded in a direction to help take the museum to the next level.
Now that he has a wider view of the policies set down by the board and an increasing understanding of the museum’s strengths and weaknesses, he has set staff the challenge of giving Gisborne’s house of treasures, or whare taonga, the "wow factor".
"The challenge is finding the things that are unique to the district and portraying them in a way that, when people visit, they will be inspired enough to revisit and to tell others about it," he said.
"The art and semi-permanent exhibitions in the museum already have a touch of that wow factor," he said.
The Price of Citizenship gallery was one — it touched visitors of all nationalities in a way that made them remember their visit, he said.
Dr Soutar has been approached many times during his own extensive studies on the Maori Battalion at Massey University and with the Ministry of Culture by people wanting to tell him about their visit to the display.
He believes the local history approach could be extended to other sectors of the community, whose history needs to be displayed and shared.
"We think both our settler and Maori families who made significant contributions to the district should form part of a future exhibition," he said.
"Family names are very important in Gisborne — streets and buildings have been named after them," he said.
It would be good to have somewhere in Gisborne where these names and the people behind them were on display in an informative way.
"Many things have changed in Gisborne over the past 15 years — there are many new faces who might not be familiar with the history of the district. It’s important to have something like that as part of the museum."
The Footprints display had illustrated Gisborne’s history extremely well, he said. That was something he wanted to build on by adding a more inter-personal touch through the combined input of all the museum’s human resources.
Staff had some great ideas on ways of keeping the museum changing to meet the needs of the community it served.
"We are here for the museum and the museum is here for the community."
Visitor numbers over the summer had also shown the museum was a great asset for tourism. Apart from his commitments as a member of the Waitangi Tribunal hearing the National Park claims, Dr Soutar is now permanently based in Gisborne with his wife and three children.
Monty Soutar (forward) with museum staff.