As the Ministry’s 2008 Annual Report is being prepared, my ten years at the organisation are coming to an end. I’ve been privileged during my time here to have worked with very talented people on very interesting matters – matters which have a big impact on the lives of New Zealanders.
It is only relatively recently, though, that the importance of cultural visibility and accessibility has started to receive the recognition it is due. There is a strong sense now of the role that culture plays in our well-being, whether at the national, community or individual level; and it has claimed a legitimate status as the fourth key area of policy, along with social, economic and environmental concerns. As the intrinsic value of culture has been accorded a higher status by government, so too the utilitarian benefits of cultural projects in fields as diverse as health, social policy and corrections are more highly valued. Government is concerned not just with the means of supporting culture, but with the ends – the ultimate national benefits that might be gained.
The content of this Annual Report indicates the contribution of the Ministry in this area, and the particular nature of our services. These are a little different from the passports or benefits that people might think of first when the term ‘government services’ is used. What we do might be better characterised as providing – or helping make it possible for others to provide – content-rich experiences which without government’s involvement would not be available.
The evidence is that we are doing this very successfully, in part because we have looked at new ways of doing things that increase access to our culture, and give people a better understanding of it. For example, our websites are delivering important information to New Zealanders and visitors: Te Ara had over 1.5 million unique visitors in the year to 31 March 2008 – compare this to the 33,000 copies of the ‘sell out’ 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand. NZLive.com had 82,797 unique visitors in the single month of March. And on the single day of 10 April 2008 – Wahine Day – there were 5,517 unique visitors to NZHistory.net.nz, and they looked at 30,124 pages.
Elsewhere in the Ministry staff are involved in other activities supporting our culture and New Zealanders’ experience of it. In some cases, the organisation is directly responsible for this work: in the care and development of memorials, for instance; or in the undertaking of oral and written history projects which record key aspects of our past.
Our policy analysts assist government in the selection and development of the range of cultural interventions (this year’s programme included development work on resale royalty rights and audio-visual archiving); and our agency advisers work with the large number of Crown entities and independent organisations which receive public funding towards the achievement of government’s broader cultural objectives.
Here again, the cultural experiences our citizens can access as a result of government involvement are highly-regarded and popular. Te Papa has been the most visited museum in Australasia over the last five years. And 94% of New Zealanders watch TVNZ at least sometimes.
It is with some considerable pride, therefore, that I look at the achievements of the Ministry over the past year, and the nine years before that, and consider how effective it has been in supporting government’s relationship with the sector, and New Zealanders’ increased (and increasing) engagement with culture. Once again, I’d like to acknowledge publicly the staff of the Ministry – both those whose role is visible, and those who operate behind the scenes. All of them are expert and dedicated, and they all have my grateful thanks. I will observe with great interest the work of the Ministry in the future.
Updated on 23rd July 2015