This isn’t written by me, but is written by someone I know, who wishes to remain anonymous. Just to show I’m not the only voice in this.
Dear Mr. Ellis,
I’m writing to express my disappointment and shame as a New Zealander whose own national museum is not willing to support the production of culturally valuable books.
I cringe to think of New Zealanders in the future who look back on our cultural archive and see one which abruptly staggers in quality around 2015 for the sake of re-allocating money. Te Papa Press has produced some of the most beautiful books this country has seen both in content and design, and having talked to friends and family about the Press’s closure, I believe I speak for many when I say this is a harmful and plain stupid decision.
Redirecting investment towards ‘core museum work’? Documenting, celebrating, and publishing art, history, culture, flora and fauna is core museum work. Since Ancient Rome– nay, since Ancient Egypt– the transmission of culture through symbols whether on a stone wall or a scroll has been fundamental to the passing on of culture and information. Without its cultural archive, a nation is nothing. It is the National Museum’s obligation to the public to continue such necessary historical work. Only in a nation as small and politically apathetic as New Zealand could a decision such as this be under consideration without massive uproar. But you have the power to make these decisions, and that’s no light responsibility. There is more than money to consider.
If books aren’t turning a profit under the status quo, then get innovative. Think before you axe one of the nation’s most vitally important cultural transmitters, because giving up hope before trying other avenues is lazy management. I’m sure your argument goes something along the lines of, how can Te Papa Press sustainably carry on its relevance with the newer generations? Well, I am 22 years old and a proud member of those younger generations. I love this country and I love books: why don’t you? If you aren’t reaching those generations, the problem isn’t books, it’s the way you go about reaching and appealing to those markets. Before you decide on the fate of Te Papa Press, check your authority, and the centuries’ worth of cultural responsibility on your shoulders.
I am aware these decisions are not made by one person and are swayed by a number of factors. I can only hope that one such factor is my voice and the many other dismayed and nationally embarrassed voices I’ve seen and heard over social media and in my workplace.