Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 52, September 2008
(by Ollie Richardson, President, Waihi Arts Centre and Museum)
Most of you will be aware that the Waihi Arts Centre and Museum Association's (WACMA) bequest from the late Christina Jefferson was spent and our facility was cash-broke.
We certainly held a number of treasures in trust for our community, but turning these into cash would have been an unthinkable act, so at the 2007 annual general meeting an almost new committee was voted in and these brave souls are in the process of turning WACMA around.
Hauraki District Council has been a tower of strength: We were allocated a project manager for four months (paid for by HDC) and our district council also paid all our ongoing expenses. We had no choice but to disestablish the paid office manager's position, close the facility down while we regrouped and sorted out a plan of not only what to do next, but also how to get it done.
One of the things we needed above all, was community buy-in. With the help of our local press (it's a great thing – keeping it local) we slowly but surely got that and this gave us our volunteer base. We closed down and hoped to reopen by the New Year (2008). In fact we managed that a month early – on December 1, 2007.
We were able to inspire community buy-in and we managed to open four days a week from 10 am to 3 pm, Thursday through to Sunday. Now, seven months hence, we are able to open an extra day each week - on Wednesdays. If we can inspire more locals to give us some of their spare time, we may even be able to open Tuesdays as well, making it a six-day week that our locals and visitors can enjoy what we have to offer. I would love to see this happen by December this year, but we will wait and see what happens.
There was a huge amount of work to be done: Cleaning, repositioning some of the displays, altering some of the lighting, rationalising costs (we now use only one phone line instead of the three we used to have, and it works well), putting in place systems for improved transparency in all our dealings, and generally making WACMA a leaner and meaner machine. We are also building bridges with other tourist orientated organisations, not only in Waihi but also within our district and beyond.
The Horahora power pylon, which stood adjacent to our building, had to be taken down as it was a public safety threat – a serious amount of rust had made it dangerous. So after that was effected and it was decided that it should be restored to its former glory, Colin Dray, our museum manager, found two other organisations, which also had such pylons awaiting restoration. These were the Victoria Battery Society at Waikino and the Firth Museum in Matamata.
The outcome of all this is that three parties are banding together, not only to share information but also for fund raising purposes. It has gone well beyond our district boundaries and eventually there will be three such pylons on display throughout Matamata-Piako and Hauraki districts.
We received from Newmont Waihi Gold Company a kindly donation of $500 towards this project and the same amount has been given to the Victoria Battery Society. This will be spent wisely. Of course, this is nowhere near enough to finish the job, but an excellent and positive start.
It is this type of collaboration, with groups as close as the Victoria Battery Society in Waikino, and as far away as the Firth Museum in Matamata, that can do us all only a power of good.
Some of our council members have met with Chris Currie, from National Services, Te Papa Museum. He is an expert in museum layout and lighting, and even better at getting it done 'low-cost' style. We have great aspirations and limited monies so we will make sure we obtain the best value possible for our very few spare dollars.
Talking about financing – Hauraki District Council passed a resolution last February to fund WACMA for the next three years while we get on with implementing many of the aspects in the Gorbey report. It is a generous but limited amount and has been a great weight lifted from our shoulders. Just knowing that we have a certain income makes it so much easier for our financial planning – and this income is further augmented with such things as your annual membership, door takings, payments for hosting school parties and the income from the sale of books.
Another exciting money-making venture for us has been the decision to make the film "Waihi, New Zealand's Gold Town 1949" available for sale on DVD. This would be one of New Zealand's rarest and most fascinating films. It runs for about 33 minutes, was filmed by Norman W Blackie, produced by Alf Margan and has a commentary by Paul Gittens. Most real-life characters are named so it is a tremendous 'blast from the past' and a brilliant historical record. At $25 it is a great gift idea for someone who has everything, and also for anyone with any sort of connection to early Waihi.
To finance our initial run, Newmont Waihi Gold Company purchased 50 copies to give away to the attendees of the 21st pre-1952 Miners' Reunion this year. We heavily discounted the bulk purchase to Newmont but still managed to get enough funding to stock ourselves up as well. The next run will be paid for by our own sales and so it is not just a self-funding project, but a profit-making one as well.
It's not all just Museum though. On the Arts side a lot has also been happening. Berys Daly is our Gallery Director. A successful exhibition was staged over summer called 'Telling Tales'. Berys had it ready for our re-opening on December 1, 2007, and it created a lot of positive response. The exhibition focused on the early days of Golden Cross, Waitekauri and Waihi Beach.
Also on show were photos taken by Eric Lee-Johnson. Not only was he a really well-known regionalist painter but he was also a photo-journalist, the latter at a time when it was very unfashionable to be one. It was he who took daily photos of Opo the dolphin who frolicked at Opononi in the Far North in the summer of 1955-56, and these photos were published by most daily newspapers of that time.
On April 18 there was a new double show opened called 'Lines of Light' and 'Colours of War'. The former features Campbell Smith's Woodcuts and the latter Sue Baker Wilson's photography of local aspects relating particularly to World War One.
Campbell Smith taught at Waihi College's Art Department some 30 – 40 years ago, so has a good connection with our district. A recently published book on his woodcuts titled 'Lines of Light' (hence the title of the exhibition) was available for purchase during the exhibition.
Sue Baker Wilson's exhibition featured the World War One locals who went to the Great War, some of these fell for freedom, and this exhibition includes not only Sue's work but also that of some of her artistic friends who showed complementary works. Besides photos, there were poems and memorabilia as well. It was fitting that the "Colours of War" exhibitions coincided with ANZAC Day. NZ's War bard Mike Subritzski's poetry was also included in this exhibition.
In May we hosted a Scrap-booking Exhibition for a fortnight. A one-day seminar/workshop on this interesting hobby received good support.
We have many more plans for our facility – we want to make it the best it can be, but these aspirations are not achieved overnight. It will be interesting to see how much of our dreams and aspirations we attain over the next two to three years, but with a good committee and strong leadership, much is possible.