Te Papa – Our Place?
What does $17.50 buy at a supermarket? Or $10.50?
For a low-income family who are struggling to pay rent ($300 – $400 p/w); power ($30 – $50 p/w); medicine ($5 per prescription); insurance; school fees; car rego and fuel; debts; etc, $17.50 or $10.50 can mean the difference between food in the pantry or fridge – or running out of bread, milk, potatoes, eggs, cheese, before the next pay-day or State social security payment.
If you’re earning $1,100 a week (gross), $17.50 or $10.50, you have discretionary income for to buy tickets to a Te Papa exhibition.
If you’re on minimum wage ($13.75/hr) and earning $550 a week (gross), buying tickets to a Te Papa exhibition is the last thing on your mind.
Since 1984, the concept of User Pays has been firmly embedded in our society. It was part of neo-liberal “reforms” where, in exchange for six tax cuts since 1986, individuals were expected to pay for services that, previously, had been free (collectively paid for by everyone).
The most well-known example of this is tertiary education. Once upon a time, it was free. Post 1992, student fees were introduced, along with student loans, and a measure of User Pays resulted. (See previous blogpost: Greed is good?)
The rationale for the implementing a new User Pays regime was that higher education was a “private good”. However, as more and more highly trained/skilled professionals leave New Zealand, that notion of “private good” seems to be questioned more and more.
If the loss of thousands of professionals and tradespeople migrating to Australia weakens our economy, this becomes a socio-economic loss for us. For Australia, it becomes a socio-economic good. This part of the equation seems to have escaped the attent of “free” market neo-liberals.
We lose out when we assign an arbitrary monetary value to something that benefits society as a whole – as well as it’s individuals – and some or many are excluded, solely on the basis of inability to pay.
Because in the final analysis, that is what User Pays is; if you can’t pay, you can’t use it.
This was highlighted (again) to our household recently when we considered attending an exhibition that Te Papa is currently holding,
Source: Te Papa – Warhol Immortal
The description of the Exhibition was intriguing and it seemed to offer an interesting way to spend a few hours on a Saturday afternoon.
Then we saw the price of admission,
$17.50 admission price!?
One of us in our household, with a strong interest in art, will still visit the exhibition. For the rest of us, for whom it would only have been a mildly entertaining/interesting event, we would rather spend that money elsewhere.
However, the thought occurred to me; how many low-income families, or individuals, would not have the same choice whether to attend or not, as we did?
How many people would see $17.50 as the difference between food for the mind or food for their bellies? For a low income family of four, the Family “Concession” of $46.50 could buy food for a several days, or make a payment on their power bill to stave off disconnection for a while longer.
I put this to Te Papa in a recent email,
From: Frank Macskasy <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 9/06/2013 at 12:51 p.m.
I am aware that it has long been Te Papa policy to charge for various exhibitions.
For example, you current exhibition on Andy Warhol has the following charges for entry;
Adult – $17.50
Child (5–15 years) – $10.50
Child (under 5 years) – Free
Family (2 adults + up to 3 children) – $46.50 Concession – $15.50 Friend of Te Papa (adult) – $11.50 * Friend of Te Papa (child) – $6 *
10+ adults (per person) – $11.50
School group (self-guided, per person) – $8 Audio guide – $5
I would submit to you that the amounts listed above are beyond the ability of many low income families to pay, and therefore this policy excludes a sizeable sector of the community.
Whilst I understand that many of these exhibitions incur a cost, that your current charging regime means that many miss out.
I would remind you that Te Papa is a public facility which has been paid for by tax/ratepayers.
I would like to suggest that Te Papa reconsider their admission fees policy, with a view to making it more inclusive for those on low/fixed incomes.
My suggestion is that Te Papa make the last two days of an exhibition,
1. Free entry for Community Services Card holders
2. Entry upon a coin donation for Community Services Card holders
3. Free entry for all schoolchildren from low-decile schools.
The current system, I submit is totally unfair and maintains a two-tier class structure where some are deemed second class citizens simply by their inability to pay an entrance fee.
This is especially unfair on children of low income families who miss out on cultural and history aspects of our nation.
Enjoying our culture and history should not be predicated on ability to pay.
– Frank Macskasy
To their credit, Te Papa responded promptly,
From: ridget MacDonald <BridgetM@tepapa.govt.nz>
To: Frank Macskasy <email@example.com>
Date: Mon, Jun 10, 2013 at 4:15 PM
Kia ora Frank
Thank you for your email comments and concerns regarding Te Papa’s exhibition pricing. I will pass your comments on to relevant staff for consideration for upcoming exhibitions.
We are very conscious of the need to make our exhibitions as accessible to a wide range of people.
You may not be aware that for every charge-for exhibition we also have the Wellington Free Day in partnership with the Wellington City Council. This means that upon proof of local residence, for example a library card, rates invoice or utility bill with a local address, all Wellingtonians can attend the exhibition free of charge on that day. This has been very popular for past exhibitions and we have been delighted to have a large number of families attend.
The Wellington Free Day is held on a Thursday, open late till 9pm, and advertised by us and also the Wellington City Council online and in The Dominion Post. The date for the Wellington Free Day has not yet been announced for Warhol: Immortal.
Our free events programme complements our exhibition programme and offers our visitors opportunities for insight into related subject matter through films, performances, floortalks, workshops, children’s Discovery Centre activities and much more. We have also included a selection of works from the exhibition on our new website http://www.arts.tepapa.govt.nz/on-the-wall/warhol-immortal. This site and activities such as our blogs support our programmes and offer behind the scenes information and glimpses into collections and exhibitions.
Thank you for your interest in our exhibitions at Te Papa.
Bridget M [full surname redacted]
Senior Corporate Affairs Adviser
Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa | 55 Cable Street, PO Box 467, Wellington, New Zealand
[other contact details redacted]
I wrote back to Bridget,
Kia Ora, Bridget,
Thank you for your prompt reply.
The Wellington Free Day is a good start. As Te Papa is New Zealand’s National museum, it would be even better if all low income families could somehow benefit from a special day or on-going discount upon presentation of a Community Services card.
This would encourage out-of-towners to participate, as well as Wellingtonians.
The Wellington Free Day is a step in the right direction.
As I pointed out, Te Papa is New Zealand’s national museum. As such, the benefits of exhibitions should be made accessible to as many people as possible.
Whilst the “Wellington Free Day” is a good start – for which I applaud Te Papa – one has to ask; why Wellington only? Shouldn’t we have a “National Free Day”* where as many New Zealanders as possible can have the opportunity to visit their own museum?
As I pointed out in my 9 June email, the last two days of an exhibition could be easily made free-entry for all Community Card-holders (and their immediate family).
Otherwise, Te Papa’s admission policy will continue to be discriminatory, excluding those New Zealanders for whom User Pays is a barrier to enjoying part of our culture that the rest of us take for granted. In effect, this creates a two-tiered society, with those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder missing out. (Though some might argue – with justification – that free access based on presentation of a Community Services card, also constitutes a form of discrimination. The Lesser of Two Evils Factor might apply here.)
Not only is this a dangerous thing, to discriminate and alienate a group of people from society; but it is also morally wrong. This is another indication that our society is fracturing, splitting along a socio-economic rift.
The fact that this is happening, and New Zealanders think this is ok, is a sad reflection of the times we live in.
This is the neo-liberal paradigm. We are living it now.
Te Papa – Not everyone’s place?
A link to this blogpost will be emailed to Te Papa.
This blogger wishes to thank Bridget for her timely and candid responses to my emails.
I don’t mean a day free of the National-led government. Though that is a tempting thought. Post 2014 will be a National-free government.
= fs =