Why do we collect things and put them in a museum?
What do we learn from those things? What does our fascination for objects from our past tell us about being human, what does it tell us about being a Wellingtonian today?
Imagine that you have been charged with collecting objects and ideas from this day – the 1st of August 2017. Objects and ideas that in twenty years will communicate to future Wellingtonians - this is what our life was like, this is where you come from, this is what we stand for and this is what our hopes and dreams for you were.
What would be the one object and the one idea you would choose?
Kia ora - I’m Tui and I am the General Manager Innovation Hub at Te Papa Tongarewa. I set up Mahuki Te Papa’s innovation accelerator programme and last week we welcomed our second intake of nine teams. The teams are located on site with Te Papa staff and our visitors where they participate in a
four month programme designed to ‘accelerate the formation of innovative solutions for the global culture and heritage sector’.
The sector is significant internationally and presents potential opportunities for entrepreneurs and innovators. Interesting fact – there are 75,000 museums in the world more than Starbucks and MacDonalds combined, last year over a billion people visited them. In the US the sector is worth 4.3% of their GDP
which is greater than their building and construction industry. In China, the culture sector has been singled out as one of three pillar industries, targeted to grow to 5% of their GDP.
I work with entrepreneurs at the forefront of emergent technologies – in our current cohort alone we have teams focused on virtual and augmented reality, gamifcation, artificial intelligence, machine learning, internet-of-things and so on. Mahuki is the world’s first culture accelerator. We have already begun thinking about it’s international potential; to attract international teams, to franchise our model, to bridge New Zealand companies into offshore markets.
While we are a national programme (and have so far attracted six Auckland teams to participate over the last two years). Any story around international attraction will be strongly rooted in the Wellington story. Alongside the national museum, national library and archives – we have a multitude of significant cultural institutions. We have the movie museum joining Te Papa in Cable Street and we have an incredible innovation eco-system with exemplar digital companies like Weta Digital and so on.
All of this I share with you as background to my impossible dream for Wellington. Agreeing to speak today on such an exciting topic seemed like such an easy gig. Coming from the innovation / technology perspective I was thinking autonomous cars, hover-crafts, technology that will disrupt and transform medical diagnosis, currency markets, hologram advertising aka ghost in the shell.
But on deeper reflection that is not actually my dream. Getting back to the impossible dream I found myself thinking about the future more in terms of the absence of things, what I don’t want and therefore the addition of things that addressed those issues. I want to eradicate homelessness, child poverty, beautiful our shared spaces, increase our resilience and so on.
After a while what I came to is that while I want to shape and influence the future – I’m also up for being pleasantly surprised. I want to ensure that I’m creating the right inputs now – to enable future generations to shape them to what will be required. To illustrate this - this is Tawapata which can be found on the tip of Mahia peninsula – it is my ancestral tribal lands. Our family / whanau plot of land is at the very edge and can only be reached by four wheel drive and sometimes not at all. We have a shareholding in the farm there – Onenui station but haven’t paid much attention to it as it’s been a couple of hundred dollars a year spread amongst 50 odd people. For many of my immediate family economic prospects have been bleak.
Now, wouldn’t you know it – some bright spark came up with the idea to position New Zealand at the forefront of commercial space exploration. And they’ve decided to launch the rockets (at $5m a launch or $10m if you want to jump the queue) from Tawapata in Mahia. It blows my mind. There are pro’s and con’s – as there always will be. Don’t know what the environmental impact is, don’t know what the trickle down
commercial impact will be, house prices are rising in the area. But those things aside – it was a completely unforeseen future that for all of my / our speculating about what the future might hold – rockets never featured. Not once.
In speculating about the future dream for Wellington – it’s important that we allow for magic. We allow for the unforeseen, the unimaginable. As the saying goes children being born today will have jobs that haven’t even been created yet. I also realized that I care about the way in which we achieve our Wellington dream as much as the end result. I have little interest in an amazing future that only some Wellingtontians benefit or that has come at a cost to our natural environment, resilience or quality of life.
So, instead I wanted to present my impossible dream as a series of guiding principles. And to throw a little museum magic in, I’ve gathered together some of my favourite museum exhibitions to illustrate these – This is Connected Worlds at the New York Hall of Science. Connected worlds teaches us about the enduring power of curiosity and the need for us to collaborate to succeed. To further this point – this unassuming bowl and plinth sits in the Exploratorium in San Francisco. The Exploratorium is chaos – it is thousands of kids bashing science displays. This is the give and take table. It asks visitors to put something in for someone else and take something for yourself. Further – it says if the bowl is empty or full of trash what does that say about us as a community?
Think about what you might contribute to enhance the experience of the future visitor to the museum. It reminds me of the mural on the concrete wall at the bottom of Thompson
street in Te Aro that says – we don’t inherit from our ancestors, we borrow from our children.
The guiding principle for Wellington – care for resources
Waka, at Te Papa New Zealand the Pacific have a rich history of navigation. The distances travelled represent extraordinary feats. These feats also represent extraordinary leadership. We are living in increasingly complex, dynamic and fast paced times where over reliance on logic, precision and linear thinking is limiting.
Quoting from the book Way-finding Leadership by Dr Chellie Spiller et al - Traditional way-finder navigators – such as those who sailed in double hulled canoes thousands of miles to New Zealand - use dead reckoning and estimate speed, orientation, time and distance travelled, but they are not fixated on absolute certainty and precision. They work on the rules of probability: that over the long period of voyage, overestimations and underestimations have a tendancy to cancel each other out – so the average will be about right.
Further, Dr Spiller goes on to say - Sailors trained in mechanical navigation methods, can be so focused on precision that they want perfection around the angle of the sun as it rises and of the stars in order to believe they are on track.
Traditional navigators know that it is important to be heading in the right direction – and that it is not the angle of sun that is paramount but where it rises.
Successful wayfinding is the art of being able to figure enough things out – to have the intelligence to put all the information together to know where you are supposed to be. It’s about knowing when something is not working and being willing to explore what information is needed to make it work. Further, that wayfinders were so skilled in incorporating science, astronomy, cosmology, metaphysics, philosophy, mathematics and education that in a sense they called the island to them.
Mona Lisa at the Lourve. The Lourve attracts the most visitors per annum average around 9.3 million. And many come to see the Mona Lisa. What surprises many people is that this
painting is actually quite small.
With the use of technology like Virtual and augmented reality it is already possible for people to learn about important works like this from the comfort of their own home. Te Papa’s CEO, Geraint Martin, spoke to the Mahuki teams recently about the
role of technology. We see a shift from where digital has been the special, new and exciting, but as digital it becomes ubiquitous – the special will be viewing the real, actual object. This in no way diminishes the importance of technology and innovation – the reverse in fact, we see it as a fundamental
enabler to helping us share the nations stories and taonga beyond the physical walls of the museum and help us run our business more efficiently.
My dream for Wellington is to continue to be a city that embraces and supports technology and innovation as key enablers for social, cultural and economic reform. We are a city that puts technology to work. And at the same time we continue to marvel at the real world, the real beauty of this
Lastly, while not a museum – the Singapore Gardens are never-the-less a major tourism attraction. For me these epitomize beauty, creativity and co-existence with our natural
environment. Let’s not just do things – but do things beautifully. Because we can!
Mahuki means perception and the wellspring of inspiration. It is seeing beyond what exists. Our logo is arranged like an eye chart where we are forced to fill in the gaps.
Perhaps I’ve done a hopeless job at imagining the impossible dream for Wellington but I hope I have given you pause for thought on how you might choose to fill in the gaps from the visions and dreams presented today.