New Zealand's Archive of Film, Television and Sound, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision is currently considering a proposal to close its offices in Auckland and Christchurch and centralise all its activity in the Wellington region. This includes moving the sound collection, (the former Radio New Zealand Sound Archives) from Christchurch to the TVNZ Archives site at Avalon in the Hutt Valley. This would see the loss of seven staff roles in Christchurch and three in Auckland, and potentially the loss of all senior sound archives staff who have over 50 years' combined institutional knowledge of this national treasure which has been based in the South Island since the 1950s.
The Sound Archives are home to the voices of our past – Aunt Daisy, Sir Apirana Ngata, Selwyn Toogood, the Māori Battalion – historic voices and events captured on radio form part of Aotearoa New Zealand's collective memory.
The proposal raises a number of concerns, especially as it appears to be proceeding without professional risk analysis or adequate input from the wider cultural heritage sector.
- The proposal breaks commitments made in 2012 by Radio New Zealand and the then Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage, Chris Finlayson, not to use the earthquakes as an excuse to take heritage out of Christchurch.
- Since joining NTS&V the Sound collections (RNZ Sound Archives/Ngā Taonga Kōrero) have been neglected and there is a lack of transparency around funding that was formerly ring-fenced for the Sound collections.
- There is a potential loss of Ngā Taonga Kōrero’s close connections and trust of iwi radio stations and other donors.
- This rushed proposal could result in a disastrous loss of all the institutional knowledge of the Sound collections in Christchurch and in Auckland, due to staff not wishing to live in Wellington, an area of increased seismic actively.
Sound Archives was founded in 1956 in Timaru by the New Zealand Broadcasting Service. The first professional archivist was not employed until 1996. The first full-time cataloguer was hired in 2007. The collections are imperfect in so many ways. Sound archives are often fragile and incomplete and the finding aids are also far from systematic or comprehensive. While parts of the collection are relatively orderly, other parts are almost impenetrable without the institutional knowledge of experienced staff. The Ngā Taonga Kōrero (NTK) collection in Auckland grew out of Radio New Zealand's Te Irirangi o Aotearoa collection and the growing network of iwi broadcasting in the 1980s and 1990s: Te Whakaruruhau o Nga Reo Irirangi Māori.
The underlying logic of the proposal is simple: we need to save money therefore send everything to the Wellington region. Unfortunately, this kind of short-termism is the antithesis of archival best practice.
This effectively puts all New Zealand's media treasures into one regional basket. With the challenges of climate change and the apparent increased level of seismic actively in the Wellington region this is a high-risk strategy.
The implications of climate change are massive. The Avalon archive is in an area easily cut off by floods or storm surge events. There is a lack of alternative routes if flooding or large landslips occur. While the Avalon archive is a modern design, if staff cannot access it, urgently needed archival material could be unavailable for weeks or months.
In the 2011 Christchurch quake, the RNZ Sound Archive found itself inside the CBD no-go cordon, located as it was in Radio New Zealand House on Chester Street West. Eventually staff were permitted to enter and recover the entire collection to its current 'temporary' home in Cashel Street. The relocation of nearly 90,000 fragile discs, tapes, CDs and
cassettes was a massive task, but the move was a success and the Christchurch staff were internationally recognised for the way in which this was carried out.
The 'temporary' home is certainly not ideal, but it is safe and has allowed work to continue on collecting and digitising our national audio treasures for the past four years. Canterbury has lost so much of its cultural heritage, so the hope was that a new, permanent Christchurch home would be found for the Sound Archives to guarantee its future and continue its 60 year presence in the South Island. It might be one-eyed, but the question has to be asked, Why should Christchurch lose yet another national treasure to help pay for earthquake strengthening for a building in Taranaki Street, Wellington?
Our quake experience adds weight to the concern that if there is a sizeable quake in Wellington, the CBD there will be closed for months. Landslips and subsidence of the Hutt motorway may cut off the Hutt Valley for a similar period. From a seasoned Christchurch perspective, a big quake in Wellington would be far more destructive and disruptive than the Canterbury earthquakes and the region's geographical challenges mean recovery could take even longer.
While it may be uncomfortable for many Wellingtonians to hear this – despite all the warning signs, we are seeing an alarming lack of earthquake preparedness in Wellington and other parts of New Zealand
Building a robust and sustainable organisations starts with appropriate decision making, where people have a say in their own future and their immediate living and working environment. We certainly hope management and the board of trustees address the issue of sustainability and bring it to bear in their planning.
The risks of putting all the nation’s audio-visual archives within the Wellington region needs independent professional analysis. Recent tectonic and weather events have once again called into question the wisdom of centralising so much of New Zealand's government infrastructure and cultural assets in one vulnerable region.
Change proposals, original dates, new dates
Proposal announced and consultation period begins 7/11/16 (no change)
Interim update meeting (if applicable) 16/11/16 (21/11/16)
Consultation closes Midday 23/11/16 (Midday 29/11/16
Consideration of all feedback 24/11/16 to 2/11/16 (29/11/16 - 7/12/16)
Final decision announced 5/12/16 (8/12/16)
Consult on position descriptions for new roles 5/12/16 to 17/12/16 (8/12/16 to 17/12/16)
Final position descriptions and selection criteria for roles available 23/12/16 (no change)
Proposed implementation activities
New structure implemented 01/12/17 (no change)