Funding cuts imposed by the NT Government on the Museum and Art Gallery of the NT will see five positions slashed, gallery closures and annual exhibitions more than halved, director Marcus Schutenko said.
While it has been a difficult year with major institutions across Australia reaching a point where they are forced to curtail their basic activities, Mr Schutenko said the museum’s board was advised of cuts in May 2019, in response to the Territory Government’s escalating debt crisis.
Since 1981, the museum has been an attraction for those seeking a rare glimpse at Indigenous culture, natural science, and history and art pertaining to the Territory, but Mr Schutenko says there will now be far less on offer.
“The better resources a museum has the better we can provide, and the cuts really reduce that,” he said.
Caught in the firing line of the Government’s budget repair measures MAGNT’s core funding will be reduced by 11 per cent over two years or $848,000 in total, starting this financial year. A spokeswoman said MAGNT has been told to expect less in funding every year thereafter.
“It will be noticeable to those who are close to the institution. It means we will have less to offer Territorians and less to offer tourists,” Mr Schutenko said.
The Australian arts sector has always been among the most fragile of governmental expenditures, the union representing workers said.
The National Gallery of Australia in June announced it will cut over 12 per cent of staff as it faces a $3.6 million funding shortfall and “the pressure of years and years of budget cuts,” according to Beth Vincent-Pietsch, CPSU deputy national secretary.
“Over the last decade, cultural institutions have been starved of funding by this Federal Government. There is no fat for the gallery to cut, these staff cuts are only cutting into bone,” she said. “Our members are seriously concerned about the impact these cuts will have on the galleries ability to collect, restore and exhibit in the future.
“This Government’s underfunding is crippling the NGA’s capacity to meet its mandate.”
Prior to 2016, before the coronavirus-induced downturn in tourism, the National Library of Australia, the National Museum of Australia, the National Portrait Gallery, the Museum of Australian Democracy and the National Film and Sound Archive were all forced to roll back programs amid significant staff cutbacks.
In a statement, Mr Schutenko, acknowledged the impact of the cuts to staff morale.
“I am also aware that MAGNT would not remain open to the public nor the collection be properly managed for the future without making the necessary budget contraction,” he said.
Mr Schutenko said despite a rigorous analysis of funds by both internal and external financial consultants, there were no other options.
“With MAGNT’s exhibition program reduced to less than half, galleries to be closed and opening hours reduced, there was no further capacity to absorb the funding cuts,” he said.
At its peak in 1997, MAGNT had 140 staff. But as it stands today, just 67 remain, with curatorial positions in Aboriginal culture, natural science and history bearing the worst of the cuts.
Chair of the museum’s board and former Labor chief minister Clare Martin said internal staff changes to mitigate funding cuts have been in the works for months.
“The board and I acknowledge the importance of securing the future of MAGNT as the Territory’s premier cultural institution,” she said.
“In consultation with local and interstate stakeholders, the board is in the final stages of completing MAGNT’s 10-year strategic plan. We are focused on setting MAGNT up to be fiscally sustainable, relevant and accessible for locals and visitors long into the future.”