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The city's mayor said a proposed restructure could compromise the gallery's ability to attract and present major exhibitions.

Yayoi Kusama, Dots for Love and Peace (2009). Courtesy City Gallery Wellington Te Whare Toi.

Wellington's City Gallery Te Whare Toi could lose its director and senior curator in an organisational restructure proposed by Experience Wellington, which runs the contemporary art gallery on behalf of the Wellington City Council.

According to news reports, the restructure would disestablish the director and curator roles at City Gallery.

Experience Wellington's chief executive Sarah Rusholme today issued a preliminary decision on the restructure after consulting with her staff.

'There's been overwhelming support for enhancing te ao Māori [the Māori world], that will result in a new role of curator (Toi Māori) at the City Gallery, and a Director Māori Engagement role joining Experience Wellington's leadership team,' she said.

'Some of the staff feedback matched public commentary around City Gallery Wellington and the need for specialist art leadership and expertise and we have made changes to reflect this,' Rusholme added.

The statement confirmed neither what those changes were nor whether City Gallery's director Elizabeth Caldwell​ and chief curator Robert Leonard​ would continue in their existing roles.

'It is possible they have retained specialist staff dedicated to the gallery but still stayed with functional rather than dedicated leadership,' said Alan Judge, a former chair of the City Gallery Foundation, who also wrote an opinion piece for ArtZone speaking out against the proposed restructure.

'There is a broader discussion needed as to whether the gallery should sit under Experience Wellington in the longer term,' he said.

A registered charity, Experience Wellington runs City Gallery and five other visitor experiences in the city, including an observatory and a cable car museum.

Having Experience Wellington run City Gallery was 'uneasy at the beginning,' Jenny Harper​, former director of Christchurch Art Gallery, told New Zealand news site Stuff. 'It's untenable now,' she said.

In early May, artists Séraphine Pick and Shane Cotton, former Auckland Art Gallery curator of Māori Art Nigel Borell, director Jane Campion, and a number of arts patrons and supporters including Alan Judge and Sir Rod Deane signed an open letter calling on Experience Wellington to slow down the restructuring process and consult with people outside the organisation.

'I have heard from a very substantial number of people concerned about the proposed changes to the operation of the City Gallery, many of them prominent long-standing contributors to our cultural and creative sectors,' Wellington mayor Andy Foster said in the Stuff article.

'There is general concern that the gallery might have its ability to attract and curate exhibitions compromised, and an overriding desire for engagement about the proposals, which I intend to take up ... with Experience Wellington,' he said.

Sue Cramer, curator of the Hilma af Klint exhibition that will open at City Gallery in December, said the exhibition wouldn't have happened if not for the gallery's strong specialist staff.

'Please do not allow the gallery's functionality and reputation earned over many years to be diminished through the removal of such specialist personnel,' she said in an email to Foster.

In an article recently published on Experience Wellington's website, Rusholme said the proposed change was 'about enhancing our institutions, including City Gallery, through better allocation of resources and greater collaboration across the portfolio, and embracing of te ao Māori.'

'City Gallery Wellington Te Whare Toi will continue to showcase the best contemporary art under a strong cultural leader, supported by two curators, and specialist staff dedicated to art education, gallery exhibition delivery, and art community engagement,' she said. —[O]

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