Giving everybody the opportunity to feel; not necessarily to be.
In the first of our Secret Lives of the Back of House Staff, we decided to go straight to the top (we are after all a hierarchical organisation) and talk with Quentin Hay, chair of the Wellington Museum Trust, the governing body responsible for City Gallery Wellington.
I meet Quentin Hay (QH) in his office on The Terrace and, under the floricultural splendour of Karl Maughan’s Crichel painting, asked him about singing, heavy metal and openness.
AM: When I mentioned I was interviewing you lots of people said things like “I’ve heard he is into heavy metal”, and “apparently he interviews artists in his house” and “ask him about singing Gospel.”
So Quentin, is it time to set the record straight, is any of this true?
QH: It’s true. Singing yes. I love singing. I sang in the bathroom and as a child in the local church choir. My father was a school teacher in Hastings. Although he didn’t play, he was a really good hymn singer. There was always music in the house. He was mad on music, from show tunes and light opera to Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. In fact I was going through some of his effects last night and stumbled upon his Kenny G records. I’ve never listened to them…
AM: I wouldn’t trouble yourself.
QH: The point I’m making is that he never lost interest.
AM: Do you play an instrument?
QH: No, but I am in a music appreciation club which in fact is an excuse to drink wine and listen to music on a Friday night! A few years ago two of the members suggested we go along to a Gospel singing workshop. I was an instant convert. I realised that I knew many of the spirituals; somewhere in the depths of my memory I had heard them before. Wade in the water…I knew it.
AM: Do you sing in a choir now?
QH: I sing Gospel on Mondays and every fourth Sunday and I’m in an all male choir which meets on Thursdays. I gave up singing in my local community choir - twice a week is enough from a family perspective.
AM: There is great joy in singing in a group.
QH: Absolutely. Last year I went to Memphis, Chicago and New Orleans and sang Gospel over there. It was out of this world. There is a strong creative urge somewhere in me, a desire to give something out. Singing is one of the ways I hope to do that. I’ve never learned singing, and I can only sing the tune off the score by dint of observation- I’m not claiming any skill. But what interests me is that as an individual you can learn things that previously you thought only other people could do. None of the choirs I am in require people to audition. It’s open entry.
AM: Listening to you speak, I’d say you are definitely converted.
QH: Singing- it’s the new cycling!
AM: You mention openness, how do you see this being interpreted within the context of City Gallery Wellington?
QH: Openness is really important. It creates the opportunity for individuals to be more or feel more than what otherwise be the case. The way my choirs do. Participating in the creation of something is fantastic. Thinking of CGW, we need to see the results of those opportunities. City Gallery cannot only be the place to see the great and good artists, important though that is for a public institution. It must also be a place open to risk taking, to debate and to less recognised artists and art forms.
As a member of a governing body you have to be prepared to take risks and accept that you’re going to fail every now and again.
AM: How did you come to be on the board and what does it mean to you?
QH: What does it mean to me? Well to start with, it’s about good governance and sustaining a platform that allows people and organisations to tell our stories. It is not about putting your fingers in the pie but you have to get up into the elbows if there is something wrong. And, of course, there is a degree of altruism. I think if you live in a town and if you can do something small to help, then that is a good thing.
How I came to be on the board? I submitted a form expressing my willingness to be involved, nothing happened for many years and then out of the blue I got a letter saying I had been appointed to the board!
AM: Lucky you were free!
QH: Wellington Museums Trust is something I feel passionate about Its really important that all the Board members to try to keep abreast of what is going on.
AM: What other ways do you feel boards can support? Do they need to put their money where their mouth is?
QH: You have to live the organisation. You can’t be effective if you just turn up on a Wednesday. In terms of putting their money where their mouths are, no, it’s not appropriate to erect eligibility hurdles of that kind. On a board you need diversity of skills and views.
AM: What about this interviewing artists rumour?
QH: It is true! My wife Pip is an oral historian by trade and we decided that we wanted to make some recordings about our collection. We have done a few now. Recently we bought one of Shane McGrath’s sculptures and were lucky enough to interview him about it. It was fascinating - he has an acute intelligence.
AM: The final question, how tall are you?
QH: I’m just under 2 meters! There is not much I don’t see.