PRESS RELEASE: Te Papa Tongarewa The Museum of New Zealand
After a dawn ceremony and huge anticipation, at midday on February 14, 1998, yachtsman Sir Peter Blake led two children through the doors of Te Papa Tongarewa The Museum of New Zealand, on Wellington’s waterfront.
Thousands gathered to be the first to visit the high profile new building. The radical concept for Te Papa was that it would be a bicultural museum, and incorporate both the national museum and national art collection.
As the biggest ever investment in New Zealand culture and heritage, and one of that decade’s biggest museum projects globally, Te Papa was the subject of extraordinary scrutiny.
What would this new type of museum be like, and would it achieve the vision of its two leaders, Chief Executive Cherylll Sotheran and Kaihautū Cliff Whiting?
From the 35,000 visitors who saw Te Papa on its opening day, to the more than two million who visited in its first year, Te Papa was embraced by New Zealanders. While controversies raged – including protests about the Tania Kovats “Virgin in a condom” artwork – the public continued to visit Te Papa in their thousands.
By 14 February 2018, Te Papa will have had almost 30 million visitors, discovered more than 400 new species, hosted more than 3,000 pōwhiri, and rocked visitors with more than 1.3 million shakes of its famous earthquake house.
Te Papa is consistently rated as one of the world’s best museums, and a top attraction in New Zealand, and its approach to storytelling and biculturalism remains a model for museums around the world.
Chief Executive Geraint Martin says the reason for Te Papa’s success is that it offers a new kind of museum experience.
“Museums aren’t cupboards full of old stuff, they’re a mirror held up to society,” says Martin.
“Our aim is that every New Zealander can see themselves reflected at Te Papa, and that international visitors can understand the richness and diversity of Aotearoa.”
He says the museum has always faced criticism, and he hopes it always will.
“Given the significance of the stories we tell, it’s very healthy that they are the basis for debate and disagreement.”
“We are here to cherish and treasure our culture, but also to challenge the old ways of doing things, to engage and surprise, and sometimes to provoke. Te Papa needs to be a safe place for challenging national questions.”
Major changes are ahead for Te Papa in the coming years, Martin says.
“Next month we open a new art gallery in Te Papa, Toi Art, the biggest change to the museum since opening.”
The $8.4 million space offers a vast newly-created gallery able to hold works that have never been shown at Te Papa before, and the opening on March 17 will reveal major commissions by contemporary New Zealand artists. Following the opening of Toi Art, the next space to change will be the nature and environment area.
“From Easter 2018 we will begin work on a new nature and environment section which will open in 2019,” Martin says.
“Te Papa will always be changing and offering new experiences, inside the building and beyond our walls.”
Te Papa’s Kaihautū (Māori co-leader) Dr Arapata Hakiwai has been with the museum since its earliest days. He says the strength of Te Papa has always been in its ties to the community.
“Te Papa is different from other museums, and we celebrate that difference,” Hakiwai says. “We are a place where everyone can feel at home, and everyone can find a place to stand.”
“As a bicultural museum we have always been reliant on our relationships with iwi, hapū and whānau, and as we mark our twentieth anniversary we want to recognise and acknowledge that ongoing support: E ngā mana whenua, E ngā iwi o te motu tena koutou mo o koutou tautoko mai. No mātou te honore kia mahi ngātahi ai.”
“Te Papa is about learning, about artistic excellence, about seeing ourselves in all the complexities of living together in Aotearoa, but one word that comes up whenever you mention Te Papa is ‘fun’.”
“That sense of fun, of joy, of connection and surprise that we see in our visitors, young and old, is the wairua, the energy that powers this place, Our Place,” Dr Hakiwai says.
Birthday events at Te Papa
Te Papa will mark its birthday with a special evening concert, and activities in the museum including special free tours and film screenings. The museum will be open until 9pm on Wednesday 14 February.
Radio and podcast series to mark 20th birthday
A radio and podcast series, “Ours”, highlighting twenty objects from Te Papa’s collections, will air weekly on RNZ’s Jesse Mulligan show from 13 February. In each episode a New Zealander, from the Prime Minister to a nine-year-old squid fan, share their passion for a favourite Te Papa object.