Te Papa celebrates 25 years with new strategy

On Tuesday 14 February, Te Papa celebrates 25 years since opening with a new Rautaki | Strategy to take it forward into the future.

The museum’s co-leaders, Kaihautū | Māori Co-leader Arapata Hakiwai and Tumu Whakarae | Chief Executive Courtney Johnston, and its Board led by Dame Fran Wilde have embraced a new vision for Te Papa to carry it forward for the next 25 years and beyond.

By 14 February 2023, Te Papa will have welcomed more than 34 million visitors since opening. It cares for more than two million items, from ancient fossils to digital artworks, from tiny aphids to ocean-going waka. It consistently rates as one of the world’s best museums, and its approach to storytelling and indigenous knowledge remains a global model.

Te Papa’s new strategy builds on those strengths and looks beyond them.

“This is a new era for Aotearoa and a new era for Te Papa,” says Te Papa Board Chair Dame Fran Wilde.

“So much has changed in New Zealand since Te Papa opened – our demographics, our understanding of Te Tiriti, our awareness of the existential threat of climate change. Te Papa explores those changes in a way that makes sense to all New Zealanders,” says Dame Fran.

Tumu Whakarae | Chief Executive Courtney Johnston began her career at Te Papa as a visitor host shortly after the museum opened.

“In twenty-five years, Te Papa has evolved to be so much more than a storehouse of treasures and a must-see attraction,” Ms Johnston says.

“Through our work with communities, we are a source of healing, reconciliation and empowerment.”

“We contribute to a thriving natural environment and we know there is so much more we can do to honour Papatūānuku.”

“We confront the tough issues, yet the word that comes up when you mention Te Papa is ‘fun’ – that sense of joy and connection is the wairua that powers this place,” Ms Johnston says.

Kaihautū | Māori Co-leader Arapata Hakiwai was part of the team that created Te Papa.

“Te Papa is different from other museums, and we celebrate that difference,” Dr Hakiwai says.

“Around the world museums are beginning to grapple with issues that have been at the core of Te Papa since our founding.”

“We have always been reliant on our relationships with iwi, hapū and whānau, and we acknowledge that ongoing support: E ngā mana whenua, E ngā iwi o te motu tēnā koutou mo o koutou tautoko mai. No mātou te honore kia mahi ngātahi ai.”

As well as a visitor attraction and kaitiaki of the national collections, Te Papa is a major research centre with scientists discovering new species and curators carrying out ground-breaking research.

It is also a vibrant commercial business through its retail and hospitality offerings. This year Te Papa begins operating Tākina Convention Centre, across the road from the museum. The operating of the museum’s event spaces and Tākina Convention Centre together as a single venue will bring an even greater range of conferences and exhibitions to the capital.

The opening of Te Papa, 1998

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. The museum was officially declared open by five-year-old Tama Whiting and eight-year-old Grace Sweeney.

Thousands had gathered to be the first to visit Te Papa, with 35,000 visiting on that first day.

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 Cheryll 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.

Images for use

Click to download

Image credits

  • Te Papa exterior. Photo credit: Kate Whitley, Te Papa.

  • A crowd gathers outside Te Papa to celebrate Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori. Photo credit: Mike O’Neil, Te Papa.

  • Co-leaders of Te Papa, Kaihautū Arapata Hakiwai and Tumu Whakarae | Chief Executive Courtney Johnston outside the museum. Photo credit: Te Papa.

Visitor numbers

  • Total visitors to end of January 2023 is 33,982,656. Total number of visitors projected total to end of day 14 Feb 2023, over 34 million.

  • Busiest day was opening day with 35,000. The next busiest day was the 12th of April 1998 with 21,232.

  • Busiest year was financial year 2015/16 with 1,784,939 visitors.

  • In its first year, from 14 February 1998 to 14 February 1999, Te Papa had 2,002,977 visitors. The original visitor target for Te Papa was 700,000 per year.

Other numbers

  • Te Papa cares for more than 2 million collection items.

  • Te Papa has more than 600 staff, from scientists to pastry chefs.

  • The Covid-19 lockdown in 2020 saw Te Papa close for 68 days. Prior to that its longest time closed was for two days in a row – once after a flood, once after the Kaikoura earthquake.

By the numbers – over 25 years

  • Shakes of the earthquake house: 1.65 million

  • Teddies abandoned: 687

  • Children lost (and found): 4,375

  • Lightbulbs changed: 27,500

  • Coffees served: over 4 million

Most popular exhibitions

Most popular exhibition

Gallipoli: The scale of our war is the most popular exhibition in New Zealand’s history, with 3,910,621 visits from its opening on 18 April 2015 to the end of January 2023. Entry is free.

Most popular paid exhibitions

Lord of the Rings 119/12/200221/04/2003219,539
Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality15/12/201822/04/2019198,021
Monet & the Impressionists14/02/200917/05/2009152,094
Whales | Tohorā01/12/200710/05/2008140,207
Bug Lab10/12/201617/04/2017137,741

Media contact:
Kate Camp, Head of Marketing and Communications, 029 601 0180, kate.camp@tepapa.govt.nz