Te Papa museum opens

14 February 1998

Crowds on Te Papa’s opening day
Crowds on Te Papa’s opening day (Michael Hall, Te Papa)

New Zealand’s new national museum, the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, was officially opened on Wellington’s waterfront after a decade of planning and construction.

The official opening ceremony began with the arrival of waka (canoes) at dawn, and culminated with a formal declaration of opening by two children, Tama Whiting and Grace Sweeney, who were accompanied by the famous yachtsman Peter Blake.

Te Papa’s new approaches and interactive techniques, which were audience- rather than object-focused, proved very successful with a wide cross-section of New Zealanders, including many Māori visitors. It also introduced innovative bicultural practices, including its own functioning marae, a Māori director (kaihautū), and the integration of Māori perspectives on collecting and display of taonga (treasures).

Despite its popularity, the museum was not without its critics. It was described by traditionalists as the ‘MTV of museums’, and art lovers had misgivings about the integration of the former National Art Gallery collections into the new museum. 

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