Tuesday, October 28, 2014

New Te Papa boss to be announced soon

Te Papa has six of its 14 senior positions vacant at the moment (and that’s not even counting the Senior Curator Art where Sarah Farrar is no longer credited as Acting in the role on the staff list) but one position is about to be filled. Yes, hold onto your seats, the announcement of the next Chief Executive is expected “very soon”. 

It’s not been an easy ride for the people who run Te Papa. The first director Cheryll Sotheran left unexpectedly apparently made ill by the job, the second, Seddon Bennington, died in a mountain accident and the third, Mike Houlihan, jumped ship ostensibly to help with World War I celebrations but in reality to head back home to the UK three months after leaving the building.

Now the word on the street is that a selection has been made from the final two candidates to take up this unenviable job. Putting the odd hints together it sounds like we’re in for a New Zealander who is not a museum person. It also seems as though the appointment may be shorter term (say three years or so) with the specific mission of getting the current shambles sorted out. Maybe we’re talking a younger version of those professional public service fixer-uppers like George Hickton or Ray Smith, or even a spare ex Vice Chancellor, given Te Papa’s insecurity over its research outputs.

Whoever it is it will be a tough slog. Te Papa was created in good times. It has always had an over-developed sense of its own national importance not helped by its spot on the Wellington waterfront and a mega scale and high quality building. To match its self-image this institution locked down with a culture of over-the-top presentation, wastefulness and bureaucracy that has now almost brought it to its knees. The permanent exhibits conceived in the early 1990s (natural history, history) and planned to be on display for 12 years have now been out there for 16 and so far there's no sign from the government that there's any cash to pimp the place up far less make a fresh start. The Maori displays in particular need a huge amount of effort to present them as the museum’s key treasures that they are. It's hard to believe that Te Hau ki Turanga itself would have ever looked so neglected. As for the art, well, the best you can say is that changes every six months or so.