Friends of Te Papa

Friends of Te Papa

This article was written for Open Eyes 130 (October 2014), a special commemorative issue developed, designed and printed to mark the formal end of the publication of the Friends’ newsletter in its traditional hard-copy format.


“The Friends of Te Papa are absolutely invaluable.” These are the words of Arapata Hakiwai, Acting Chief Executive and Kaihautu of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

How have the Friends become the strong, vibrant organisation they are today? What events and challenges have they had to face over the years? How have they evolved? Where are they heading?

Past issues of the Friends’ newsletter Open Eyes (or Te Ohunga, ‘The Awakening’) are a wonderful source of information. This newsletter was the inspiration of David Carson-Parker, President from 1988-1998, who oversaw the ‘repositioning’ of the former Friends of the National Art Gallery into the Friends of Te Papa and recognised the importance of regular communication with members. Open Eyes, from its first black and white issue in July 1991 through to the full-colour issues of 2014 (all designed by Aleck Yee of Alltex Design), paints a vivid picture of the development of Te Papa itself, the appointment of successive Chief Executives, the wide-ranging exhibitions and events undertaken by the Museum and the ever-evolving programme and priorities of the Friends, in collaboration with Te Papa.

For this special commemorative issue, the Presidents of the Friends are another key source. Pat McCay (1998-2000), Judy Salmond (2000-2004), Catherine Keating (2004-2005), Sally Munro (2005-2009), Berys Walter (2009-2012) and Gordon Shroff (2012-today) all provided important insights into highlights and issues during their time in office. Others interviewed included: Manager of the Friends, Elizabeth Ridder; Jeremy Commons, partner of David Carson-Parker; Tony Arthur, President of the Academy of Fine Arts (1988-1994); and Acting Chief Executive and Kaihautu, Arapata Hakiwai.

New beginnings

The transition to working within a big new institution, still under construction, was not an easy one for the newly named Friends of Te Papa. The first Chief Executive, Cheryll Sotheran, appointed in 1993, had clear views on what she wanted Te Papa to be. To show they had something to offer the new Museum, the Friends worked hard to reframe who they were and how they operated. As time went on, two actions on Cheryll’s part would prove pivotal, not only in the ongoing success of the Friends, but in their relationship with Te Papa. The first was her strong encouragement of the Friends to employ a full-time staff member; the second her suggestion they prioritise the drafting of a strategic plan.

New staff

Elizabeth Ridder was appointed in 1997 as ‘Administrator’, then in 2000 promoted to ‘Manager’. She was based in a room allocated by Te Papa to the Friends – the same room on Level 3 as today. Elizabeth’s appointment enabled the Friends to be professional in the way they worked and also enhanced the Friends’ presence within Te Papa. Building acceptance of her position within the organisation took time, but Elizabeth soon gained the respect of her colleagues. As the Manager’s role grew, the decision was made to appoint an Administrative Assistant. Aloema Ioane took up this position in 2004, initially for three days a week, then on a full-time basis from 2010. All the Presidents of the Friends are glowing in their praise of Elizabeth and Aloema and emphasise the importance of the continuity they provide. Arapata Hakiwai calls them “an integral part of the whānau”.

Strategic planning

The Friends’ first strategic plan was developed when Pat McCay was President, under the guidance of committee member, Don Hunn. The resulting plan, for the years 1999-2002, was the first for any Friends’ organisation in the sector and received attention across Australasia. The updated version for 2002-2005 was presented by Judy Salmond, then President, and committee member, Sally Munro, to the Te Papa Board and Senior Management Team in early 2003. Catherine Keating, who followed Judy as President, considers that the strategic planning process helped the Friends to clarify who they were, what their purpose was and how they might best support Te Papa. Since that time, the strategic plan has continued to be regularly reviewed.

Relations with Board and Senior Management

Te Papa’s Director Marketing and Communications, Paul Brewer, was for ten years (1999-2009) the Board’s representative on the Friends’ Committee. The Friends’ strategic plans enabled Paul to liaise more effectively with the Board and to gain greater understanding from Board members of the role and value of the Friends. Importantly, Board Chairs proved supportive through those years and beyond, with Sir Roderick Deane and Sir Wira Gardiner deserving particular mention.

After Cheryll Sotheran’s departure in 2002, the relationship between the Friends and senior management continued to grow, despite several changes in Te Papa’s leadership and two major restructures. Chief Executives Pat Stuart (Acting), Seddon Bennington, Michelle Hippolite (Acting) and Michael Houlihan all respected and valued the Friends. Seddon stated soon after his arrival in January 2003 that “a strong, viable Friends’ group was essential to any museum” (Open Eyes, Issue 55, February 2003). He regularly attended Friends’ events. Michael utilised the Friends to disseminate information about, and gain feedback on, his re-visioning process and also contributed on a regular basis to Friends’ activities. Current Acting Chief Executive, Arapata Hakiwai’s attitude is equally positive. This ongoing strong relationship is a measure of the success of the Friends.


Whilst from the outset the Friends were committed to supporting and promoting Te Papa, they did not usually see lobbying on behalf of the organisation as part of their role. From time to time, however, circumstances dictated the need for advocacy. One such example occurred in 2012, in the context of threatened funding cuts to Te Papa by the Wellington City Council. To reinforce individual submissions from members and a joint submission from the Committee, Berys Walter (President), supported by Gordon Shroff (Vice-President) and Elizabeth Ridder, presented an oral submission to the City Council. Representing the views of a sizeable membership, these submissions carried considerable weight.


Following in the tradition of their predecessors, the Friends have regularly made significant gifts to the Te Papa collection, holding special fundraising events for this purpose. The first gift, on the opening of the new museum in 1998, was a major work by Jacqueline Fraser, Te Ara a Hine. Other substantial gifts were the lectern designed by Humphrey Ikin for use on the Marae (2009); a 50% contribution towards the purchase of the Banks Florilegium engravings (2010); and Michael Parekowhai’s He Kōrero Pūrākau mo te Awanui o Te Motu: story of a New Zealand river (2012). During Sally Munro’s time as President, in consultation with Te Papa, the move was made to a gifting programme, offering a gift to a different collection each year. Whilst it has not always been possible to follow this guideline, a diverse range of gifts has been made. In 2013-2014, for instance, funding went towards the publication of two books from Te Papa Press: New Zealand Art Activity Book for Children and Holding on to Home; 40 Museum folding stools; and a Museum Intern at the Canterbury Cultural Collections Recovery Centre (CCCRC).


During the 1990s, prior to moving into the new Te Papa building, the Friends had an active programme offering lectures on art topics, guided tours of Buckle St exhibitions and coffee mornings. In 1992 they also offered their very first ‘international trip’: an Australian Art Gallery Tour. Once on the waterfront site, there was an array of Te Papa exhibitions, displays and events to build a programme around. To complement the educational activities offered by Te Papa, the Friends held previews to major exhibitions and ran related lectures, presentations and floor talks, plus some specialised lecture series. In 2003, when Judy Salmond was President, they also organised their first tours to other arts centres within New Zealand, taking groups to Christchurch and Dunedin.

In Sally Munro’s time as President (2005-2009) two developments occurred. The first built on Te Papa’s priority of strengthening scholarship and learning and saw a focus on “taking Te Papa staff to the Friends”. This involved an increasing number of presentations from senior staff such as Jonathan Mane-Wheoki, as well as curators, scholars and researchers. The second saw a greater emphasis on ‘outreach’. Further art tours were run, to New Plymouth, Nelson, Christchurch and Auckland; and out-of-town Friends’ groups were invited to Te Papa and hosted by the Friends.

Since that time, and despite fewer ‘big name’ exhibitions in recent years, the Friends’ programme has continued to expand. There has been a greater diversity of offerings, such as back-of-house tours, overseas speakers and themed dinners; a growing number of lectures and events run in partnership with other organisations such as WeDFAS, City Gallery Wellington, the Portrait Gallery and the Adam Art Gallery; and a wider range of outreach activities, with various day trips to local and regional galleries, plus seven more tours to key arts places around the country. In 2013-2014 the number of opportunities for Friends to engage with Te Papa and enhance their learning has grown exponentially. This could not have been achieved without the flexibility of email publicity and the enormous dedication of Elizabeth and Aloema.


Another significant factor in the success of the Friends has been the huge commitment of volunteers, firstly, of committee members who contribute to every aspect of the Friends’ work and, secondly, of the many members who voluntarily give their time to assist with various administrative tasks and membership promotion. The management of volunteers has recently been reviewed. Revised processes are being put in place, new training devised and further opportunities for volunteers explored.


Over the years, in keeping with their strategic focus, the Friends have used diverse strategies to increase membership: printed, face-to-face and, more recently, online. An important source of new members has been ‘front of house’ promotion by volunteers at major exhibitions. Since the opening of Te Papa, the number of members has grown substantially, providing a significant support base for the Museum. A strong exhibition programme is key to sustaining and extending Friends’ membership.


From the first issue of Open Eyes in July 1991, the Friends have continually sought to revitalise and enhance their means of communication. As shown in the timeline, Open Eyes moved from black and white to three-colour then to full colour, adjusting its look and image at each step.

In early 2013, in an effort to be more flexible and responsive, the decision was taken to set up a dedicated Friends’ website and publish Open Eyes in an electronic format. After much research and preparation, this was implemented in August 2013. The Friends now have a vibrant website and publish a monthly e-newsletter version of Open Eyes offering links to the website, plus email updates as required. Earlier this year online membership renewal went live, followed by online registration and payment for events. Impressive achievements! It is now time to bring the full printed version of Open Eyes to an end, whilst still ensuring that those without email are kept informed.

Looking ahead

At a point when Te Papa is in a time of change, with a new Chief Executive to be appointed over the next few months, the Friends provide a constant to supporters of the organisation. They are committed to continuing their fundraising and gifting programme, to developing the range of activities and benefits on offer, to increasing and diversifying membership and to enhancing forms of marketing and communication. The Friends look forward to continuing their excellent relationship with Te Papa.

Jan Blayney, Friends of Te Papa Committee