Friday, February 23, 2018

Te Papa: Reinventing New Zealand’s national museum 1998–2018

Te Papa: Reinventing New Zealand’s national museum 1998–2018
By Conal McCarthy, published by Te Papa Press, $45.00
As New Zealand’s national museum Te Papa Tongarewa marks its 20th
anniversary, a new book by leading museologist Conal McCarthy examines how
the iconic institution that has benchmarked international best practice has
evolved over the past two decades.

 “I cannot think of another national museum, built in the last forty years, that
has been more globally influential in changing how these institutions represent
the nation and, more generally, the indigenous peoples of the world,” says
Professor Simon Knell of the University of Leicester in the foreword to Te Papa:
Reinventing New Zealand’s national museum 1998–2018. “Indeed, it is hard
to think of another national museum that has so fundamentally rewritten the
ethics of being a museum.”

McCarthy, who worked at Te Papa leading up to and over the time of its
landmark opening (on February 14 1998), presents an honest appraisal of the
museum’s origins, development, innovations, and some of the issues that have
sparked national and local debate.

He looks at how it was that a small country in the South Pacific could create
such a bold statement of the latest museological trends and become a model
for many others around the globe. And how it became the most loved, most
visited, most debated, and therefore most prominent, museum in Australasia.
As an academic who has researched and published widely on the subject of historical and contemporary Māori engagement with museums, McCarthy also analyses one of the most important aspects of Te Papa’s legacy – its approach to biculturalism and its Māori museum practice, both of which have attracted international attention.
“What I have tried to do with this book is provide a record, and show how the exhibitions, programmes and policy grew out of the time and place,” says McCarthy. “Which is what those who work at Te Papa now engaged in the renewal of the permanant exhibitions are doing for their own times. History is made, so it can be unmade and remade.”
Conal McCarthy worked at the National Art Gallery and National Museum from 1988–92, and then again at Te Papa from 1996–2000, in a variety of roles including education, exhibition interpretation and public programmes. Since leaving Te Papa he has become an academic teaching museum studies, and is presently director of the Museum and Heritage Studies programme at Victoria University of Wellington. His research and writing keeps him in close touch with developments at the museum. Conal has published widely on historical and contemporary Māori engagement with museums, including Exhibiting Māori: A history of colonial cultures of display (2007), Museums and Māori: Heritage professionals, indigenous collections, current practice (2011) and Museum practice: The contemporary museum at work (2015) in the series International Handbooks of Museum Studies.

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