1 Aug 2018

Te Papa confirms restructure, calls in international experts

3:14 pm on 1 August 2018

Te Papa is pushing ahead with plans to restructure its collections team but will also have international experts review how it looks after its natural history collections.

Te Papa chief executive Geraint Martin

Te Papa chief executive Geraint Martin Photo: Supplied / Te Papa

Last month the museum announced plans to cut the number of staff in its collections area - leading to a public outcry over how the nation's treasures would be looked after.

Today it confirmed it would merge the collections managers and conservators into one team, but staff will have to wait months to find out if they have lost their jobs.

The public outcry has prompted it to convene an international panel of collections preservation specialists to review its national history collections.

Te Papa's director of strategy and performance Dean Peterson told RNZ's Our Changing World it was also doing an internal review of collections to compare Te Papa against other museums worldwide.

For more on changes at Te Papa read and listen to Our Changing World's coverage.

Te Papa chief executive Geraint Martin said a final announcement on any job cuts would be after the panel reports back in October.

"[If the report comes back recommending] more people, the same people, less people, or ... a different type of skill set, then we will clearly take that onboard," he said.

"We're not going into this with a defined end."

Although it was unpleasant for collections staff to have uncertainty about their jobs "they would agree with me that the most important thing ... is to get it right," he said.

"They're very passionate about the collection, we're very passionate about the collection."

Mr Martin said the museum had listened to feedback and was committed to ensuring the right decisions were made.

"Debate around Te Papa is always very, very passionate, both inside and outside the organisation, and we want to pay attention to that.

"There's a lot of opinion, there's a lot of fact, a lot of counter facts, so we thought the best thing to do would be to have an international panel who would advise us on what the best practice is ... to put the matter completely and utterly beyond bounds."

Board chairman Evan Williams said the board was absolutely committed to ensuring Te Papa met its legislative mandate to care for the collections in perpetuity.

"We have heard the concerns that have been raised around the care of science collections, and we are responding to them by seeking credible, independent and expert advice," he said.

'The guillotine didn't drop today' - former Te Papa staff member

A former manager of collections at Te Papa, Mike Rudge, said the museum's decision to hit the pause button on job cuts was a victory for staff and critics of the restructure.

He said today was marked on the collection managers' and conservators' calendars as 'd-day'.

"The guillotine didn't drop today and the museum administrators, the board, have taken a step back and said we better have another look at this.

"So yes, in that sense it's a win."

It was important that truly impartial scientists were appointed to the expert panel, Dr Rudge said.

And he said many of the people at the executive and the board level at Te Papa - although highly qualified in other areas - did not have museum experience.

"And that alarms a lot of people. It's very much a ... blind-leading-the-blind business, and if an independent view of that can help that would be good."

He said the fundamental mandate of the museum was to care for the collections.