Te Papa's founding chief executive Dame Cheryll Sotheran has passed away.

Sotheran was appointed as the founding chief executive of the planned Te Papa in 1992 when the New Zealand National Museum and National Art Gallery merged.

Te Papa was said to be the largest museum construction project in the world of the 1990s.

"Dame Cheryll leaves an incredible legacy.


"Her spirit of innovation, of challenging the status quo, is part of Te Papa's DNA," said Te Papa chief executive Geraint Martin.

Sotheran was at the forefront of the complex project including overseeing a hotel moved from its waterfront location on wheels to accommodate the new structure.

"Cheryll had an unwavering belief in a new kind of museum, and was determined to create an experience that was different – a bicultural space that was exciting and challenging and open to all.

"The opening of Te Papa on 14 February 1998, on time and under budget, can be attributed to Dame Cheryll's determination and vision," said Te Papa's current Kaiautū Doctor Arapata Hakiwai.

Hakiwai said the loss of Cliff Whiting in July and Sotheran was poignant as the museum approched its 20th anniversary.

"As we approach our twentieth anniversary, we take inspiration from the courage and creativity of those early years.

"This year we have lost the two true creators of Te Papa," he said.