Retired curator Dr Brian Gill is concerned about changes at Te Papa, but his worries are not founded in fact.

Te Papa must modernise, but we will never compromise on our care of the collections, and our duty to New Zealanders.

Te Papa has no plans to "ditch" its fish collections, though we are in early talks with Niwa about creating a state-of-the-art facility together. This could bring New Zealand's two largest marine science collections under one roof, and be a huge asset for researchers.


Gill's fear of a "warehouse" in Auckland is also not based in fact. Te Papa is working towards a facility in Manukau. Our vision is for a purpose-built education and community site, creating learning opportunities off the back of collections.

From our work with local communities, we know how much they would value this chance to access the taonga held in trust. The world of museums is changing fast. Museum directors were once issued with a shotgun for collecting birds. Now we have our own DNA lab on site. Our audiences are changing too, becoming more diverse. And we are creating new experiences for this new Aotearoa.

In the past five years, Te Papa has launched the country's most acclaimed exhibition, Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War, now seen by more than two million people. It moves many visitors to tears.

We have built Toi Art, a game-changing gallery which provides more space than ever before to show works from the national collection. Its opening exhibitions included Pacific Sisters: Fashion Activists. This Auckland artist collective would never have been given such prominence by past generations of curators. This is the art of today for the audience of today.

Next year Te Papa will open a new permanent exhibition, Taiao Nature. This $11 million investment in science education is the biggest change to the museum since it opened. It will draw richly on the collections with hundreds of specimens, and tackle tough issues such as climate change and fresh water.

It will be scientifically robust and no doubt ruffle a few feathers: we haven't become one of the world's top 20 museums by playing it safe.

Exhibitions are the front window of a museum, but behind the scenes is where the real work happens. New Zealand's museums work together as a network to preserve our heritage and unlock its secrets through research.

For example, in 20 years, Te Papa scientists have discovered 400 species, and gone on 700 expeditions. Each year we receive Marsden Fund grants in recognition of our research quality, and external organisations commissioned another $700,000 of research from us in the last year alone.


Te Papa holds more than 2.2 million collection items in its trust, not only in science but in history, art, maatauranga Maori and Pacific. Caring for them is at the absolute heart of our role.

But while we care for the past, we need to move with the times. Museums must grapple with new issues and new opportunities, from managing the gases emitted by 1980s plastics, to using infrared rays to peer below the surface of an oil painting.

To meet new challenges, we must continue to evolve the way we work. Te Papa has strong, specialist leadership to drive this change.

Our board includes Sir Peter Gluckman, the former Prime Minister's chief science Adviser, and Tamaki College principal Soana Pamaka. My co-leader at Te Papa is Kaihautu Dr Arapata Hakiwai, culture commissioner for Unesco and one of the world's thought leaders in museum practice.

Senior leaders appointed this month include ex-Nasa scientist Dr Dean Peterson, and the current director of Dowse Art Museum, Courtney Johnston. With specialist expertise at every level, we are able to keep pushing the boundaries of research, publishing peer-reviewed papers and high quality books, as well as creating exhibitions.

Many things change in our fast-moving world, but our role as kaitiaki of New Zealand's heritage will never alter.

• Geraint Martin is the chief executive of Te Papa