Save Te Papa Press

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"We need greater protection of our cultural institutions from market forces. Worth and value [are] not the same" - Eleanor Catton


Te Papa Chief Executive Rick Ellis has proposed closing the museum’s publishing house, Te Papa Press, for four to five years to focus on ‘core museum work’ [1] Closing the Press would mean the loss of four jobs at Te Papa and the loss of important, beautiful books on New Zealand’s culture, history and natural world. It is very unlikely that the Press could be successfully revived again after four or five years.

Te Papa is New Zealand’s national museum. It is responsible for caring for and sharing the nation’s taonga and for telling our stories. Te Papa Press creates popular, award-winning books about New Zealand’s art, culture and the natural world for adults and children. These books are a key avenue for sharing Te Papa’s collections, research, scholarship and taonga with people outside of Wellington and around the world. These books are absolutely part of Te Papa’s core work and as it was put in the Dominion Post ‘Doing away with them is the kind of penny pinching that could make for a hollowed out, second rate national museum’. [2]

In 2014 Te Papa Press published Jill Trevelyan’s Peter McLeavy: The Life and Times of a New Zealand Art Dealer, which won the New Zealand Post Book Awards’ most prestigious prize – book of the year – beating even The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton.

This is just one of many awards the publishing house has won for the museum. On hearing of the proposal to close the Press, Trevelyan wrote ‘the dismantling of Te Papa Press would mean such a loss to the museum – in terms of outreach, nationally and internationally; credibility as a research institution; and brand excellence’. [3]

Te Papa Press’s books mean that we can introduce our children to New Zealand artworks, gain understanding of our natural diversity or see the beautiful kākahu (cloaks) in the national collection in sumptuous detail without having to visit Wellington. The Press’s books have illuminated everything from the New Zealand fashion industry to WWIwhales and dolphins and tatau. The taonga of Te Papa is available at your local public library.

Making New Zealand’s heritage accessible to all of us is an important part of the museum’s work, and Te Papa Press does that extraordinarily well. In recent years the New Zealand publishing industry has been shrinking, with several international publishing houses merging or withdrawing from New Zealand entirely. It is more important than ever to protect and nurture the publication of New Zealand stories. Ellis’s proposal to suspend print publishing may be part of his push to focus the museum’s work on ‘digitally immersive experiences’. But digital publication of the beautifully-produced books that Te Papa Press makes would be prohibitively expensive. The technology of the book shows no sign of disappearing any time soon. Even if such e-books were possible, they would need publishers to produce them.

Once the Press is closed for ‘four to five years’ it will be lost forever. It will become too expensive to start again from scratch and too hard to develop again the knowledge and expertise that is currently held by the staff of Te Papa Press. Please tell Rick Ellis and his bosses – the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage and the Te Papa Board – to reconsider this proposal and save Te Papa Press. 

Te Papa will make a decision on the proposal in May. Please tell them your opinion now.


~ References ~

  1. Te Papa spokeswoman Kate Camp quoted in ‘Te Papa printing press could be closed under new proposal’, Katie Chapman, Dominion Post April 13
  2. Dominion Post editorial, April 17
  3. Open letter from Jill Trevelyan, published here April 13

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