13 Jan 2010

Welsh museum boss appointed head of Te Papa

10:31 pm on 13 January 2010

The head of the national museum in Wales has been named as chief executive of Te Papa, New Zealand's national museum.

Michael Houlihan began his career as a research assistant at London's Imperial War Museum and has been the director general of the National Museum Wales since 2003.

The museum's former head, Dr Seddon Bennington, died while tramping in the Tararua Ranges in July last year.

Mr Houlihan told Summer Report he is used to working in bilingual settings, both in his current position and previously as the first chief executive of the newly created National Museums and Galleries of Northern Ireland.

"Being able to work in what ... was a divided society and continues to exhibit those divisions based on culture has given me some very different insights, I think, into how you accommodate and express and represent different cultures though an institution such as a museum."

Te Papa chairman John Judge says Mr Houlihan was selected for his leadership record and skills in ethnic and bilingual museum establishment and management.

Mr Judge says Te Papa looked in New Zealand and overseas for a new leader, and the overriding consideration was finding the most capable person to lead the museum's future direction.

However, an organisation representing many contemporary Maori artists is disappointed that no one in New Zealand was appointed.

Toi Maori Aotearoa general manager Garry Nicholas says he would have preferred a New Zealander in the role.

"I'm disappointed that a New Zealander wasn't appointed. If this new director has the ability to listen well and to gain the support of all of the Maori artists, the Pacific artists, the Asian artists and meld for us something that is our nation, then good luck to him."

Mr Nicholas says despite his personal opinion, he is keen to work with Mr Houlihan.

Arts commentator Hamish Keith says the nationality of the head of Te Papa is immaterial; what is more important is that he aims to make the museum into a national institution rather than a regional one, and achieves that goal.