Monday, April 13, 2015

A modest proposal at Te Papa

Jill Trevelyan, author of Peter McLeavey: The life and times of a New Zealand art dealer which won Book of the Year in the 2014 NZ Post Book Awards and Rita Angus: An Artist’s Life which won the Montana Medal for non-fiction in 2009, both published by Te Papa Press, writes:
Te Papa to axe its publishing arm
I wanted to let you know about a ‘change proposal’ that was announced to Te Papa staff on Thursday 9 April.
The proposal is to suspend all print publication within Te Papa Press for the next 4-5 years.
It includes disestablishing 4 positions at Te Papa Press: those of Claire Murdoch, Odessa Owens, Harriet Elworthy and Hannah Newport-Watson, ie every person who currently works primarily with print publications.
The reason for this ‘change proposal’ is that Te Papa is redirecting investment towards ‘core museum work’.
The proposal seems extraordinarily ill-conceived. If the objective is purely to save funds, the Te Papa Press budget is negligible in the wider context of the Te Papa budget.
And 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. Te Papa Press is widely perceived as one of the success stories of the Te Papa project, and its highly effective staff have an enviable reputation in the museum and publishing world. If they go, print publishing at the museum will never recover.
I can only surmise that Rick Ellis does not understand the work of Te Papa Press, and is receiving very poor advice from senior staff.
It alarms me that this proposal is being rushed through with great speed and secrecy: Te Papa is calling for internal submissions by 16 April. Staff have obviously been discouraged from discussing it with anyone outside the organisation.
Moreover, there is no evidence that the museum is seeking feedback from external stakeholders.
Given this tight time frame, I think the best option is to contact Rick Ellis directly ( to express dismay at the change proposal, and the secrecy with which it is being conducted.
Te Papa Press is one of our best publishers. (Disclosure: I have done some minor work on books for them in recent years.) The idea that you can redund the staff and suspend publishing for four years and then resume again is insane. Jill Trevelyan is right: Te Papa Press will never recover, which will be a huge loss to New Zealand publishing and New Zealand culture.

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