Te Papa celebrates its 20th birthday today

Te Papa marks its twentieth birthday today with a special evening concert and activities including special free tours and film screenings. 

After a dawn ceremony, at midday on February 14, 1998, yachtsman Sir Peter Blake led two children through the doors of Te Papa Tongarewa The Museum of New Zealand, "our place", on Wellington's waterfront. 

The concept for Te Papa was that it would be a bicultural museum, and incorporate both the national museum and national art collection. 

Kaihautū (Māori Co-leader) of Te Papa Arapata Hakiwai speaks to Breakfast. Source: Breakfast

As the biggest ever investment in New Zealand culture and heritage, and one of that decade's biggest museum projects globally, Te Papa was the subject of major scrutiny. 

From the 35,000 visitors who saw Te Papa on its opening day, to the more than two million who visited in its first year, Te Papa was embraced by New Zealanders. 

Controversies raged - including protests about the Tania Kovats “Virgin in a condom” artwork - but the public continued to visit Te Papa in their thousands. 

By today, Te Papa will have had almost 30 million visitors, discovered more than 400 new species, hosted more than 3,000 pōwhiri, and rocked visitors with more than 1.3 million shakes of its famous earthquake house.

Chief executive Geraint Martin says major changes are ahead for Te Papa in the coming years.

Next month a new art gallery, Toi Art, will open in Te Papa, the biggest change to the museum since opening, he says.

The $8.4 million space offers a large newly-created gallery able to hold works that have never been shown at Te Papa before, and the opening on March 17 will reveal major commissions by contemporary New Zealand artists. 

After Easter 2018 Te Papa will begin work on a new nature and environment section which will open in 2019, Martin says. 

Today the museum will be open until 9pm for its birthday activities.

Crowds at the opening of Te Papa on February 14, 1998. Source: Te Papa