Executive team 

The partnership between the Chief Executive Officer and Kaihautū (Māori leader) reflects the bicultural nature of the Museum. Te Papa ‘acknowledges the unique position of Māori in Aotearoa New Zealand and the need to secure their participation in the governance, management, and operation’ of the Museum.

Chief Executive – Rick Ellis

Rick Ellis

Rick has an exceptional track record in senior executive roles, providing outstanding leadership in New Zealand and Australia. His previous roles have included 10 years at the helm of TVNZ, Chief Executive Officer of Ansett New Zealand, Managing Director of EDS New Zealand and most recently, as Group Executive Telstra Media based in Sydney.

Rick’s has a passion for making Te Papa available to everyone in New Zealand and his extensive background in digital media is helping Te Papa to extend beyond the walls of our buildings.

With the strength of our excellent team alongside him, Rick is helping to ensure Te Papa can turn its vision to change hearts, change minds and change lives into a reality.

Kaihautū (Māori Co-leader) – Arapata Hakiwai

Arapata Hakiwai

Ngāti Kahungunu, Rongowhakaata, Ngāti Porou, and Ngāi Tahu

As Kaihautū, Arapata shares the strategic leadership of Te Papa. He provides bicultural leadership, guidance, and support, as well as further developing relationships with iwi. 

His leadership encompasses the Iwi Relationship Programme, the Karanga Aotearoa Repatriation Programme, iwi in residence, and the Rongomaraeroa Marae. His position and area of responsibility help to affirm the bicultural foundation of Te Papa and its significance within the museum sector and New Zealand.

Arapata brings more than 20 years of museum sector experience to this role. He was employed by the National Museum and Australian Museum in 1989 as a trainee exhibition curator for the Toi Māori exhibition.  His responsibilities and roles progressed to Curator Māori Collections, Exhibition Concept Developer, and then Manager for Bicultural Operations in 2000. 

During his time as Director Mātauranga Māori in 2003–8 (and Acting Kaihautū from 2007–8), he guided the direction of research into the Māori collections and the associated policies and practices surrounding Taonga Māori.

Arapata has been involved in the repatriation of Māori and Moriori kōiwi tangata over many years including from the Australian Museum, Sydney, Field Museum, Chicago, Glasgow University, Edinburgh University, the Royal Scottish Museums and many other museums in the United Kingdom.

He is currently leading a world-wide research project to identify and create a global digital database of Taonga Māori and Moriori in museums and galleries. The aim is to facilitate the ‘digital repatriation’ of these taonga.

His curatorial expertise, understanding of taonga, and ongoing contribution and commitment to Te Papa will be invaluable in leading the Museum towards achieving its Vision.

Associate Director Collections Research and Engagement – Dale Bailey

Dale Bailey

Dale and his team look after Te Papa’s collections, and share them with the public, ensuring as many people as possible can appreciate and learn from these national treasures. Covering natural sciences, art and New Zealand and Pacific cultures, activities in the group include curatorial research; collection management and development; exhibition development; learning; and public programmes.

Dale is on secondment from the Education Review Office where he is the Deputy Chief Review Officer Northern/Te Tai Raki.

Chief Operating Officer – David Robinson

Dave Robinson

David and his staff provide organisational infrastructure and support across the museum, including people and culture, communications, IT, facilities and programme management.

David came to Te Papa from the Ministry of Education, where he was Group Manager, Shared Services. Before working at the Ministry, David spent six years at the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) in the role of General Manager, Customer Services of Defence Shared Services.

Associate Director Commercial – Phil Smith

Phil Smith

Phil’s team are responsible for finding new ways to generate revenue, which supports Papa’s activities. This involves developing sponsorships and partnerships, and working with colleagues across Te Papa to develop new products and services.

Phil came to Te Papa from NMGW Enterprises Ltd (the trading company of Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales), where he was Chief Executive Officer for eight years.

Museum Renewal Directorate – Karen Mason

Karen Mason

As Te Papa undertakes the largest redevelopment in its history, Karen has overall responsibility for the renewal of Te Papa’s Cable St Site and long term exhibitions,.

Karen has a unique blend of experience in web communications, digital media, fine arts and design, entomology, education, and museum management. Before joining Te Papa Karen was a member of the Executive Team at Auckland War Memorial Museum. Karen was also a member of Te Papa’s original 1990 exhibition development team.

Karen has won several awards for her leadership of creative and technical teams, the most recent being the top award in the Social Media category at the international 2012 'Museums and the Web' conference in San Diego.

Chief Financial Officer – Stephen Davidson

Stephen Davidson

Stephen and his team are responsible for advising and reporting on all financial aspects of Te Papa. This includes end to end transactional activities, partnering with the business to ensure maximum efficiency and targeted investment and responsibility for all internal and external reporting.

Stephen qualified as chartered accountant at Price Waterhouse Coopers and furthered his career with Reuters in New Zealand and the UK, Lehman Brothers and Lloyds TSB.


Chief Digital Officer – Melissa Firth

Melissa Firth

Melissa and her team work to make Te Papa a world-leading provider of digital experiences.

Melissa has over 20 years’ experience in the media, arts, government and private sectors. Melissa is a Kiwi whose most recent role was Head of Digital Business Development with Aussie public broadcaster ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation).


Associate Director – Nga Manu Atarua – currently vacant

A newly-created role for which Te Papa is currently recruiting. The Ngā Manu Atarau Directorate’s purpose is to acknowledge the spiritual and cultural connection of communities to taonga and collection items. Ngā Manu Atarau brings together the skills, knowledge and experience required to develop, disseminate and raise awareness of the philosophy of Mana Taonga. The directorate provides leadership in support of Treaty settlements and deepening Te Papa’s engagement with and support of iwi relationships.

Ngā Manu Atarau, through the Kaihautū and the Associate Director, provides strategic leadership for partnerships with tangata whenua, ensuring that Te Papa’s obligations to Iwi are delivered in ways which are meaningful to Iwi. This Directorate also provides strategic leadership for Iwi/community relationships