Te Papa acquires objects for a number of reasons - to fulfil exhibitions and public programme requirements, for reasons of scholarship and research, and to explore and record mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge systems). Items are also gathered to address national collection-holding responsibilities.
Items come into the collection in a variety of ways. Some are purchased, others are collected in the ‘field’. Te Papa commissions works and participates in exchanges. Many items come into the collection by way of donation or bequest.
Collecting is done across five disciplines: Art, Māori, Pacific, History, and Natural Environment.
Objects and artworks go through an approvals process to ensure that they fulfil the criteria outlined in Te Papa’s Collection Development Policy and Acquisitions Strategy. This process begins with the curators, who identify and nominate items for acquisition based on their relevance and importance to the collection and to Te Papa’s exhibition and research programmes.
Next there is input from collection managers, conservators, and often object support staff (mount-makers, crate-makers, and framers), who give feedback on the item’s storage, preservation, and display needs.
The collection contains things as diverse as unique natural environment ‘type’, specimens, taonga (Maori cultural treasures), historical and ethnographic artefacts, costumes and textiles, painting, sculpture, and contemporary art.