Former Te Papa boss quits NZ

Former Te Papa chief executive Michael Houlihan has left New Zealand – after lasting barely three months in his role as a special adviser to next year’s Anzac Day commemorations.

Houlihan left Te Papa after two disastrous exhibitions racked up big losses. He was given a 12-month secondment to the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, and was appointed to the advisory role on May 12.

A ministry spokesman confirmed yesterday that his last day was August 19, and that he had gone back to Britain.

When the secondment was announced in May, it was made clear that Houlihan would not be returning to his role at the national museum.

Te Papa chairman Evan Williams confirmed last night that Houlihan had “completed the first part of his secondment at the ministry, which was a specific task, but has ended his secondment and gone back to the UK. That was a decision that he made”.

He emphasised that Houlihan was not sacked from Te Papa, nor did he receive a golden handshake.

“He wasn’t fired, he has made his own decisions. Yes, we did have a big problem, and we’ve completed the turnaround.”

While Houlihan was at the helm of Te Papa, the museum was poised to post a $12 million loss for the year ending June.

It came on the back of two big loss-generating shows – The Aztecs: Conquest and Glory, and Colour & Light: Impressionism from France and America.

Severe cost-cutting measures were introduced and are expected to reduce the loss to about $8m. The budgeted deficit was $4.4m.

Houlihan was seconded to the ministry as a special adviser on military heritage leading into the 2015 Anzac Day commemorations and opening of the National War Memorial Park.

Labour arts, culture and heritage spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern said yesterday that questions were raised at the time about whether or not the secondment was part of wider issues being raised with management at Te Papa.

“The minister made it sound like the secondment was absolutely critical to the centenary celebrations . . . important enough that the most senior person at Te Papa was justified in leaving that role.

“For the individual in question to have now departed from that role early and left the country really suggests those earlier suspicions may have been fair.”

A spokesman for Culture and Heritage Minister Chris Finlayson said Houlihan had been well qualified for the special adviser position. He began his career at London’s Imperial War Museum.

“The minister is very pleased with the progress of the commemorations programme to date – most recently the announcement of the temporary museum in the Dominion Museum Building – and that includes the contribution of Michael Houlihan.”

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Finlayson did not have any involvement in Houlihan’s departure, the spokesman said.

Houlihan became Te Papa’s chief executive in August 2010, when he was 61. A new boss is due to be announced later this year.

– The Dominion Post