Cheryll Sotheran

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Dame Cheryll Beatrice Sotheran DNZM is a New Zealand museum professional. She was the founding Chief Executive of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

Early life and education[edit]

Sotheran was born into a large Roman Catholic family in Stratford, a farming town in the Taranaki province.[1] She was educated at St Mary's College in Auckland. She graduated from secondary teachers' college in 1968 and completed a Masters of Arts in English at Auckland University in 1969, then undertook further study in the Art History department at the university.[1]


Sotheran lectured in Art History at Auckland University before beginning her career in art administration when she was appointed director of the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in 1986.[1] While in Auckland Sotheran was also a founding member of the Feminist Art Network, working alongside artists and curators including Juliet Batten, Elizabeth Eastmond, Alexa Johnston, Claudia Pond Eyley, Priscilla Pitts and Carole Shepheard.[2] In 1983 she wrote 'Replacing women in art history', an assessment of women artists' treatment in art criticism for an issue of Art New Zealand focused on feminism and art.

In 1989 Sotheran was appointed as director of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, and in 1992 she was appointed as the founding Chief Executive of the nascent Te Papa, to be created from the merger of New Zealand's National Museum and National Art Gallery in a new building on the Wellington waterfront.[1] The construction of Te Papa was the biggest international museum project of the 1990s.[3]

The opening of Te Papa in February 1998 was completed on time and on budget.[3] A documentary by Anna Cottrell and Gaylene Preston, Getting to Our Place, recorded the process of developing the museum on a new museological principle of biculturalism.[4]

Sotheran weathered several controversies during her tenure at Te Papa, including ongoing criticism of the display of the national art collection, and significant public protest when Tania Kovat's art work Virgin in a Condom was exhibited at the museum in an exhibition of work by the Young British Artists in 1998.[5][6]

Sotheran resigned from Te Papa for health reasons in 2002.[1] Since 2002, she has acted as Sector Director, Creative Industries, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, where she is responsible for the strategic development of the creative industries across all sectors in the New Zealand economy.[citation needed]

Awards and recognitions[edit]

In the 1999 New Year Honours Sotheran was appointed a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to museum administration.[7][1] She received a Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Auckland in 1999.[8]

Further reading on Sotheran's tenure at Te Papa[edit]

  • 'Museum has its first chief', The Evening Post, 18 February 1993; pp. 1,3.
  • Lee Harris, 'Sotheran to head new NZ museum', Otago Daily Times, 19 February 1993; p. 1
  • Lee Harris, 'Woman with a museum mission', New Zealand Herald, 27 March 1993; s.2 p. 5. (Summarises the career of the new chief executive of the Museum of NZ.)
  • Tara Werner, 'Promoting a heritage', New Zealand Herald, 12 July 1995, s.3 p. 10. (Chief executive of the Museum of NZ Te Papa Tongarewa talks about the museum.)
  • Keith Stewart, 'Behind the scenes at the museum', Quote Unquote, no. 35, May 1996, pp. 12–14. (Interviews Cheryll Sotheran, chief executive officer of the Museum of NZ. Focuses on the controversial issues she has to deal with, and the responsibility of the museum in taking into account a multiplicity of different viewpoints on what its purpose should be.)
  • Diana Dekker, 'In the brave new world of MONZ, The Evening Post, 3 August 1996, p. 13. (Profiles the chief executive of the Museum of NZ (MONZ), recording the opinions of colleagues and the directors of other museums. Talks to her about the criticism she has received.)
  • Matt Johnson, 'Passionate about her place', Sunday Star Times, 25 May 1997, p. E2. (Talks to the CEO of Te Papa, Our Place - the Museum of NZ.)
  • Jenny Chamberlain, 'Face to face : Cheryll Sotheran', North and South, no. 135, Jun 1997, pp. 72–76. (Interviews the chief executive of the Museum of NZ Te Papa Tongarewa.)
  • Val Aldridge, 'Te Mama', The Dominion, 14 February 1998, p. 20. (Profiles the chief executive of the Museum of NZ Te Papa Tongarewa).
  • Cheryll Sotheran, 'Crowds testament to Te Papa's success', The Evening Post, 2 September 1998, p. 20. (The chief executive of Te Papa gives an account of the emergence of the modern museum, and discusses assessments of Te Papa.)
  • Josie McNaught, 'The three graces', The Dominion, 4 September 1999, p. 17 (Refers to the high-profile arts leaders - Dame Cheryll Sotheran, chief executive of Te Papa; Paula Savage, director of City Gallery; and Jenny Harper, head of art history at Victoria University.)
  • Nicola Legat, 'Cheryll Sotheran : New Zealander of the Year', North and South, no. 154, January 1999, pp. 48–53. (Profiles the chief executive of Te Papa, the Museum of NZ.)
  • Cheryll Sotheran, 'Look at the bigger picture', The Dominion, 3 June 1999, p. 10. (Responds to criticism of the treatment of art by the Museum of NZ.)
  • Cheryll Sotheran and Hamish Keith, 'Giving the people what we thought they wanted; Lets have more museum and less McDonald's', New Zealand Herald, 31 January 2000, p.A 19. (Presents two responses to the funding problems being faced by the museum : the first by its chief executive who argues the institution has been a success and a funding shortfall was expected; the second by an Auckland art consultant who contends that the approach of the museum is flawed.)
  • Jenny Chamberlain, 'Museum wars : behind the scenes at the museums', North and South, no. 169, April 2000, pp. 46–54. (Compares the national museum and the regional museum, considering style and funding issues. Discusses museums as experience destinations or storehouses of cultural and scientific property. Talks to Te Papa director Dame Cheryll Sotheran and Auckland Museum director Rodney Wilson.)
  • Michele Hewitson, 'Dame Cheryll Sotheran on life after Te Papa', New Zealand Herald, 21 April 2007.


  1. ^ a b c d e NZPA (7 June 2002). "Te Papa's 'Mama' in shock health resignation". NZ Herald. Retrieved 27 December 2015. 
  2. ^ "Found: Cheryll Sotheran". Over the Net. Retrieved 27 December 2015. 
  3. ^ a b "Government thanks Dame Cheryll Sotheran". Retrieved 27 December 2015. 
  4. ^ "Getting to Our Place". NZ on Screen. Retrieved 27 December 2015. 
  5. ^ O'Neil, Andrea (21 March 2015). "'Virgin in a Condom' artwork provoked violence month after Te Papa opening". DominionPost. Retrieved 27 December 2015. 
  6. ^ Walrond, Carl. "Atheism and secularism - An increasingly secular country". Te Ara - The online encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 27 December 2015. 
  7. ^ "New Year Honours 1999" (22 January 1999) 5 New Zealand Gazette 139.
  8. ^ "Famous past students". University of Auckland. Retrieved 27 December 2015.