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Dame Cheryll Sotheran

Cheryll Beatrice Sotheran

(1945-10-11)11 October 1945
Stratford, New Zealand
Died 30 December 2017(2017-12-30) (aged 72)
Auckland, New Zealand
Occupation Museum professional

Dame Cheryll Beatrice Sotheran DNZM (11 October 1945 – 30 December 2017) was a New Zealand museum professional. She was the founding chief executive of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and was credited with the successful completion of the museum, considered the largest international museum project of the 1990s.

Early life and education

Sotheran was born on 11 October 1945 into a large Roman Catholic family in Stratford, a farming town in the Taranaki province. 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 the University of Auckland in 1969, then undertook further study in the Art History department at the university.


Exterior of Te Papa, 2016-01-25
Exterior view of Te Papa Tongarewa in 2016

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. While in Auckland, Sotheran was also a founding member of the Feminist Art Network, working with artists and curators, including Juliet Batten, Elizabeth Eastmond, Alexa Johnston, Claudia Pond Eyley, Priscilla Pitts and Carole Shepheard. In 1989, Sotheran was appointed as director of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery.

In 1992 Sotheran was appointed as the founding chief executive of the nascent Te Papa, created from the merger of New Zealand's National Museum and National Art Gallery in a new building on the Wellington waterfront. The construction of Te Papa was the biggest international museum project of the 1990s and included moving a hotel on wheels to enable the museum to be built on its waterfront site. The opening of Te Papa in February 1998 was completed on time and on budget. 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.


Sotheran resigned from Te Papa for health reasons in 2002. She subsequently acted as sector director of creative industries at New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, where she was responsible for the strategic development of the creative industries across all sectors in the New Zealand economy.

Honours and awards

Sotheran was awarded the New Zealand 1990 Commemoration Medal in 1990, and the New Zealand Suffrage Centennial Medal in 1993. In the 1999 New Year Honours, she was appointed a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to museum administration. She received a distinguished alumni award from the University of Auckland, also in 1999.


In 2013, Sotheran suffered a stroke. She battled health issues until her death in Auckland on 30 December 2017, from undisclosed causes, aged 72.

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