Te Papa plans to split itself in half in a bid to streamline the organisation, six months into a nine-month restructuring process.
Internal correspondence provided to The Dominion Post under the Official Information Act outlines the intention to create two directorates - a Museum of Living Cultures and a Museum of the Future - with all staff and collection areas loosely split between them.
The Museum of Living Cultures "largely captures what [Te Papa] is currently doing", while the Museum for the Future is intended to "challenge and empower people to have a positive impact on the future" through "new directions and initiatives yet to be implemented".
The documents also show Te Papa, which receives $32.5 million in government funding each year and $2.25m from Wellington City Council, has been under pressure to "do more with less".
It is understood the new structure is based on a model from Britain. Te Papa chief executive Michael Houlihan previously headed the national museums of Northern Ireland and Wales.
Yesterday, Mr Houlihan said the new structure - particularly in the future museum - would mean a greater turnover of exhibitions and more interactive ways of accessing them.
Areas that would get more space and time would include art - where the display turnover and space would dramatically increase - and New Zealand's contribution to science, which Mr Houlihan said deserved more attention.
Other exhibitions would look at new ways of capturing "intangible culture", including personal stories, dance and language.
Despite the present and future focus of the new model, it would also embrace the past, with one major upcoming project focusing on the World War I centenary.
"There is a risk in classifying the past as the past," he said. "We should be connecting from the past right through to the future."
The documents show senior management told staff in November that, though the proposal for change was driven by the need to future-proof the museum, the restructuring was partly to reduce costs.
"Clearly there are financial pressures on the organisation," one document says. "The reality is that everyone is being asked to do more with less and we have to operate in a financially constrained environment."
Between 115 and 137 jobs have already been disestablished, and about 123 have been created. Of those, all had been filled or advertised internally.
By the end of last year, seven staff had taken voluntary redundancy.
Last week Te Papa spokeswoman Tina Norris said about 30 roles were yet to be filled, including four associate director posts and one managerial position that had been advertised externally.
As the recruitment process would not be complete until the end of March, she "could not even hazard a guess" as to the eventual total number of redundancies.
"We cannot predetermine any outcome until that process is complete. Redeployment of staff to contestable roles is our priority and in some cases professional development will be provided to ensure this."
But Service and Food Workers Union spokesman James Sleep, who represents about 187 museum staff, said the process had not been transparent.
"Our view is that, throughout the process, they have been deliberately confusing everybody: staff, union representatives, and the media."
He suspected the process had been muddied so as to obscure the number of eventual redundancies.
"We've been trying to engage with them constructively, but we've struggled to get really clear answers. Other organisations go through these sorts of processes without the same smoke and mirrors. Our view is that the process has been managed very poorly."
A spokesman for Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Chris Finlayson said the minister would not comment on the organisation of Te Papa. The museum had operational independence and the Government remained at "arm's length" in terms of how it was run.
September 3: Restructuring proposal presented to all staff.
November 19: Final decision on restructure issued to staff. November 30: Deadline for affected staff to apply for up to three redeployment positions.
December 7: Deadline for affected and unaffected staff to apply for contestable positions.
December 17: Redeployment process completed.
January 22: Almost all contestable positions filled.
April 1: New structure expected to be in place.
- The Dominion Post