Margaret Tolland

From our On the Level chum, Bridget Reweti: Tomorrow is Margaret’s last day and like my Pātaka colleagues we’re all crying. This introduction to boss tuakana Margaret Tolland is going to be a soppy sobfest… Yesterday Margaret said the heart of Pātaka is the education classroom. It’s true. It’s true because Margaret is there encouraging artists in their practice, teaching adults and children alike about the many different ways into learning, living and loving art. Her community knowledge, support of artists and collegial warmth is unsurpassed. Margaret has given 14 generous years to Pātaka, and I’ve been lucky enough to share in a tiny slice of that healthy wealth of museum arts education. E kore e mutu ngā mihi ki a koe e te tuakana.


In five words, describe your role in the sector. (The five word limit is for this question only)

Education Coordinator and Public Programmes

What is it about the sector that you love?

I love how a gallery educator extends the ideas that are in an exhibition and helps students reflect and value their own experiences. I feel lucky to have a direct connection to how the work is viewed and the wide and varied responses. I love meeting the artists and seeing how they set up their exhibition, how the team of gallery staff host, install, launch and celebrate the artist’s work. The whole process is a bit like show business and then the educators and floor staff swoop in and then of course public programmes kicks in and other cool stuff happens. I love the potential that exhibitions bring.

What have been some challenges in your career?

I believe in the specialist nature of this role. Educators have to grab the students attention really quickly, apply all of the teaching knowledge they have, be aware of what schools are needing to support their classroom learning and on top of this, give the students a positive and fun experience that is memorable. Often gallery and museum educators are qualified, experienced and skilled classroom teachers who teach across a variety of curriculum areas.   The fact that we do not maintain our teacher registration in this setting, and the profession is not acknowledged by the Ministry of Education, is problematic. Teachers often think we are facilitators and not the skilled and qualified educators that we are. I think schools should base their programmes around the exhibitions that are on.  When this happens, it is so good.

The exhibition programming in an institution needs to include and consider education. We engage with a large number of students, parents and provide post visit experiences – I think we are the biggest advocates for our gallery or museum. Often I have experienced delivering an education programme with a large proportion of the general public viewing the exhibition, joining the tour or talk. It is very important for curators to talk to educators.  We have good ideas, that is what we do. 

What challenges can you see moving forward?

Over the years I have seen a huge increase in public programming. Some wonderful stuff is happening in our galleries and museums. I know of educators who are also taking on this role and I have experienced this myself. I really want galleries and museums to champion education programmes for years 1 – 13 and I especially think the relationship with the tertiary sector needs developing. Often the cross over into public programmes for an educator is problematic as I think that it is a separate role. I know that larger institutions have this sorted but smaller organisations who want to grow with the demands of public programming need to be supported with dedicated public programming staff. Education is specialist area and it is important for future gallery and museum goers to be nurtured, for there to be dedicated spaces for learning and budgets to support this. 

What do you think people in the early stages of their careers can offer the sector?

I think everyone comes to a gallery or museum career with stuff that they love and that they are into and know a lot about. In the early stages of any career it is important to bring along ideas and perspectives that can only enhance any gallery or museums vision. I do think it is important to figure out how to work as a team and to understand and know what each person does, from curators to front of house. The bigger picture on how it all works is really helpful. 

In a museum of Margaret, what is an object that you'd want in the collection?

That would definitely have to be my tap shoes. I love them and I love tap dancing. It may have been good to bust out a Shirley Temple (tap dance move inspired by Shirley Temple)  whilst teaching a group of students in the gallery. Perhaps a bit too noisy for other people visiting the gallery. Maybe I will revisit that!