Tuakana: Dion Peita

At my graduation the speaker said something about the path never being clear in the arts, but its reward lay in the ability to shape a career around your interests. Dion Peita is someone whose career path exemplifies this. I first met Dion in his capacity as a Collection Manager - Māori at Te Papa, and have again found myself in the same institution as Dion at Auckland Museum. Dion recently came to our Exhibitions team meeting and told us about his work with communities in Australia, his brokering of the return of the Te Pahi Medal and inspired us with the idea of creating equity in community relationships. This last (excellently simple) idea is a great example of mana taonga principles implemented in practice and solidified a new dimension of my thinking about the relationships between museums and communities. It’s not often I’m inspired like this and I thought Dion would make an excellent tuakana. Dion was nominated as a tuakana by a dear friend of Tusk's, Jonathon Kelso.


In five words, describe your role in the sector. 

(The) Head of Collection Care

What is it about the sector that you love?

Not necessarily a question about the notion of love but one I think of in terms of enthusiasm, history, diversity and respect.  I have been in this sector for over two decades and I’ve seen an evolution/devolution in terms of how we engage our collections with audiences to unpack exciting ways to tell human stories and the stories of our natural world.  Further, the way in which there is now greater participation of Māori and diverse groups across the spectrum of roles in our sector bodes well going forward.  Also, working in an industry where there is genuine passion to do good by way of collection care, interpretation, collaboration, exhibition delivery and audience engagement further strengthens this view.   We’re at an intersection where material meets people; so let’s maximise this.

What have been some challenges in your career?

In New Zealand I have found that in general there are always professionals at hand that will provide you with support and mentoring when you need it; as we’ve a fairly small professional pool in terms of those of us that work in the industry, so I would say that support structures are good, and will continue to grow knowing there are numerous courses being run through Auckland, Massey and Victoria that further the GLAM sector making it meet some of the challenges going forward.  For me personally working abroad I found especially challenging at the beginning of my career as my practiced and cultural points of reference weren’t compatible with what I needed to deliver across my work program.  I quickly developed networks from community to governments, built up my local history knowledge, learnt quickly about the role of State and federal governments and how they influence and impact the sector.  Coupled with this, I established a greater understanding across the Asia-Pacific region as the stakeholders I came into contact with required a level of participation through my role in the delivery of acquisitions, exhibitions,  loans, touring exhibitions and general collection research collaboration’s.  I’d say these challenges have given me the resilience needed to address the roles and responsibilities I’ve encountered so far, and inform and prepare me going forward.

What challenges can you see moving forward? 

It's wonderful to see so many certified professionals, both new and existing,  come through to work in the GLAM sector as opposed to when I first started in museums, especially for Māori and Pacific.  I kind of count my blessings that I was one of the ‘ol school’ students that was inspired by Te Maori (for the uninitiated, read Conal McCarthy’s excellent book ‘Māori and Museums’ for further insight)  giving me a hearty foundation for taonga, their whanau associations and what’s possible when you generate something that appeals, transcends and gives meaning.

Conversely, one foreseeable deficit to the sector is the lack of qualified NZ Conservators and related courses on country that support and encourage this specialised field. I hope as a future measure, Universities take on board the idea to providing. Conservation as a standalone program on offer, be it, undergrad or post-grad. Provided it gets traction. 

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

Early stage people to the GS can offer immensely in terms of eagerness, verve and energy and potentially an appetite for new technologies and how this can benefit what we do.  Many of the newbies I’ve mentored or employed usually have a really good grounding  in theory, but lack the practical elements which many of our roles heavily rely on.  Show enthusiasm and a wanting to genuinely learn the roles of the business and this should put you in good stead in our industry.

What is your spirit animal?

Spirit Animal?  Really?