In five words, describe your place in the sector.
Passionate believer in small museums
What first drew you to the sector i.e. Do you have a particular memory of a moment that got you hooked?
When I was doing my B.A. a good friend of mine suggested I consider museum work. It was a light bulb moment for me. I don’t think I’d ever really thought about people working in museums before. Suddenly I could see myself doing that. Particularly I could see that my diverse passions for science, history, design and more could be a strength in a small museum. That said I did set up a museum when I was about 5 or 6 (and charged admission!) so maybe the idea was always incubating in the background.
What challenges have you faced in your career so far?
A big challenge was becoming acting director of the North Otago Museum in 2011. I was 25 at time and while my career goal was to one day direct a small museum it is fair to say I wasn’t expecting it so soon. I found out I was acting Director by seeing myself described as such in some meeting minutes. So without getting too detailed the process wasn’t ideal. It was a challenge for some people to see me, a young woman, as the museum’s director but more of a challenge was seeing myself in that role.
My political beliefs meant it was hard to see myself as manager so I had to find a style of leadership that was very non-hierarchical and collaborative inside the museum while trying to inhabit this role of directing a museum and having some authority when dealing with people outside the museum when necessary. I was lucky that the previous director, Rowan Carroll, was great. So I tried to follow her example. I was faced with managing staff, budgets, council processes, running the museum and archive with no formal management training. I wasn’t very confident but I felt a huge responsibility for the museum.
Then after 2 and half years the management of the museum and art gallery were combined and I applied to be the director. I didn’t get the job and that was a different challenge because I was finally feeling comfortable in my management skin and then it was over. I had achieved my career goal of directing a small museum so what then? But I am glad I didn’t get the role because it is very demanding and I had been working as the curator as well as acting director so I was exhausted.
Has anything or anyone in particular provided you with support?
I am so fortunate to have had great support from colleagues, the sector generally and my family. I want to acknowledge the friends I did my museum and heritage studies degree with, especially Tamara, Jane and Vera. They are amazing. Also the volunteers at the museum here. They are brilliant and seeing their confidence in me gave me more confidence in myself.
What do you think people at your own level (emerging etc) bring to the sector?
Tough question, everyone brings something different. I hope we bring passion, an understanding that we do what we do for our communities/audiences/visitors rather than ourselves and the courage that comes with that. Going to the session on gender and sexuality at Museums Aotearoa this year I thought if emerging professionals were in more leaderships roles gender and sexuality would be a lot more present in our exhibitions and events.
What is a positive change you would like to see in the sector?
I would love to see a more realistic attitude to collections. I wrote my master’s dissertation about putting audiences at the heart of collecting and collections significance. My motivation was partly a disgust I felt as a museums studies student to see the care and expense that can go on caring for objects. Some collection care resources would be better used connecting with people rather than putting insignificant things in perfect boxes.
What is your karaoke song?
I am a terrible singer so you really don’t want me taking part in karaoke. In an alternate reality where I can sing I would enjoy belting out Jefferson Airplane’s Somebody to Love.