In five words, describe your place in the sector.
“Started from the bottom” – Drake
What first drew you to the sector i.e. Do you have a particular memory of a moment that got you hooked?
Working in galleries is all I’ve ever wanted to do. Growing up in Whanganui was probably to blame for this, having the Sarjeant Gallery, the Whanganui Regional Museum and the Quay School of Fine Arts next door to where I lived meant I was basically raised by these places. Even as a small kid I used to go to exhibition openings decked out in my best gear (this consisted of a fur coat with full camo underneath). I remember at high school I told my careers advisor that I wanted to be a Curator, and he laughed at me. For a while, I entertained the idea of being an artist, and at one point a forensic scientist (ha!) but the lure of museums was clearly too strong to keep me away.
What challenges have you faced in your career so far?
In saying the above, it was never smooth sailing. By the time I finished my Art History degree I was really into the idea of being an art conservator but at the same time I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder that deteriorated my eyesight and gave me shaky hands (as you can imagine, not great attributes for a conservator). So as I was doing my Museum Studies degree I changed tack, and focused on collection management. My first job was at Puke Ariki overseeing the digitisation of 115,000 negatives in the Swainson/Woods Collection. That was a big challenge to begin with because I had no prior experience with photographic digitisation or managing a team – it was hard work with massive learning curves, but overall incredibly rewarding. Although to be honest I’m glad I’m not having dreams about accession numbers anymore. After getting a serious lung condition last year (yay for bad housing rentals) it forced me to leave my job and think about what I really wanted to do – and just like that, I was back on the curatorial pathway. So at the moment, my current challenge is being back at Victoria University doing my honours/masters in Art History. It feels like I’m starting from square one again.
Something I hadn’t predicted was how much I’d miss Vernon.
Has anything or anyone in particular provided you with support?
This is probably one of my favourite parts of the GLAM sector. Everyone is kind of amazing. From Dr Susan Abasa at Massey University who provided me with so much support throughout my studies. To Ruth Harvey who hired me at Puke Ariki, provided endless support, mentoring and most importantly, good yarns. Mark Beatty and the team from the Alexander Turnbull Library, Archives New Zealand and Te Papa’s imaging team were all incredibly supportive when it came to sharing solutions and collective problem solving. Is this starting to sound like an Oscars speech now? Just a couple more… I could not have co-curated an exhibition about cool dogs in Taranaki without the support and expertise of Elspeth Hocking (now at Auckland museum). Shout out to my Mum too, for being a constant advocate.
What do you think people at your own level (emerging etc) bring to the sector?
It takes a lot of hard work to get into the sector, so you know that we’re all here because we really REALLY want to be. Emerging professionals bring a sense of excitement to their work: new knowledge, ideas, information and ways of thinking. We’re not afraid to take risks and try new things – even if they fail. Sometimes we even get together to create great websites like Tusk and journals like Tauhere | Connections to share ideas, experiences and start a dialogue within the sector.
What is a positive change you would like to see in the sector?
It feels like museums these days seem to be constantly under restructure or having their funding cut. The consequence for emerging, particularly younger, museum professionals is a lack of professional development opportunities, rollover short-term contracts and job instability. I would really like to see more investment when it comes to staff because it looks pretty bleak from where I’m sitting. On the flip side, you may also get more development opportunities especially in smaller museums where staff costs are tight.
A positive change I can see emerging in the sector is that it’s becoming increasingly diverse and inclusive. Even though there is still a long way to go. I applaud museums and galleries that are taking their commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi seriously, and not as a tokenistic afterthought. The more diverse the sector – the richer our museums and the stories they tell will be. On this note though, I feel that a major barrier to getting into the sector is the prerequisite of work experience (often meaning unpaid work or internships). This privileges the few that can afford to not be paid to work, or are paying a university to facilitate this work experience. It’s just something to keep in mind if museums want to be diverse and inclusive.
Another one of the transformations I would like to see in the sector are galleries and museums increasingly acting as sites of activism, testing grounds for new ideas and modes of thinking, challenging the status quo and rethinking histories. Some museums are doing this and I love it!
What is your karaoke song?
TLC’s “No Scrubs” all the way. Although I am very partial to “Independent Woman Part 1” by Destiny’s Child.