In five words, describe your place in the sector.
What first drew you to the sector i.e. Do you have a particular memory of a moment that got you hooked?
The Social Work of Museums by Lois H. Silverman. Finding this book in the Victoria University of Wellington library was a big ‘Ah ha’ moment for me. I had just resigned from a permanent government job and embarked on a Master of Museum and Heritage Studies (MMHS). Yeah, risky. I was also wondering about my fit with the course (I had little education in history or art history unlike my peers). However, I discovered that I could combine my somewhat random mix of knowledge and experience (in local government policy and social work) to further develop the sector’s relationship with society – with the public. It interested me that although art cuts across a huge range of disciplines, audiences of public art galleries are far less diverse than social history and science museums. It was a relief to feel that my background made sense for my future.
What challenges have you faced in your career so far?
In order to get a job sooner rather than later, I had to mentally prepare to leave Wellington (which had been my home for five years) and start new professional and social chapters for my life. A year later I was fortunate to land a position with CoCA Centre of Contemporary Art Toi Moroki – especially fortunate because CoCA’s vision aligns with my passions for more socially inclusive practice in public art galleries.
Living in transitional Christchurch is both crazy and inspirational. I’m glad I had previously stumbled into the world of tech start-ups – that gave me a ‘bring it on, I’ll Google it’ attitude, which is essential when your first task in a new job is to overthrow some pretty ancient communication systems. Working for CoCA has been a rare opportunity to help set up systems from scratch – exciting times, but also a lot of research. I can relate to Blair Jackson’s experience of learning about unforeseen topics like construction engineering (see the tuakana section for more from Christchurch Art Gallery’s Deputy Director).
Has anything or anyone in particular provided you with support?
Colleagues in the sector! Particularly staff of Auckland Art Gallery, Te Papa Tongarewa and Christchurch Art Gallery, and of course Victoria University's Museum and Heritage Studies staff and peers.
In my first year with CoCA I had monthly mentoring with Blair Jackson (Deputy Director, Christchurch Art Gallery), who provided me with insightful wisdom drawn from his 28 years of experience in the sector. Blair also put me in touch with other Christchurch Art Gallery staff. Sean Duxfield (Exhibition and Collections Manager) is insanely passionate about his work and constantly enthusiastic to help problem solve anything related to exhibition production, from projector type to scissor lift height. Registrar Gina Irish also generously shared with me invaluable tips for a first time registrar learning on the fly.
What do you think people at your own level (emerging etc) bring to the sector?
We bring the ability to innovate and problem solve: We Google what we don’t know. And in cases where the answers on Google aren’t that good, we take a guess or try something new. Want to improve efficiency and creative thinking? Try a ‘start-up’ attitude, or just move to Christchurch!
What is a positive change you would like to see in the sector?
The museology of public art galleries – I want to see it mature… I would love to see public art galleries working more in collaboration with social history and science museums and learning from the engaging and relevant storytelling that they offer. Art is a channel for developing our understanding of the interconnections between a huge range of disciplines, from the physical and natural sciences to the social sciences. I would like to see public art galleries execute ideas to involve communities who have traditionally been excluded. And I really want to see these projects shared, learned from and celebrated. Failures need to be shared, and ethical boldness celebrated, as much as successes. We will all make the same mistakes if we can’t learn from risks and mishaps that other cultural organisations have experienced. The Museums Australasia Conference and Museums Aotearoa Quarterly are fantastic avenues for sharing, but the projects shared are always ‘success stories’. I see real need for a collaboratively run blog site (with log-in functionality) for New Zealand cultural institutions to share learnings from innovative projects. Let’s grow a sector of reflexivity and trust, which in turn will develop our capability to collaborate.
What is your karaoke song?
If they had it on the karaoke list, I would sing Words by New Zealand artist Hannah Howes. It’s full of conviction and idealism!