Sarah Powell, Rights Specialist, Auckland Museum
In five words, describe your place in the sector.
A little bit of everything.
What first drew you to the sector i.e. Do you have a particular memory of a moment that got you hooked?
My first memory of a visiting museum is the Otago Early Settlers Museum, where Mum would take myself and my brother when we were toddlers. Then we moved to Tauranga and were suddenly without a museum so family trips to Auckland to visit the Museum and Rainbow's End were frequent. However, it wasn't until I was studying fine art photography at Quay School of the Arts in Whanganui that I got hooked on the idea of working in a museum or art gallery. I distinctly remember that as much as I loved creating art and being in a photography darkroom, I was more interested in looking after other people’s artworks and cutting matte boards for my photography prints. I really enjoyed the whole process of installing our own works in the gallery spaces for exhibition and promoting our teeny tiny shows. While still studying, I put my hand up to do a short internship at Whanganui Regional Museum photographing collection items. I was amazed at the amount of objects I'd never come across anywhere else before, and their untold stories. This experience led me to move to Wellington and enrol in the Museum Studies programme at Vic Uni to pursue a career working in the cultural sector.
What challenges have you faced in your career so far?
It’s safe to say I’ve been incredibly lucky in my career so far. This has transpired from a combination of being pushed by my lecturers to volunteer for interesting roles and being in the right place at the right time. However, for me the biggest challenge that I have faced was deciding to walk away from a role that quite didn't fit with my career direction and returning to study instead. The anxiety in facing the unknown was incredibly hard to endure, but I was fortunate to know exactly where I wanted to go and I think that helped steer me in the right direction.
Has anything or anyone in particular provided you with support?
Various people along the way have offered support, words of wisdom, mentorship, a shoulder to cry on and an ear to rant to. I was fortunate to have built a relationship early on with Victoria Leachman from Te Papa during my first years in the sector and with her guidance, which I am forever grateful for, we are now able to work in a professional capacity alongside each other. I also feel enveloped by the museum whānau wherever I go and I treasure that aspect of our industry dearly. Special mention goes to my lecturers, Dr Conal McCarthy and Dr Lee Davidson, and also Annie Mercer who offered nothing but guidance, support and familiar faces on my return to study (for the third time).
What do you think people at your own level (emerging etc) bring to the sector?
I think we bring a fresh view, open minds and a willingness to learn. We also bring new skills for new technologies, and bundles of optimism (and don't forget that eternal hopefulness that our contracts will be extended). I think we also just bring an eagerness to help out with anything wherever we can, especially within smaller institutions, as we are always looking to broaden our skills and knowledge.
What is a positive change you would like to see in the sector?
I have already noticed positive change within the sector, starting with the inception of the Emerging Museum Professionals group (EMP), Tauhere (the EMP Journal), and this very website, Tusk. As a newbie to the sector it is encouraging to see these safe places emerge to voice our thoughts and dip our toe in scary things like public speaking and publishing research articles or airing our rants. Kudos to those of you who have helped instigate these platforms - and I encourage fresh grads to embrace them wholeheartedly.
Further positive change I can see unfolding is cultural heritage institutions increasingly opening up their online images of collection objects for reuse, for free – at a great benefit for students, researchers, and the public alike. It will be very interesting to see how the sector continues to adopt new ways of thinking to adapt to our increasing digital environment.
What is your karaoke song?
Mustang Sally - preferably sung at family weddings with a live band to accompany me.