Steph McDonald, Exhibition Renewal Outreach Manager, Te Papa.
In five words, describe your place in the sector.
Finding ways to reach people.
What first drew you to the sector i.e. Do you have a particular memory of a moment that got you hooked?
I’ve loved museums and galleries since forever. I grew up in Porirua, and the old Page 90 was such a huge part of my childhood – trailing my dad around the gallery, taking the kids’ art classes (marbling paper and making dream catchers). And then seeing it turn into Pātaka, and become the incredible community space it is today - that was pretty special. In my final year of university, I did a comms internship at The Dowse, and got grumbled by Billy Apple. And that was me sold.
What challenges have you faced in your career so far?
Being overlooked. Being young and softly spoken can make you invisible. So there’s been an adjustment there, making sure I speak up so my ideas get heard – and then actually make things happen. The private sector particularly seems to be so driven towards who can talk the loudest and the fastest, but I think us listeners can bring so much depth to the conversation. It seems there’s a lot more space for that here.
Has anything or anyone in particular provided you with support?
I’ve been lucky to have so many people share what they know with me. I’ve come to Te Papa from the Manukau Institute of Technology, working with young people in South Auckland; countless students and their families have given me their time to share their thoughts and stories. It’s really shaped who I am, and how I think about community engagement.
What do you think people at your own level (emerging etc) bring to the sector?
New ideas and oodles of energy. There’s so much value in people coming in with fresh perspectives, and questioning processes. I’m still very new to the sector myself, so I’m trying to remember how I see things as an outsider, before I become too entrenched (I’m already wearing Gorman, and saying things like “immersive participatory experiences”).
What is a positive change you would like to see in the sector?
There’s already so much cool stuff happening, so just… more of that really. A large part of what I do is about encouraging people to talk with us online or walk through our doors. Having diverse and interesting exhibitions that change peoples’ perceptions of museums makes it so much easier. So yeah, more cool ideas please.
What is your karaoke song?
In my head, it’s ‘Gypsy’ by Fleetwood Mac; in real life, something that has zero high or low notes, because I’m definitely no Stevie.