Awhina Tamarapa

When I (Matariki) first contacted Conal McCarthy at Victoria University's school of Museums and Heritage Studies about my wish to study to become a museum professional, he sent me to meet with Awhina Tamarapa. At the time, Awhina was a Curator in the Mātauranga Māori team and was really informative, understanding and polite throughout the meeting (even though I had taken along my not-quite-one-year-old who managed to make another baby cry). Ever since this first meeting, Awhina has been a supportive presence in my life which is something I am ever grateful of. Ngā mihi aroha Awhina.

'Rau kawakawa, symbol of mourning' (2015), acrylic on canvas, 300 x 225mm. Awhina Tamarapa.

'Rau kawakawa, symbol of mourning' (2015), acrylic on canvas, 300 x 225mm. Awhina Tamarapa.


In five words, describe your role in the sector.

Freelance consultant, artist, former Māori curator, Te Papa.

What is it about the sector that you love?

The endless opportunities to make a difference in people’s lives through the interaction of the arts, science and cultures. It’s about having vision, a strong sense of belief and passion to inspire people in different ways.

 What have been some challenges in your career?

As a Māori woman working with taonga (particularly when I was younger), I had to deal with a lot of cultural pressures. I learnt a lot through my journey about what is really important, that holds me in good stead now. I was protected by my whānau (family) and wider whānau and was taught to always have humility and respect. Some of the most difficult challenges actually provide the most valuable lessons, whether it’s about how to work with people to achieve a goal or approaches to decisions that need to be made. My advice would be to seek out mentors, ensure you have good support systems, and observe how others have handled various challenges and their outcomes.

What challenges can you see moving forward?

Macro level are the challenges to the sector in terms of government and regional council funding and support. However, it’s an exciting era at the moment with iwi development in the cultural heritage sector. In terms of Māori development, with strategies and an increase in training opportunities, we will see change a lot faster to museums and art galleries in the future.

What do you think people in the early stages of their careers can offer the sector?

I think it’s important to have passion and enthusiasm in your work. When you are in the early stages of a career you want to make a difference, and you can provide a new, fresh perspective alongside the latest skills and knowledge that you bring to the sector. Without a constant injection of new ideas, people and vigour, the sector will be dated, out of touch, boring!

What is your spirit animal?

That’s different! Quite a creative, ‘out of the box’ question. I identify with felines, so I’d say a jaguar. They symbolise the ultimate in calculating stealth, agility and beauty to me. Plus they are deadly, and focus on the prize, important traits to have!


Ahakoa taku iti, he iti nō te kōpua kānapanapa

Although it is small, it comes from a deep wellspring (Ngāti Kahungunu proverb)


Tēnā koutou

Nā Awhina Tamarapa