2015 eh. What a year. It feels appropriate to end this year's tuakana series with someone super special and we're lucky enough to have the wonderful Ruth Harvey on board. Both Nina and Matariki have really just got to know Ruth via email over the last few weeks. We've known of her and her work for a while though - first at Puke Ariki and now at the incredible (insert all kinds of amazing adjectives here) AS220 in Providence, Rhode Island.
Ruth's belief in, and enthusiasm and love of the sector is infectious but so is her realness. She's struggled through the sector's familiar hurdles and emerged out the other side with that belief and love intact. Maybe even stronger. Kia ora e hoa.
In five words, describe your role in the sector.
Supporter, enthuser, fighter, roamer, fun-haver (let’s face it, hanging out with arts and culture people is fun!).
What is it about the sector that you love?
Being around people who love art and culture and history, who are compelled to contribute and make good things happen for the communities they work for and work with. We don’t do it for the money, right? We do it to share vital ideas and create dialogue and preserve what we can’t afford to lose. We do it to bring people together. We do it because we think we can make a difference, share something that matters, connect and build community. I’m still irrationally idealistic about this sector (as you can probably tell), and proud to be. Art and culture isn’t a luxury. F**k that. It’s life. It’s what it’s all about.
What have been some challenges in your career?
My biggest challenge was how long it took to find full-time, permanent paid employment in my field. It took 9 years from finishing my undergraduate degree to getting my curator’s role at Puke Ariki in New Plymouth. During those 9 years I volunteered and did a Masters and numerous short term contracts that gradually built up my experience in the arts and culture sector … and I also served lots of coffee, worked multiple administration jobs and travelled. It took a lot of perseverance (or possibly stubbornness) not to give up - lots of people thought I should. But I knew what I wanted. After I got my job at Puke Ariki, every day I walked into that building was a day I was grateful for. I’ll never forget that struggle or take working in our field for granted.
Lately, my biggest challenge has been working through being made redundant from Puke Ariki in a Council-wide restructure - the same place I loved walking into for 8 years. Though not personal, it was crushing. But that’s where the ‘never give up’ attitude I learned came in handy. One of the values I try to live by is ‘seize the opportunity’ … so I did. My husband Mike and I decided to move to Providence, USA to be a part of visionary arts organisation AS220’s extraordinary creative community (http://as220.org/). I’ve been here for just over a month now, though I already had a history with AS220. I first visited in 2010 and returned for a month-long administrative residency in 2013. AS220 gives me so much of what I need at this point in my career - an organisation doing work I can believe in, with honest and inspirational leadership I can learn from. I love that AS220 makes me feel excited about the potential in everything.
What challenges can you see moving forward?
I think being in the States offers me an amazing opportunity to get a different perspective on organisational sustainability. AS220 has just celebrated its 30th birthday and founder Umberto (Bert) Crenca would argue until he was blue in the face that they’re still around because of space - that they’ve been able to survive because they own buildings that generate income. I think it’s vital to think about income generation strategies for a New Zealand context. Let’s face it, our sector has an extreme over-reliance on external funding - be it local government, national government or private funding. It makes us slaves. It lets councils rip apart the aspirations of our cultural institutions. It makes us vulnerable to shifts in the political landscape. I don’t have any suggestions of how yet, but I want to think more about how arts and cultural organisations can be sustainable and self-determining while staying accessible and relevant to their communities.
On a personal note, my challenge is to adapt to my new context … and hopefully write a kids book!
What do you think people in the early stages of their careers can offer the sector?
Everything! Energy, enthusiasm, fresh eyes, new ideas. One of my career goals is to help young people progress in their profession. I don’t want it to take someone 9 years to have the opportunity to get stuck in. If I can support young people to make their way in our sector I’ll be happy. But that said, I believe in hard work. Nobody owes it to you. It may not come easy, and perhaps it shouldn’t. Let the struggle drive you. It’s been bloody helpful for me.
What is your spirit animal?
A hawk. Strong, solitary and free.