Lynette Townsend

I (Matariki) first met Lynette during her Masters placements at Te Papa. After this, I then took up the chance to volunteer with Lynette writing Collections Online entries for World War I soldiers in the photos taken by Wellington photographers Berry & Co, the men became affectionately known as the Berry Boys. Two aspects of Lynette's work have been particularly inspiring to me, firstly the tireless work she has undertaken to build rapport with the communities with which Te Papa has a relationship and secondly, how she has expanded the idea of what value is in a material object through her acquisitions of children's objects. As a mother I appreciate the autonomy provided to children in this latter move, the minds of kids are filled with more potential than adults are aware and Lynette understands this. Lynette has also continued to be supportive of me which is, and I mentioned this in my On the Level interview, invaluable as an establishing arts sector professional. Lynette, thank you.

In five words, describe your role in the sector.

Creator, enabler, storyteller, caretaker, challenger

What is it about the sector that you love?

There are so many things I love. The fact that every day is different and that I learn something new every day.

I love the people I get to meet and work with. People from such a huge variety of cultures and backgrounds. My role as curator is such a privileged one because I’m in a position where I get to hear people’s stories, and then I’m entrusted with those stories, and their precious treasured things.

I really love the way museums can bring history to life and make it real and personal for people, and then sometimes challenge them to think about things in new ways.   

What have been some challenges in your career?

The last two exhibitions I’ve worked on have both been hugely challenging. Aztecs. Conquest and glory was an exhibition developed in partnership with INAH in Mexico, and two Australian museums – the Museum Victoria and the Australian Museum in Sydney. We all shared a common goal in wanting to make a great exhibition but each institution had different ideas about what that looked like and how we should achieve it. I learnt so much in curating that show, it was challenging but also hugely rewarding and I’m immensely proud of what we achieved.

Then, Air New Zealand 75 years. Our nation. The world. Connected, another collaborative project but with a different set of issues this time. Working together with such a big corporate organisation with a focus on commercial success, and who usually worked to extremely short deadlines, threw up some unique changes. This exhibition pushed the boundaries in terms of my perceptions around mana taonga and the parameters of community partnership. But it also helped me to understand what it might feel like to be part of a small community group, working with Te Papa (or other museums for that matter), with all our processes and predetermined ways of doing things. This project really made me think about how we can improve the ways in which we work collaboratively.

What challenges can you see moving forward?

The next few years at Te Papa are going to be extremely interesting  – we are about to renew all of the permanent galleries. It’s really exciting but a bit daunting at the same time.

I think the big challenge moving forward for museum curators is around co-curating and exploring ways that we can enable and empower communities.

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

Heaps! Fresh ideas, enthusiasm, and new perspectives. I’m looking forward to seeing what the next generation bring and I’m hoping for more people from different cultural backgrounds coming into the sector – I think we need to encourage and nurture that.

What is your spirit animal? 

A Border Collie. I’m really determined and focused, almost to the point of obsession just like my pet Border Collie – Aggie. She needs a lot of walks, so I guess I’m a bit like Aggie in that if I don’t get out (in the community), I start to go a bit mad.