Foreword by the wonderful Elspeth Hocking:
I have been lucky enough to have Siren as my manager since February 2016, and what a manager she’s been. Passionate, enthusiastic and with high expectations of her team, she has been an incredibly inspirational leader and a tireless supporter of best collection management practice (even when faced with rather less enthusiastic colleagues!) Siren has the remarkable ability to make whoever she is talking with feel like the most important and interesting person in the room, and her dedication to exceptional collection management rubs off on all around her. Despite seeming to have more meetings than there are hours in the day, and being constantly interrupted by people wanting her sage wisdom, Siren is a master at finding solutions to problems and maintaining a relentlessly positive attitude. I’m excited to see her agitating for change in museums and inspiring those around her into the future!
In five words, describe your role in the sector:
Participant, idealist, likeable zealot, kaitiaki
What is it about the sector that you love?
I love that people involved in this sector have altruistic intent; that they are genuinely interested in connecting with people and ideas, innovation and creativity. In this sector integrity comes before profit. Ethics before ego.
Our customer focus is about enhancing identity, and inspiring respect for the natural environment, all people groups, and different world views. There is room for debate, diversity, conflict. Contemporary museums are not sedentary environments, and they can’t afford to be complacent. They must be agile, progressive and dynamic to remain relevant.
It’s a very satisfying industry to be part of, and in the case of the Auckland War Memorial Museum I’m proud to be part of a place that is loved by Aucklanders, and iconic to the city.
What have been some challenges in your career?
The biggest challenge in my career has been overcoming my own impetuousness. In my twenties I simply didn’t have the personal discipline, social empathy or intuitive sensitivity to work in a museum or to be a people manager. I also didn’t have the critical self-analysis to see my failings.
I started postgraduate studies in Museum and Heritage Studies at Victoria University several years after graduating with a Fine Arts Degree. I chose this course because I felt there were not enough liberal voices in our cultural institutions. I believed then, and still do now, that the best way to affect change is from the inside. The Museum Studies course at Vic was the beginning of learning to curb my impulsivity. I found the course frustrating. Working, studying and exhibiting at the same time was difficult. I wanted to believe in Museums as ‘Safe places for Dangerous Ideas’ but struggled to find museum role models who championed this approach. I travelled to New York and did a placement at The Museum of Sex; I returned to NZ with ideas which were simply incompatible… But I also returned to NZ with a brand new appreciation of Aotearoa and love of New Zealanders. I knew I wanted to be here, even if I didn’t fit in.
It wasn’t until I got my first paid museum job as a Collections Technician at Auckland Museum that I started to learn humility, patience and how to communicate with people who weren’t extroverted like myself. My career path has been a progression through: Artist, Exhibitions Assistant and Picture Framer; Collection Technician; Collection Manager; and currently Senior Collection Manager, Collection Care at Auckland War Memorial Museum. My career has developed in line with increased skills and self-awareness. I’ve had to rein in some of my eccentricities and learn to do things thoughtfully and thoroughly, to be tolerant and humble, concentrate my listening skills, and develop my communication skills. I’m still working on these things, but it’s getting easier, and I enjoy the process.
What challenges can you see moving forward?
I personally intend to be part of the challenge. I see myself and others with similar visions for the future, as having a responsibility to petition for change within the industry and encourage a liberal and progressive approach to collecting.
I am very interested in how museums and their social history collections are preserving stories and choosing objects relating to sex, sexuality and gender identity. I see this area as a necessary area of growth in Museums if they are to be relevant and connected.
At a grassroots level it is a very real challenge for people entering into the industry to secure a full time permanent position. Short term contracts are plentiful, and although they are incredibly valuable for gaining experience, they come at a personal cost, and a cost to organisations who loose recruits as they compete for permanent positions. In Auckland where living costs are very high, a permanent position is prized, and it can prevent people from taking risks with the trajectory of their career.
Moving around between institutions for short term contracts can be an exciting and rewarding path for some people, but others find it deeply unsettling. I really empathise with people new to the GLAM sector who have to contend with this dynamic.
What do you think people in the early stages of their careers can offer the sector?
To question convention. To demonstrate fresh approaches and attitudes. To remind people who have been in the industry a long time that risk and debate and change is healthy and invigorating.
What is your spirit animal?
A Pacific Kraken:
[krah-kuh n] /ˈkrɑ kən/
noun, ( often initial capital letter)
1. a legendary sea monster causing large whirlpools. Depicted as a giant Octopus and thought to be inspired by sightings of giant squid.
Octopuses are extremely clever problem solvers; masters of camouflage and mimicry. I find them mesmerizingly graceful and I like to think about how much I could achieve with eight limbs and how much I could sense with thousands of tentacles.
Also if I could disappear in a cloud of ink at times that would be handy.
It’s not that I want to sink ships and have people run screaming in terror from me like the Kraken, but I’ve always loved illustrations of these giant beasts - their magnificent mythical scale, and of course, their folklore infamy.