Eloise Wallace

As we've said many times, a highlight of creating Tusk had been the friendships and networks (both irl and online) created through a shared love, commitment and passion for the cultural sector.  Eloise Wallace has been one of those great connections. Her commitment to and belief that community and people are at the heart of the cultural sector is truly inspiring. For us she forms part of a growing network of bawse women in the sector who are hard-working,  ethically and socially-minded, supportive and just generally kick-ass. Thank you for motivating and inspiring us! And for keeping on keeping on. He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.

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 Describe your role in the sector in 5 words.

Community service through museum leadership

I think ‘community service' gets closest to the heart of my role. It is people, rather than product oriented and keeps me focused on making sure the resources I am responsible for are helping our community get where it wants to go. 

What is it about the sector that you love?

I love museums because they are places where we nurture curiosity and creativity.

The marriage of the physical, emotional, social and intellectual experience is one I continue to find joy in, both personally and professionally.

What have been some challenges in your career?

I graduated in 2002 and in late 2014 I was appointed to the Directorship of Tairāwhiti Museum.  I had just turned 34 and I felt nervous, surprised, but also quietly proud and enormously privileged to have been given such an opportunity.

My career has certainly had its ups and downs.  There have been times when I've dreaded going to work each day - when I've felt undermined, unsupported and where my confidence and self-belief has been seriously knocked about.  

These times are difficult to cope with in the moment, but in a broader sense the biggest challenge has been developing the resilience necessary to keep driving my career forward.

Most of us who work in this sector have deep investment in what we do.  When things aren't going well it can feel overwhelming and isolating - especially when our work is generally touted as a universally wonderful way to earn a living!

The fact is it is a difficult sector to maintain and grow a career - low wages, long hours, fixed-term contracts, a small and slow-moving job market, as well as the upheaval and challenges of relocation, both personally and professionally, can leave many of us feeling trapped.

 I believe the Museum sector needs to talk more openly about these issues. Those of us with management responsibilities need to be particularly conscious of supporting emerging professionals through career challenges, as they are often in the most precarious positions of all. 

What challenges can you see moving forward?

Thinking about Tairāwhiti Museum as an institution now – our big challenge is to be a strong spoke in the wheel of organisations that support our community and keep it moving forward. 

A couple of months after I started working at the museum, the Salvation Army released a report, ‘Mixed Fortunes: the geography of advantage and disadvantage in New Zealand'.  It warned that NZ was at risk of a country being split in two - with people's quality of life dictated by where they live.  The most disadvantaged regions were Gisborne and Northland, places where significant groups of people are struggling to achieve social and economic wellbeing.  This report has become something of a touchstone for me.

Tairāwhiti Museum is one of a whole variety of community organisations that have a role to play in making sure our region, and the people who live here will not continue to be left behind the rest of the country.   As director, and because of the significant resources at my disposal, I am fortunate enough to be in a position where I have the ability to make a positive influence, and thus an absolute responsibility to do so.  

Making good, generous, people-centred decisions about how our resources are expended for maximum community benefit continues to be our challenge moving forward.

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

So, so much! People are a museum's biggest resource, and the enthusiasm and energy of people in the early stages of their careers, enriches all aspects of an institution.

As a manager, I really welcome actions and ideas, big or small, that'll make the museum better.  Many of these come from the fresh outlook of emerging professionals. 

Inert institutions are so because they are driven by ‘old' workplace values which prioritise hierarchy, age and position over talent, drive and potential. If museums are to do more with less, making the most of every person, every skill, every connection, and every interest is vital.

My advice would be to remember you are not your current job. Don't allow yourself to be pigeon-holed by your job description or where you sit on the staff chart, be brave and put yourself and your ideas forward.

What is your spirit animal?

A horse - rather wild, with a lovely swishy mane; in reality - an occasionally headstrong hack who enjoys a more leisurely journey, and plenty of sugary treats.