From our contributor Claire Adele Baker: Blair Jackson was an invaluable mentor during my first year working for CoCA Centre of Contemporary Art Toi Moroki in Christchurch. During my time as the only CoCA staff member (at times a little lonely or overwhelming), Blair was totally available to meet with me and answer any questions or connect me with members of his knowledgeable Christchurch Art Gallery team, ie. Sean Duxfield (Exhibitions & Collections Manager) and Gina Irish (Registrar). Planning for our coffee catch-ups helped me to focus through thinking about specific areas I needed to know more about. As this was my first full-time job in this sector, I had a lot of questions and heaps to learn! Thank you Blair. I really appreciate your professional, down-to-earth and supportive approach. Congratulations to you and the Christchurch Art Gallery team for your full gallery opening, it was such a buzz to clink glasses with you. Koinā te kōrero - you're as sure-footed as a mule!
In five words, describe your role in the sector.
Broker, sounding-board, problem-solver, fine-tuner.
What is it about the sector that you love?
Having the opportunity to work with artists and colleagues whom I greatly admire and collectively making something extraordinary happen.
I have always loved the reveal, the moment an exhibition or project is open and the interaction and connection with an audience begins. I really love the ability to wander through spaces watching how people engage with art, the space and each other. However, I also quite selfishly cherish the private moment, completely alone with an exhibition or a work outside of opening hours.
Reopening our building on 19 December 2015 was one of the most amazing experiences of my entire career. Seeing people coming back into the Gallery in tears, so happy to be back in a place that they consider their own and reconnecting with works that they consider to be part of who they are was both inspiring and extremely emotional.
What have been some challenges in your career?
I could list multiple things like the cyclic nature of local government, reduction in budgets, increased expectations around economic return, a move to shared service models etc. …. But I always think of these challenges as just part of the job, another series of problems to solve. I like that challenges, both work and non-work, often require a new approach and a new way to look at something. For me the biggest challenge is ensuring that I have enough good challenges in front of me. Maybe it’s a fear of stagnating but I really love the opportunity to reconsider how something could be done differently and hopefully working out how it could be done better.
Having said all of this, the last five years in Christchurch have been a little more challenging than even I would have liked. I've been to an awful lot of meetings and been involved in discussions on subjects that I never imagined that I'd need to know. I now know a lot more about ground engineering and base-isolation than I did five years ago.
Being closed for longer than we ever imagined was enormously difficult but I think we rose to the occasion and responded in ways that people found interesting and engaging. I'm immensely proud of how what we achieved while closed. I'd like to think we made life here just a little less shit!
What challenges can you see moving forward?
At fifty years of age with more than twenty-eight years work experience in this industry my challenge might simply be; keeping fresh and finding new challenges. Luckily, I tend to be excited about new possibilities and new approaches so I'm not too worried about this (yet).
Keeping connected with new art and artists can be a challenge, there is so much new work being made, new graduates, new dealers, new developments etc. It's important to devote time to looking and reading when possible. I'm looking forward to (hopefully) having a little more time for this over the coming year.
What do you think people in the early stages of their careers can offer the sector?
Energy, fresh ideas, new voices, new networks, new ways of connecting and new ways of looking. An infusion of new energy is always healthy for any institution. CAGTPoW has been fortunate to employ a number of new staff for reopening, many new to the industry. It's exciting to see new faces and a feel a real sense of energy and engagement with the gallery and our programme.
What is your spirit animal?
Well, to be honest 'spirit animal' isn't a term that I'm particularly comfortable with! For me it's filed somewhere along with role-play and dream-catcher. I asked a few colleagues in the office what my spirit animal might be, one (not so politely) said mule….. So maybe for me a 'spirit animal' should be given rather than chosen.
And according to Wikipedia mules are "more patient, sure-footed, hardy and long-lived than horses, and they are considered less obstinate, faster, and more intelligent than donkeys…"
I'm okay with that...