Liz Cotton

I (Matariki) first got to know Liz through the paper trail she left behind her at the Ministry for Culture and Heritage. This makes it sound like a detective show but in reality this just meant that all Liz's (and her then-assistant Ashley) hard work provided templates for my plucky self years later. We then finally got to meet one another at the FIHRM conference last year where we were speaking in the same session and on the same panel. Being both so full of nerves, we managed to find each other before the panel and have a hug. And then we laughed a lot. Because that's what you do when you're nervous but it is also what you do when you're with Liz, you laugh! She is one of those people who is just so full of joyous mirth. Ever since then, she's been supportive of me and I've been lucky enough to laugh with her more (here's looking at you Museums Australasia opening night party...). With her tuakana profile, as with all of them really, it is a good reminder to look to those around you for insights, as her thoughts on the role of the curator are so spot-on. Thanks Liz, and I look forward to picking your brain even more (and laughing)!

In five words, describe your role in the sector. 

Museum fanatic, advocate, wrangler, questioner.

What is it about the sector that you love?

The people, the collections and the buildings that surround us. And the challenges; every day there is something new, something to react to, to think about, to laugh or grind your teeth about. Never a dull moment, that is for sure. I also think there is a great generosity of spirit within the sector - people look out for each other, are genuinely interested in other people's point of view, career, journey, and basically really care about what we all do.

What have been some challenges in your career?

I have often had to bide my time waiting for my next move - one of the best pieces of career advice I was given was never to move backwards or sideways, always apply for roles that are the next step up. So I have often waited a while to change job but thankfully it has always worked out. I worry that people get pigeon-holed into certain things, that after a couple of years you are a 'collections person' or a 'curator' and that it can be hard to move between these. I think we need to challenge the ways we look at some roles.

What challenges can you see moving forward?

I think the sector is at a fascinating and challenging junction at the moment - we become more business-like and spend a lot of time identifying business need and more corporate ways of doing, and of justifying our role and value proposition; I understand the need for that but does the principle of working in this way detract from our unique place and voice in society? Does the need to reach consensus internally and externally stifle our creativity and diversity?

I am also fascinated by the role of the curator at this time; we live in a world where someone "curates" the Smith & Caughey's shop window, and the latest Max collection has been "curated", or someone "curates" a radio programme, and on top of this institutions employ growing teams of exhibition developers, content & interpretation experts, and audience developers, what does this mean for our museum curators? If museums are increasingly offering exhibitions and programmes that aren’t based on the substantive collection of the institution or the research outputs of the curator, how do we engage and make meaningful the curatorial role as a curator of the collection? Where (and what) is the curatorial voice at this time? I spend a lot of my time thinking about this, amongst other things I like to get on the soap box about.

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

Crikey, so much! New ways of looking at things, of engaging, of understanding, questioning and challenging. It is often the people in the early stages of their careers (and they aren't always the youngest either) who are the most challenging in team meetings, who push the rest of us to engage in new ways, who get the museum's blog going, who enthusiastically host visitors and tours to our collection... lots of things I wish I had done more when I was starting out.

What is your spirit animal? 

I have to say cat, definitely. When I was little I always said I would never have children but would own a mansion with separate wings for different breeds of cat. I now have a house in West Auckland with a cat and a nine-year old son so something went awry but it is all good. I love the way cats always find the sun, how people leap to their feet to feed them on demand, and how they get to sleep when they want. Bliss.