Nina and I first met Tamsin during the golden time, back in 2013, when I was on my final placement and she was working a contract at Wellington Museum (formerly Museum of Wellington, City and Sea). Tamsin was my supervisor and was always a calming and supportive presence. Lately we've had a chance to reconnect with Tamsin through the Museums Australasia conference and the wonderful Attic exhibition at the museum. It has been a good reminder of how many good people there are in the sector and why we want to remain. So thank you Tamsin for being here for us!
In five words, describe your role in the sector.
Helping make museum things happen
What is it about the sector that you love?
It’s everything – it’s art, science, history, contemporary, culture, past, present, future, international, national, local. I’ve always thought that the overlaps and intersections between things are the most interesting places.
What have been some challenges in your career?
The biggest challenge I’ve had inside and outside the museum sector is something called asymmetrical relationships – kind of like unrequited love, but not quite. It’s where you need to work with someone (say a major funder), and without them you can’t do your job, but for them, you’re one of many many organisations they work with. So they’re critical but you’re optional.
Of course, the natural idea is to try and put yourself up their pecking order – by lobbying, by public relations, by doing a fantastic job and having their stakeholders love you too. This is of course important, but it’s not realistic to think that our museum will ever be our funders’ no.1 priority. I actually don’t know what the solution to this is – persistence and relationship building are ways to make it easier, but I suspect it’s just naturally hard.
I also had an interesting experience working with two supervisors – one was a natural pessimist and the other was a natural optimist. Depending on the issue it was easier working with one than the other – but I was always glad to have both around. I try to channel both sides (maybe that’s my natural Gemini coming out?).
What challenges can you see moving forward?
How to maintain energy to learn (and do) new things – this is for me personally and for the sector. At the moment I’m trying to pay attention to how I and we can give greater respect to mana whenua in what we do – improved te reo skills seem important.
What do you think people in the early stages of their careers can offer the sector?
The freshness of not having done things before – therefore anything is possible. You can look at something with fresh eyes and tell us how it can be different, because you don’t the baggage of past experience.
Living experience of contemporary culture. When we’re aiming to make museums relevant to today, you’re the ones who can provide us a bullshit detector on whether were actually doing that, so that we don’t spend hours developing content for FourSquare or something like that.
Digital skills. Don’t downplay it – your aptitude for and understanding of things digital is not necessarily mainstream in the rest of the sector (even if it should be). These things (like knowing which app is best) are skills that others don’t have – talk it up!
What is your spirit animal?
Sparrow – they are always on the move, the bird equivalent of multi-tasking I think – sometimes I wonder about their efficiency but they don’t sit still. Also they prefer to have company – you don’t often see sparrows by themselves, they prefer to share their food with others. And they’re not showy – they don’t need to be the centre of attention or sing a big song.