Continuing on from our Museums Australasia panel discussion, Nina answers some follow-up questions about finding a foothold in the sector, the importance of language and the possibilities for an entrepreneurial cultural sector....
What's the key thing you've done that you've felt has helped you find your footing in the sector?
I think what has really helped has been forming enduring, legit friendships. Being in this sector is so much more than a job – it becomes a sort of home, so it makes sense to populate that home with people I want to spend time with beyond the workplace. Tusk certainly wouldn’t have happened without the friendship Matariki and I have with each other and the people we have asked to be involved along the way. It is not a sector for lone-wolf people.
Can you see a point coming when you won't feel like you're "emerging"? What does "emerged" look like?
I find this question quite difficult because of my beginnings in the sector. I had one of those endless contract cycle beginnings. After completing my Masters, I worked 6 different jobs, in 5 different organisations, over 4 years, in 3 different cities with 6 months of unemployment in between. It was an unsettling start to my professional life which adversely affected my relationship with the sector for a while. I was very unsure of my place and felt little professional worth. I came to the conclusion that I just didn’t have much to offer and thought about re-training in a completely different area many times.
The language we use to talk about ourselves is so important. I used to spend quite a lot of time talking myself out of things because I felt inexperienced or like a beginner - especially because of the unstable nature of contract cycles. As a consequence I’m actively trying to avoid words that put me in a box – or words that give me permission to say “nah I couldn’t do that.” I know some things, I don’t know other things, and I’m learning \_O_/
So I don’t know what emerged looks like…I don’t think it has much to do with landing your dream job or feeling totally established. For me it comes down to feeling a sense of place and backing myself.
You've identified that there's a strong expectation that emerging professionals will do more than "just" get a degree and entry-level work experience or positions. What's the sustainability of this model for emerging professionals?
Needing to do more than “just” your degree, ie. volunteer, is a side-effect of something bigger. The problem with sustainability might lie more in the number of graduates vs the number of job opportunities. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with volunteering your time – plenty of other people and sectors do it. Many people get pleasure from volunteering. But it’s the reasons ‘why’ that are the problem, or the side-effects of volunteer culture that could become the problem. It shouldn’t set a precedent or be a prerequisite for “making it” or standing out. It shouldn’t provide an excuse to not fund new positions or slash operational budgets. We only need to look to the UK to see how this model doesn’t work. Perhaps due to our size it will never be as bad here, but I don’t really want to test it…
And then, as we spoke about on our panel, the question of who can actually do this ‘extra’ stuff in order to stand out poses a problem. As a sector we bang on about diversity and communities and being reflective but how can we be if our people are drawn from an increasingly narrow demographic. Jess wrote an excellent piece on this. Food for thought.
Following on from this question of moving on from "emerging" - what is your exit strategy for Tusk? Will it mature with you, or do you think you'll hand it on?
The short answer is that there is no exit strategy. I’m sure it crossed both of our minds at the beginning but neither of us brought it up, I think because it felt too negative. Perhaps that’s naïve but there’s something to be said for jumping head first into something with minimal consideration given to the idea of failure or what to do when ‘the end’ comes. That was the benefit of starting small and doing it by ourselves. If Tusk had fallen flat on its face or failed to gain any traction, I think we would still be happy to have tried something. It’s very much a project that grows and changes, so perhaps it will mature with us.
In saying that, I think we would both like Tusk to be a place for students. One idea that keeps popping up in my head (if we do decide that it needs to stay with the “emerging” kaupapa in which it began) is to hand over editorial control to a new bunch of Museum and Heritage Studies students each year…perhaps it could be part of project for students who are interested in experimenting with writing online..
If you could nominate one change institutions could make to be more sustainable for or relevant to emerging professionals, what would it be?
During the panel we discussed the idea of an entrepreneurial cultural sector. That people are entering and moving through their careers in different ways and that there is an expectation that you if you want to progress you might need to show initiative outside your paid employment. Courtney asked for a show of hands to get an idea of who in the room volunteers their time to the sector outside of the parameters of their day jobs and of those people, who expects that this will continue throughout their career? I would estimate near 80% of the room raised and kept their hands up.
So if this is the where we are going, it struck me that the sector needs to me more than a passive bystander but an active investor. It got me thinking about how entrepreneurial activities could be encouraged and fostered from within the sector in ways that recognise the broader benefits people with these skills bring. Take Tusk for example. We do it on the smell of an oily rag. It costs around $12 a month host our site on Squarespace. We don’t remunerate anyone for the time they give us because we have no money. We have very limited techy skills, so anything we need to know we generally just go to Aunty Google. This is all awesome and doable but very much by the seat of our pants. I’m beginning to think that a small fund aimed at not only encouraging sector people to think and be entrepreneurial but also providing support could be a way to grow and maintain this entrepreneurial workforce in house. This support could be financial, logistical or skill-based, over a defined period of time...it could be any number of things. But think it needs to be something.