Posts Tagged 'EMPNZ'

Fishes and Ponds: The Pros and Cons of Working in Large/Small Museums for Emerging Professionals

By Daniel Stirland, Registrar at Canterbury Museum

A recent change of jobs got me thinking: what are the challenges facing emerging museum professionals in terms of career planning and development? What are the key questions that they need to answer to ensure continuing progression? And what possible barriers might stand in their way? Career planning in any profession can be uncertain, but in the museums sector there can be some particularly acute problems. A relatively small workforce, hugely oversubscribed vacancies, job roles requiring specialist skills and knowledge, and in many cases the dreaded “dead men’s shoes” phenomenon can lead to some very fraught decisions and even leaps of faith for emerging professionals.

PondsOne particularly fraught decision that I had to make in my early career was whether to work for a large institution or take a chance on a small one and I’m sure it’s something that many others will have thought about too. So is it better to be a big fish in a small pond, or a small fish in a big pond?

To begin answering this question, I looked at the pros and cons of each for emerging museum professionals. In my opinion, larger institutions can be seen as the safe option. They provide formal training, a reasonable wage, the chance to witness museum work in the round, and opportunities to soak up knowledge from more experienced colleagues. They’re also connected to the wider museum community, providing the chance Glass ceilingto make contacts in areas relevant to one’s chosen career path. These are generalisations of course and other factors clearly play a part. But in essence, what an emerging professional can hope to get from larger museums is steady progression. However, steady progression has its limits and even the largest museums have glass ceilings. Glass ceilings can lead to stagnation, which is a real problem for someone trying to develop.

Smaller museums generally offer none of the things that a large museum can. Their budgets are smaller, so wages are reduced and formal training is unaffordable. There are much fewer colleagues to learn from. And they can find it difficult to connect with the wider museum community, which is generally controlled by the larger institutions and can therefore be, let’s admit, a bit snobbish. The benefit of smaller museums is that they offer the chance to actually do museum work in the round. Curatorial, registration, visitor services, exhibitions, finance, media and marketing; all are the domain of the one-man-band.

TableAt first glance, this table makes the larger institutions appear as the better option. However, these criteria should not be considered equals when it comes to career development. With emphasis applied to the more important ones, the table changes quite significantly. Experience in the round is the type of thing that can look excellent on a CV. Being able to state truthfully at a job interview that you have first-hand experience of the various areas of museum work sounds far better than saying you have watched other people doing them. Thus, if they’ve calculated their risk effectively, an emerging professional’s career can skyrocket through working at a small museum. But of course, it carries significant risks. At a large museum, if you find yourself struggling you have colleagues to support you. At small museums, it’s sink or swim.

GraphSo which is the recommended course? Guaranteed to a point but possibly slow progression at a large institution, or potential for rapid development at a smaller museum but with much greater risks? Sadly, it is impossible to provide a blueprint for all emerging professionals, as the answer will be specific to individuals based on their personality, their ambitions, and the circumstances that they find themselves in. Personally, I would caution that there is a fine line between calculated risk and recklessness, never more so than when making career-shaping decisions. But also remember this: nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Daniel Stirland
Registrar at Canterbury Museum


Life at the National Army Museum – Anna Beazley and Megan Wells


Anna and Megan on the Centurion tank which sits outside the National Army Museum.

You drive down the North Island, cross the Desert Road and wind down the hill to find yourself in the Desert Oasis, a blink and you miss it, truck stop kind of town. But there is one fort-like building, or rather the array of tanks parked in front of it, which makes the place a little more memorable. Every child has their obligatory photo, atop the centurion, somewhere in the family albums. This is the National Army Museum.

But this is not where we work.

As the Assistant Curator in charge of Social History and Accoutrements and the Collection Technician at the NAM (Army loves acronyms), we don’t actually work in the main building. What you may not have noticed as you wove down the hill at the end of the Desert, before you hit the bright lights of Waiouru, is the little red and black sign that directs you into the Waiouru Military Camp where we live and work. This is how we get there.

Us passing security to get to the collections store inside the Camp.

One of the most common questions we get asked is ‘why on earth did you choose to move to Waiouru?’ So we want to share some of our adventures and show how working at the NAM is exactly the same and completely different from other museums.

Doing Museum collections work.

Doing Museum collections work.

As you can see, we spend our days doing pretty normal stuff. And then we glance out the window and remember what a strange place we are in. It’s full of distractions and hazards and people do actually patrol past in camouflage with rifles… RIFLES!

Recruits practicing rifle drills outside the office window provide distractions.

Recruits practicing rifle drills outside the office window provide distractions.

The large military vehicles on the road make driving hazardous.

The large military vehicles on the road make driving hazardous.

The Museum used to be entirely manned by soldiers, which has left an interesting legacy in collection work; but now we have only one officer on staff – making us a civilian unit in what sometimes feels like a sea of green…

The large military vehicles on the road make driving hazardous.

The large military vehicles on the road make driving hazardous.

However, between field trips, mess functions and big events, the Army community has welcomed us in.

Donation offer of military plaques.

Donation offer of military plaques.

Working for the Army can be interesting. When the Museum was offered a donation of seven boxes of plaques, Liz, our Assistant Curator in charge of Heraldry asked for photos to help her choose. This is what the sergeant sent back!

The Ruapehu District is beautiful and although the NAM is isolated – it’s either in the middle of nowhere or the centre of everywhere depending on how you look at it – ‘Waiberia’ makes a great base camp.

Anna Beazley and Megan Wells

Living in the shade of Mount Ruapehu with Kaimanawa horses and piles of snow.

Living in the shade of Mount Ruapehu with Kaimanawa horses and piles of snow.

News & Notices – 8 May, 2014

Kia Ora,

Last week I was in Auckland for a workshop convened by Creative NZ as the first step in a review of the visual arts and craft/object artform categories. Around 30 people, including curators, directors, artists, educators and promoters, spent two days looking at what and how Creative NZ supports in craft/object and visual arts. We talked about how that fits into the wider ‘ecology’ of support for the arts, and what challenges, changes and priorities need to be considered over the next five years. CNZ staff will now distill all that discussion into draft reports which will be published online in early June. I encourage you to take the opportunity to provide feedback when the draft reports come out, as this will then inform the final reports and recommendations to the Arts Council in July.

While in Auckland I only managed to fit in one museum visit – to Auckland Art Gallery. I found My Country: Contemporary Art from Black Australia to be very interesting. I really enjoyed seeing the wide range of visitors to this touring exhibition from QAGOMA, including both children and adults having fun with Gordon Hookey’s Kangaroo Crew. This is an interactive for the 21st century, with hands-on activities as well as a series of retro-flavoured video game consoles, all based on a salutary tale of The Sacred Hill. There has been good media reporting and information coming out about the many other intriguing exhibitions and programmes around the country during the school holidays and around ANZAC weekend. I hope they were all as engaging and well-attended as My Country.

Also in Auckland, Lopdell House Gallery is rebranding. When the new gallery alongside the refurbished Lopdell House opens in the spring, it will be called Te Uru, or Te Hau a uru, referring to the west wind that ‘brings change, sets direction and influences the city of Auckland’.

Back in Wellington, the news is full of Mike Houlihan’s appointment as Special Adviser on Military Heritage at MCH. As Mike will not be returning to Te Papa, Arapata Hakiwai will take over as Acting CE while ‘an international search for a new Chief Executive is undertaken’.

One of our ongoing activities is research. This year’s National Visitor Survey is now complete, and participants can access their own and national data. We are preparing a visual similar to last year and it is interesting to see that the data is very similar. In June, a Victoria University museum studies student will be doing more research as a course placement. Lillian Bayly-McCredie will be looking into governance structures and how they impact on museums and galleries. Later in the year we will be reviewing and repeating the sector survey.

Statistics NZ is progressively releasing data from the 2013 census, such as Quickstats about culture and identity. As well as providing access to data tables for the serious analyst, they are producing really nice graphics which make it easy to understand. A new infographic on major ethnic groups shows 74% European, which is very close to the ethnicity of NZ-resident visitors in this year’s National Visitor Survey. Maori and Pacific Island visitor numbers however, are lower in our survey than the general population. On the 27th May another culture and identity module comes out which will be the first chance to access detailed ethnicity, birthplace, language, religion, and iwi data down to subnational levels. Check out who your potential local audience is and see how it matches up to your visitor data – who is coming and who is missing out? To find out how you can use this data, Statistics NZ is running a series of free public seminars around the country from late May to late June.

International Museums day is the 18th May with the theme ‘Museum Collections Make Connections’. MA will be sending out a press release to promote the sector and many museums around the country have special plans to mark the occasion. Our EMP group here in Wellington are even planning their first ‘Museum Hack’ tour to celebrate. Check out the ICOM webpage to find out what museums around the world are doing and the ICOM NZ webpage for a great list of ways your museum can get involved.

Ngā mihi,
Phillipa and Talei

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