Tuesday, 22 February 2022

Museums, media and public trust: National Digital Forum opening, February 2022

I was delighted to be asked (along with Honiana Love from Ngā Taonga, Rachel Esson from National Library, and Stephen Clarke from Archives New Zealand) to give a short presentation at the 2022 NDF conference this week. 

I've been engaged with NDF for such a long time now - as attendee, Board member, conference organiser and speaker. It always feels like going home.

This year I felt extra lucky to be asked to introduce Anna Fifield, editor of the DominionPost, for her keynote lecture, and then conduct a Q&A afterwards. This gave me an opportunity to examine some ideas I've been mulling for awhile now, about the connection between museums (and the wider GLAM sector, but museums is my knowledge area), the media and public trust. It was fuelled by that old adage, "the news is the first draft of history" and my addiction to that peculiarly specific genre, the media commenting on itself (like the legendary Mediawatch). Over the last few years we've seen the media critically engaging with its own histories and practices - one of the reasons Anna was asked to present was Stuff's Our Truth: Tā Mātou Pono work - in much the same way museums and cultural institutions have looked at their own histories, ignorance and damaging actions and sought to do better. I was keen to draw out these connections.

Stuff have also made an explicit commitment to public trust as their key performance metric, as described by owner Sinead Boucher in this interview with Duncan Greive. Trust is a topic the media canvasses regularly (see this Mediawatch segment from last year). It's also a topic museums are regularly gathering data on. My particular area of interest is where trust and expectations of neutrality collide. 

In my framing talk, I returned to a section of a presentation I gave in 2014 at NDF, looking at a piece of research conducted by the British Museums Association into what the public expected from museums. Asked to rank a group of purposes supplied by the museum sector, workshop participants rated collecting and caring for national heritage as the core and most important purpose of museums, and social change / care for vulnerable people as lowest priority. Seeking to tackle controversial topics or shape opinions in any way was seen as counter to museums' purpose and undermining of the trusted position they held. 

Looking at recent research from Britain, Australia and America, in my talk I touched on this ongoing tension between trust and neutrality. In the era of Covid, mis and disinformation, the current anti-mandate protests in Wellington and the rising antagonism towards the media in Aotearoa, this felt like a fruitful place to start a conversation about what our sector and the media could learn from each other.

Resources that informed this presentation and the Q&A with Anna Fifield:

Museums Association, In museums they trust 2013

Britain Thinks for Museums Association, Public perceptions of - and attitudes to - the purposes of museums in society, 2013 [referenced in talk]

Nina Simon, Seeking clarity about the complementary nature of social work and the arts, 2013

Courtney Johnston, Museums and social work: a year of changing thinking, 2014

Dr fari nzinga, Public trust and art museums, The Incluseum, 2016

American Alliance of Museums, Museums and trust, 2021 [referenced in talk]

Western Australian Museum, Value of museums demonstrated during Covid-19, 2021 

Democracy 2025, Political trust and democracy in times of Coronavirus, 2021 [referenced in talk]

Museum Next, Museum curators amongst most trusted professionals, 2021 [referenced in talk]


Edelman Trust Barometer 2022

Anna Fifield, Letter from the editor: On choosing what not to cover, Stuff, 2021 [referenced in talk]

MediaWatch for 19 December 2021, RNZ, 2021 (featuring Hal Crawford, see below)

Hal Crawford, RIP centrism: Why Stuff is gradually moving left while the Herald inches right, The Spinoff, 2021

Anna Fifield, When did our public servants get so arrogant, Stuff, 2022

Andrew Ecclestone and Simon Wright, How the media can improve the toxic dynamic with government, Stuff, 2022

Saturday, 13 March 2021

Adventure and Responsibility - an interview with Kimberley Stephenson for the journal of the Australasian Registrars Comittee

The really beautifully designed Journal

My thanks to Kimberley Stephenson, Collections Manager at the Southland Museum and Art Gallery, who interviewed me for the leadership issue of the Australasian Registrars Committee journal. This was the second time Kimberley and I have worked together like this - she also interviewed me when I was the director at The Dowse, and it was interesting to see how I'd changed (mellowed out a bit, maybe? grown up a little?) between the two roles.

Also interviewed in this issue are Jenny Harper and David Reeves from Aotearoa, and Caroline Martin and Kim McKay from Australia.

In the past you have described leadership as your happy place. What is it about taking on leadership roles that inspires you? In what ways has it helped you grow as an individual and as a museum professional? 

Years ago, when I’d just joined Hutt City Council as director of The Dowse Art Museum, the HR team there did a personality exercise with all the managers: one of those ones where you look at a long list of motivations and pick the 20 that describe you best, then narrow that down to 10, and then to 2. The two motivations that came out for me were ‘adventure’ and ‘responsibility’. 

And I think that still really holds true for me: leadership roles give me the opportunity to learn, grow, push myself, be scared; and also the opportunity to care, improve and be committed to the wellbeing of something bigger than myself. So I don’t know if I’m “inspired” by leadership roles, but I do find them deeply rewarding. 

 I think the key way leadership roles have helped me grow is in self-awareness. The first time I became a people manager, my whole view on the workplace changed. With every move that I’ve made sense then – every new level of responsibility I’ve taken on – the more deeply I’ve come to understand that people just don’t think and behave exactly like I do, and the more I’ve tried to bring the best out in myself to bring the best out in my work with others. 

What is one thing that you know now that you wish you had known at the start of your leadership journey?

It’s that leaders are making it up all the time. For example: the morning of this interview, something happened at Te Papa that’s never happened before. It wasn’t major, but it was very unusual, and I had no previous experience in making the decision I had to make. So, I just did my best in the moment with the information I had available to me and the advice I was given. 

 So, that’s it. People – leaders - are sitting at their desks, or in meetings, or on the phone and they’re making it up every day. You think you’re the only person doing it, but you’re not. I used to be scared that people will find this out, but the more people I have talked to about this, the more times I’ve found it’s a shared experience amongst leaders. 

 And I think the deeper truth inside of this is that often when you feel like you’re making things up, it’s because you’re doing things that haven’t been done before. You’re actually inventing in these moments. You’re bringing all your hard-won knowledge and experience and perspective to bear on the issue, and you’re inventing your way through it. 

What are three qualities that you associate with a good team leader, and why do you think they are important?

Honesty, kindness and ambition. Be honest with yourself, and with others. Be kind to yourself, and to others. And have ambition - a sense of what you want to achieve as a leader, and what you want to help your team achieve. 

In what ways do you think our sector could nurture those professionals who are more reserved, but have amazing leadership potential?

I think as team leaders and people developers, we can support more expressions of leadership – it’s easy to fall back on the people who are more extroverted, happier overtly taking risks, faster to speak in public contexts. 

At the same time, people have to find it in themselves to be leaders. It’s not about self-aggrandisement. It’s about having a cause you know within yourself needs to be fulfilled. And from that certainty, you can draw the energy to stand up, speak out, put yourself forward. 

In your experience, what skills have you found most valuable in building effective relationships - both within an organisation, and with the wider communities that we serve? 

Time. It’s not a skill, but no relationship grows without it. The skill is probably making the time in busy schedules and busy heads to truly stop, listen and share. 

The world we operate in as museum professionals is constantly changing. Is there a particular aspect of change within our sector that you are particularly passionate about and why? 

I’m in this game because I’m excited about all the change. But if I was to look forward to the end of my career, and ask what I’d want to be remembered for, it would be for making opportunities for people; for giving the support and creating the openings for others that I’ve been so lucky as to receive myself up to this point. 

What did you learn about yourself as a leader as the result of the Covid-19 national lockdown? What learnings did you take away from leading a team though this challenging time? 

I think all leaders over that time learned a tremendous amount about how they and other behave under pressure. I listened to a really useful podcast under Level 4, which talked about how when placed under stress, people tend to over-express one of two innate tendencies: to cope by controlling, or to cope by retreating. I definitely fall into the first category, and I got a great lesson in how that can be helpful when channelled correctly, and can be really annoying and stress-inducing for others (including the people in lock-down with you!) when it’s not. 

I also learned about letting down my guard with my team. Under Level 4 and 3, there were a couple of days when I woke up just feeling so sad. Debilitated by sadness. That’s such a foreign emotional space for me. And so I learned to just tell my team what was going on, and to trust that they wouldn’t feel let down or disappointed in me. On those days I struggled to perform, and the gift I received from my team was the permission to take care of myself, while they took care of the museum. 

And finally, my lock-down mantra: assume best intentions. It works pretty well in normal life too.

Saturday, 23 January 2021

A short note on recruiter experiences

Thinking about the recruitment process recently, I've on three poor experiences I've had, and one stand-out one:

In about 2017 a museum leader role here in Aotearoa came up that I went for. I was shortlisted, and took a day off work to fly and meet the recruiter (that wasn’t required, I did it off my own bat and at my own cost). The recruiter proceeded to tell me I looked "too young" to be a credible candidate, and I should come back when I had some wrinkles. I nonetheless made it to the final three candidates, after which  the recruiter would call me occasionally, say things like "Just checking you haven’t done anything silly, like get married or get pregnant". It was one of the most patronising and overtly sexist encounters of my working life.

Around the same time, another museum role came up. I was approached by the recruiter to provide my CV and (although I was luke-warm on the position) I did so. I made it to the longlist, and the recruiter rejected me with the feedback that they thought I was insufficiently experienced, and really need to “go somewhere and get a really good failure under my belt". I felt at the time that this was risible feedback - how do you build a failure into your career path, to prove you can rebound from it? And moreover, what employer could in good conscience let an employee fail at the level this recruiter felt was necessary for me?

In 2019, a recruiter asked me what my career goal was, and I said Chief Executive of Te Papa. The recruiter asked me what I was doing to build for that goal, and I outlined it. Then they sat back and said to me "Look, I’m going to be honest with you: there are two things that from my experience are going to stand in your way of achieving that goal. One is that you present as young, and the other is that you’re a woman". And while in this case I don't believe sexism was at play (from the recruiter, at least - they were reflecting back to me the outcomes of the system they were familiar with), I was infuriated that my (perceived) age and gender were seen as fatal flaws. And even more infuriated that as a educated, privileged Pākehā woman, my chances were still likely to be much better in this context than others'.

So much for crappy experiences. My great experience was with Russell Spratt at Jackson Stone, who was the external recruiter for my current role.

At the end of our first interview, Russell asked me what I felt stood in my way of getting the role. And I said – because of all this conditioning, all this feedback I’d received on being too bubbly, too enthusiastic, too young-looking – that my biggest concern was that I just didn’t look like what people expect a CE to look like.

Russell talked me off this ledge. He gave me the reassurance - speaking as an expert who spends all day doing this - that pictures of what "leaders" look like are changing. He helped me me realise that I’m not alone, and also that at a certain point in your career, employers either want you for all you bring, stand for and radiate outwards – or they want something else. It’s both deeply personal (entirely about you) but also de-personalised (it’s not that you’re not likable or not good enough, you’re just not what they need right now). It was a bloody invaluable piece of mentoring and increased my confidence hugely.

For the last couple of years, I've told people those crappy stories, and I've discouraged them from using the recruiters I had those experiences with. I've probably (if I'm honest with myself) indulged in a little bit of "revenge is a dish best served cold" behaviour rather than given the feedback to the people who were concerned. 

Just recently, I've started looking at this in a different way. Recruitment is one of the most important things you do as a leader. It's absolutely fine - useful in some circumstances - to enlist external support. But it's your responsibility to set the tone for the recruitment, and your expectations of the experience your candidates should have. If candidates have a crappy experience, that rests with you. 

 So think really hard next time you do a piece of recruitment – what’s the experience I want to create for people who go through this process?

Sunday, 17 January 2021

A short note on cover letters

My interest was really piqued this week by this question on Twitter

Here's some advice I've got for cover letters, based on reading hundreds over the past 10 years. I should note that when I recruit, I've always done all my own shortlisting - I don't delegate to HR, recruitment companies, or use AI tools to parse applications. So my system is probably a bit old-fashioned and personalised.

One page is fine

At Te Papa, we're now regularly receiving 100-200 applications for vacancies. Every one of those applications is read by a human being. My own preference is a 1 page cover letter and 3-4 page CV. No letters of reference, no work samples, no certifications for the first application unless explicitly requested. 

At The Dowse, I was reading applications as attachments to email (opening all the bits of an application all in the different formats they were provided). At Te Papa, we use software called Springboard which does enable you to print out applications, but I do everything online. I set aside a morning or an afternoon and I put my head down and push through. I try to value every application (and I take breaks when my concentration is flagging) but anything you can do to help me grasp your unique offer easily is much appreciated. 

One page helps me see everything in one go, and with retention when I'm reading heaps.

Remember that links may or may not function in your cover letter or CV (depending on the format I'm looking). I will usually only follow links once I'm down to a shortlist. If you tickle my curiosity/memory, I'll probably google you. Some people immediately jump to social media to research applicants, I personally don't.

Say why you want the job

You wouldn't believe how many people forget to put this in their cover letter (or even talk about it much in an interview). I hope for all applicants they're in the position of being able to apply for roles they care about. In my own case, I believe museums are special places, and I want to see applicants who share that feeling.

My basic format in my own cover letters:
  • I'm excited to see this role advertised because <your connection to this type of work and/or to this organisation>
  • My experience and skills are well suited to this role <high level matching to role description>
  • I'll bring these personal qualities to the role 
  • Working here would mean <this> to me
Do your best to find out who to address the letter to

I do genuinely appreciate when someone addresses the letter to me. if it's not apparent from the ad, contact whoever is doing the recruiting and ask who to address the letter to. I won't discount anyone who writes 'To whom it may concern' or 'Dear Recruiting Manager', but this is the first thing I'll see in an application and it puts me on the right footing.

Get some help

For my last two job applications, I've had friends who I've worked with in the past workshop my cover letter. Describing yourself through the eyes of colleagues rather than from your own perspective can help you be bolder and more focused in your cover letter. 

Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Reading list, 6 October 2020

 The joy of a week off - time to read ...

On brands

That quickly-iconic Bloomberg piece on the "identikit formula of business model, look and feel, and tone of voice" of direct-to-customer start-up brands, Welcome to Your Bland New World

Complimented by Sarah Drumm's What does a made-for-TikTok brand look like?

On public monuments

While the Mellon Foundation has pledged US$250M over the coming five years to reimagine, create & reposition public monuments, Andry Filatov, a Russian billionaire who "owns Art Russe, a London-based foundation that aims to develop a 'greater understanding of Soviet and Russian cultural contributions' outside Russia" is keen to buy them and ship them to Russia for new lives. Alternatively, on Hyperallergic Jillian McManemin writes about her creation of the Toppled Monuments Archive, to preserve these examples in one place.

On deaccessioning

Much discussion over the last week or so as the idea is floated that London's Royal Academy could sell a Michelangelo marble sculpture to bolster its failing finances and protect jobs; meanwhile the American Association of Art Museum Directors has loosened its deaccessioning guidance in response to the pandemic, seeing the Brooklyn Museum send 12 works to auction to support collection care and the Baltimore Museum of Art release three works to advance equity programmes.

Art, heritage and slavery in Britain

232 items in the British parliamentary collection are shown to have links with the slave trade, including "189 pieces depict[ing] 24 people who had ties to the slave trade and 40 depict[ing] 14 people who were abolitionists", after an inquiry launched in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. Meanwhile the British National Trust has released a report showing "93 places, roughly one third of all of its properties, that it says were built, benefited from or connected to the spoils of slavery and colonialism". Not everyone wants to acknowledge those facts

Cast your mind back about six weeks and you see the National Trust taking another pummelling, reminiscent of RNZ's plans for a youth music channel, over leaked documents outlining a "flex" to their traditional mansion offer, with more diverse and engaging audience focus: responses included National Trust restructuring plans are ‘one of the most damaging assaults on art historical expertise ever seen in the UK’ in the Art Newspaper.

A critical eye on fashion history

I love Vanessa Friedman's reporting on fashion for the New York Times. In The Incredible Whiteness of the Museum Fashion Collection Friedman takes on the absence of Black designers from the leading international fashion museum collections, including a pretty devastating analysis of the Met Museum's Costume Institute online presence. 

Just for the sake of it

Anne Helen Petersen on clergy burn-out: "Many religious leaders are working 21st century jobs with 20th century skills. We’re still getting trained and formed for a version of church/life that doesn’t exist anymore."

Haley Nahman on Emily Ratajkowski’s viral essay (a writer I've never encountered before, on a person who I don't relate to, writing about choice-feminism)

Mandy Brown on re-reading, especially for this quote from Donna Harkness which beautifully expresses something we in museums know to be imperative:
The British sociologist Marilyn Strathern … taught me that “it matters what ideas we use to think other ideas (with).” ... It matters what matters we use to think other matters with; it matters what stories we tell to tell other stories with; it matters what knots knot knots; what thoughts think thoughts, what descriptions describe descriptions, what ties tie ties. It matters what stories make worlds, what worlds make stories.

Monday, 20 July 2020

Reading list, 19 July 2020

If you click one link, make it this: Statistics New Zealand is consulting on proposed changes to the statistical standard for sex and the statistical standard for gender identity. There is a lot of information there but the survey itself provides enough context with each question for you to choose your responses. Responses close on 13 August. 

A fascinating and deeply sad tweet thread by art crime professor Erin L Thompson, about the Ahnighito Meteorite, in the American Museum of Natural History, exported from Greenland by a white explorer, Robert Peary, and accompanied with 6 Inughuit, including a 7 year-old named Minik and his widowed father.

Curator and art historian Dr Kelli Morgan has recently resigned from Newfields (the Indianapolis Museum of Art that was), describing the workplace as toxic and failing people of colour: late last month she published an essay, To Bear Witness: Real Talk about White Supremacy in Art Museums Today. The essay - though not targeted at Newfields - sits alongside this article by Aaron Green for Artnet, ‘We Were Tired of Asking’: Why Open Letters Have Become Many Activists’ Tool of Choice for Exposing Racism at Museums.

To listen - Alice Procter on RNZ with Kim Hill, talking about colonial looting and problematic museum collections, off the back of her recent book The Whole Picture: the colonial story of the art in our museums and why we need to talk about it.

As the statue debates play out throughout colonised countries what happened in Bristol over the last few weeks really made me think: The day Bristol dumped its hated slave trader in the docks and a nation began to search its soul (when the statue of Edward Colston was toppled); 'Hope flows through this statue': Marc Quinn on replacing Colston with Jen Reid, a Black Lives Matter protester (Quinn whips up and guerilla installs a replacement statue); Black Lives Matter sculpture of Jen Reid removed from Colston plinth (the mayor sends the sculpture to a museum).

On the monuments debate - The Art Newspaper has started pulling together decades of commentary on public sculpture.

Sunday, 12 July 2020

Reading list, 12 July 2020

Gosh - 2 months between posts. I think that probably says a lot about my post-lockdown focus, and the fact this weekend was the first in weeks where I've had time to sit down, clear my feedreader, and actually read some of the articles backed up in in ....

Swiss artist Sophie Taeuber-Arp - an important feature of the French avant-garde and Dada movement - is being brought to prominence by some major players, as this NYT article describes. She worked across abstraction and applied art, from colour-schemes for architectural plans to sculptures and paintings. Part of the newly focused attention comes from a Hauser & Wirth exhibition, and I'm sure that's part of mega-galleries moving their attention to older or dead women artists with a substantial back catalogue to be presented. I'm taking by Sheila Hicks' comment at the end of the article:

Taeuber-Arp’s complicated legacy is exactly what appeals to contemporary artists like Sheila Hicks, who is known for her sculptural textiles and counts herself as a Taeuber-Arp fan. 
But Ms. Hicks — who is based in Paris, a foreigner in the city as Taeuber-Arp was — has her own take on the gender politics of the past. 
“Her husband had a powerful personality, and it was a free ride into the inner circle,” Ms. Hicks said. “She wouldn’t have had that without him.” She added, “It was a challenge to live in those times and achieve her goals.” 
“I hope they don’t make her out to be a tragic figure,” Ms. Hicks said of “Living Abstraction.” 
“I love the agility of this person who was multitalented, and who was partnered with this super-popular guy,” she said. “It was a win-win.” 
Major American philanthropic organisation the Mellon Foundation is re-focusing all its funding towards social justice outcomes.

Australian museum authority (worker? leader? observer? and good friend) Michael Parry on the NSW government's decision to retain the MAAS (Powerhouse Museum) location at Ultimo and also move ahead with its Parramatta development.

Two fascinating podcasts I've listened to whilst out running in the freezing cold dark nights we're currently enjoying: Stuff's CEO and new owner Sinead Boucher on The Fold (I'm particularly interested in their new focus on public trust and accompanying coverage of the reduction on clickbait they're publishing) and activist Julia Whaipooti on the Brazen podcast

A New Yorker interview with American-born, Berlin-based philosopher Susan Neiman about how Germany has faced its Nazi heritage through politics, education, high and popular culture and actions of redress and compensation, and how the United States might address its own racist heritage.

Two pieces I really benefitted from reading on E-Tangata recently: In defence of call-out culture by Khylee Quince, and Only a global movement can eradicate racism, an interview between Moana Maniapoto and Angela Yvonne Davis.

Vu Le's Non-Profit AF is one of sites (like E-Tangata) that I prioritise right now. This article really opened my eyes: Have nonprofit and philanthropy become the “white moderate” that Dr. King warned us about?

And finally - I'm not sure when this happened by I'm just delighted to see The Dowse Art Museum collection (getting) online.

Sunday, 17 May 2020

Reading list, 17 May 2020


Pitt River Museum curator Dan Hicks ponders the future of museums for Artnet. More interesting though is the piece he links to by Meta Knol, director of the Museum De LakenhaI in the Netherlands, reflecting on last year's celebration of the 350th anniversary of Rembrandt's birth and the fact that the blockbuster exhibitions of the kind organised for the event are simply not sustainable.

At the moment, I meet online fortnightly with the National Librarian, National Archivist and CE of Ngā Taonga; meet fortnightly with the directors of the eight metro museums and galleries; meet every few weeks with other CEs of organisations monitored by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage; meet weekly or fortnightly with the board of Arts Wellington, the pan-artform membership organisation;  and listen in on a weekly call with directors of galleries of all sizes all over the country. It's more concentrated and open sector engagement than I've ever had, and it makes me interested in this article about the 200 New York arts leaders who are tuning in for a daily call.

It's interesting to see how festivals are adapting to reach audiences online. Here's a reflection from Now Play This, a festival of experimental game design, who just moved their event online and tried to maintain the sense of participation and interaction while doing so. Meanwhile, the Hay Festival is moving online (much of the programme is streaming for free, just ... on BST).

Tangentially Covid-related

Jill Lepore's history of Sesame Street for The New Yorker echoes the rapid establishment of the MOE's two educational tv channels: "Educational shows for kids responded to two conditions: the scarcity of preschools and the abundance of televisions".

Not Covid-related at all

A terrific interview with writer N.K. Jemesin

Fine art director: meet Fanny Pereire, who sources and organises art collections for tv shows and movies (fantasy job, after naming nail polish colours).

This week Te Papa launched Kōrero takatāpui ki Aotearoa: LGBTQI+ histories of Aotearoa New Zealand, a new section of our website, dedicated to queer objects, artworks, and stories in Te Papa’s collections and  the rich histories of Aotearoa New Zealand’s LGBTQI+ communities and icons.

Catch-up therapy

This two-parter between Harriet Lerner and Brené Brown on how and why to apologise, despite all its Americanisms, taught me a lot this week.

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Mentoring suggestions: helpful resources for people managing (and being human in the workplace)

 I'm having the most amazing and humbling response to my offer to open up some mentoring spaces, and I know I'm not going to be able to spend time with all the people who have submitted their interest.

The podcast I wish someone had given me when I started managing people

Manager Tools "Basics". Listen to them on 1.5 time. Prepare to roll your eyes at some of the episodes and the need to reinforce beyond-basics like "have one-on-one meetings". But the episodes on feedback have completely reshaped my approach to this and I wish wish wish I'd heard them years ago.

The book I wish someone had given me when I started managing people

Lara Hogan's Resilient Management. Like the podcast above, it's written for the tech world, but I thoroughly recommend at least downloading the trial chapter from the link and giving that a read. It took me until last year (when Lara presented at Webstock) to see how the forming / storming / norming / performing model she uses could help me understand what the hell was going on with teams I'm working with, and to think about how people's essential needs (status, security, novelty) shape their reactions to change and challenge in the workplace. Well written and blessedly short.

The blog I wish someone had shown me when I started managing people

Leadership Freak. Middle-aged American man warning. The frequency may wear on you. But every couple of posts he makes a point that really really helps me. Like this recent one about accountability.

The podcast that made me feel better about finding everything so hard right now

Am I the last woman leader in the English-speaking world to learn about Brené Brown? Seems like it. I can't stand her author interviews on her new podcast, but these two short episodes really helped me get some perspective on what's been going on with me over the last few weeks:

Anxiety, Calm + Over/Under-Functioning (I'm a classic over-performer in response to stress and this podcast helped me step outside myself and understand how I was behaving)

On tough first times (We are doing so many new things, in new ways, in a situation of great ambiguity. It's not surprising we're feeling snappy, knee-jerky, and stressed.)

The podcast that helps me find my empathy

Esther Perel has been one of the best things in my lockdown experience. Her insight, charm and brutality make such a unique and listenable package. I binged on her couple's therapy podcast and haven't listened to all the episodes of her more recent 'How's Work' but I've listened to the following two episodes twice. In them, Perel explores the idea of the 'relational dowry' we bring into the workplace,

Prologue (an introduction to the idea of a 'relational dowry'; needs for identity at work; power relationships in the workplace; stability and growth)

Special Episode: Esther Perel and Adam Grant of Worklife (In which organisational psychologist Adam Grant tests and debates Esther's approach with her)

Monday, 4 May 2020

An experiment: want to try me on as a mentor?

I'm fortunate during this challenging time to be working with a great mentor. Her particular skill lies in giving me space to talk, then reflecting back to me in such a way that I can see where I'm placing too much emphasis, and not enough emphasis. She is also - at this time particularly - a great sanity check, a kind of Warrant of Fitness assessment when I feel in peril of going off the rails.

This is my first formal mentoring relationship. I've been lucky in my career to have started off in a university department (Victoria's School of Art History) that was filled with great exemplars, and then to have worked in larger organisations (like National Library and Te Papa) where I have had access to more experienced, highly skilled people who have been generous with their time and attention. I've been lucky too to work in a city like Wellington, with loads of arts organisations and smart people who I get to learn from.

So in the spirit of giving back, I'd like to offer myself up as a mentor.* I've done loads of informal coaching, but usually with people I work with. This is my first chance to extend that out to people I don't already know well.

My plan is to offer up to 4 people a trial hour-long session during this period where most of us are working from home. We'll book a video-conference session, get to know each other a bit, talk about what's top of mind for you, and see what we have to offer each other. Afterwards, we'll see whether there's value in continuing to meet longer term.

The areas where I think I can offer the most value:
  • Leading during the pandemic
  • Adjusting to people management roles
  • Taking care of yourself as a leader / people manager
  • Career changes, development and goals
The public cultural sector is my home base and site of most experience so I'd like to work with people who are in (or trying to get into) that zone. I should be upfront and say I respond best to optimistic, proactive people who are looking to grow.

If you're interested, please fill out the short form below by Saturday 9 May. I'll review applications (please let there be applications!!) over the weekend, and set up sessions starting the week of 11 May.

Expression of interest form

*In the spirit of disclosure, one of the things my mentor suggested in my last session with her was to carve myself out time to do things I find restorative and joyful. As an endlessly curious person, immersing myself in people's professional lives and ambitions is one of my happiest things. So, if this is an opportunity you're interested in, know you're doing me a favour by pursuing it.

Oh, also! If you don't know who I am: I'm Courtney Johnston, Tumu Whakarae | Chief Executive of Te Papa, you can read a bit about my background & experience on our website or in this recent interview.

Saturday, 2 May 2020

Reading list, 2 May 2020

This week is brought to you by .... the return of espresso coffee

Full Covid

Are you the only person in my network not to have read and recommended this NYT article by chef and restaurant owner Gabrielle Hamilton? Here you go then: My Restaurant Was My Life for 20 Years. Does the World Need It Anymore?

And then follow it up with The Gray Market's art-focused riff: Knives Out: Why Chef Gabrielle Hamilton's Reckoning Offers an Important Example for Gallery Owners

Hard as times are everywhere, museums and galleries that receive public funding are more secure at this time than those that don't. American and European estimates vary, but some counts say 1 in 10 museums will not survive the current lockdowns and following economic depressions. Nina Siegal for the NYT: Many Museums Won’t Survive the Virus. How Do You Close One Down?

I've been really enjoying Duncan Grieve of The Spinoff's series: The winners and losers of NZ’s post-lockdown economy (and how the losers might win too)

An interesting view from Gina Fairley of Australia's Artshub: The frontline pressure points are different for the regional arts sector

Be a pal

Now is an excellent time to support the arts organisations you believe in. Verb Wellington has launched a members campaign; the Pantograph Punch's is coming soon.

Also, if you've indulged in the reappearance of real coffee this week, don't forget cafes are doing it hard and you can help them bridge this time by buying vouchers for future spending.

Not Covid

I've not watched the show, read the book, nor practiced the method, but I remain kinda fascinated by Marie Kondo. Fast Company's Elizabeth Segran trailed Kondo as she moves into workplace coaching, and looks at the business partnership between her, her husband, and their growing network of coaches.

Level 3 means looooooong walks to blow off steam and find some space outside my living room - and opportunity to continue some pretty earnest self-development podcast listening. This week it was Worklife with Adam Grant, an organisational psychologist, including The Problem with All Stars (best advice - how to focus on amplifying those around you); Authenticity is a Double-Edged Sword (being you at work shouldn't be a selfish act); and When strength becomes weakness (we all have strengths - knowing when and how hard to apply them is key). All comes down to self-reflection and self-management really.

Saturday, 25 April 2020

Reading list, 25 April 2020

Covid, of course

A beautifully imagined and written piece by Rebekah White in New Zealand Geographic, 'Our New Future', a non-sensational take on what the coming months could look like, in the scenarios of a second outbreak, or where the virus is contained or eliminated.

American museum consultant Dan Spock (a very considered person) thinks through the Post-Coronavirus Museum

From the Art Newspaper'There is no fast track back to normal': museums confront economic fallout of the pandemic - follow this overview up with the indepth podcast, with long interviews with Frances Morris (Tate), Dan Weiss (The Met) and Philip Tinari (UCCA Center for Contemporary Art Beijing).

Not Covid specifically, but interesting data

The Mapping Museum research project based at Birkbeck University of London looked at the explosion of museums in the UK in the second half of the 20th century, and sought to document and analyse how the sector changed between 1960 and 2020. Their website has a variety of articles and research reports, including the just released Mapping Museums 1960–2020: A report on the data which includes the top-line finding "758 museums have closed, which is 18.7% of the total number of museums open since 1960. The assumption that museums survive and that they keep collections for posterity is misplaced."

Not Covid, just heartbreaking

Letters reveal postnatal crisis of Barbara Hepworth - from the Observer, I've read this story about four times and each time it just wrecks me. Don't read it if you're not feeling resilient.

Not Covid, just nostalgia

Midwest - a brief but brightly burning publication coming out of the John McCormack / Robert Leonard Govett-Brewster - has been scanned and put online by the gallery (except one issue, waiting for John to have access to his storage post-lockdown)