Virginia Gow was the 2013 LIANZA Paul Reynolds Grant recipient. In this blog post she tells us about what the grant enabled her to do and the impact on her work.
The Paul Reynolds (No Numpties) Grant is in memory of Paul Séamus Reynolds (1949-2010) inspirational, enthusiastic and a digital world citizen. This grant was established in 2010 from donations made by the National Library of New Zealand, Internet NZ and friends of Paul Reynolds.
Left: Virginia Gow receiving her grant from Laurinda Thomas
It was inspiring to learn from a museum attempting to become a 'resource' for people to use, rather than to educate or story-tell... I came away with a conceptual toolkit to think about how digital and other media could be used to really carry out an organisation’s mission.
I was working at the Ministry for Culture & Heritage at the time. I applied to study the work Seb Chan (now at ACMI) and his team at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City were doing to shape digital technologies for learning and creativity around cultural heritage collections.
The Cooper Hewitt was closed to the public as it was undergoing a major building renovation and transformation of galleries and visitor experiences (including online) – so I got to be right in the thick of a big project for change.
As well as diving deep into Cooper Hewitt's work, I also got to meet with people doing digital work in organisations all over the city and visit other major institutions to experience their work firsthand. Seb and Aaron were teaching an evening course at Pratt Institute on 'Museums and the Network', so I got to go to those classes too and even gave a guest lecture (see below re outside my comfort zone!).
What are some of the things you learnt during your time?
Where to start? You can see some of my learnings fresh off the back of the experience in my write up and a blog post I wrote while still in New York.
As someone skilled in 'publishing' cultural content (e.g. we put images and content on the web or on screens, you access and consume it) I wanted to get a better understanding of how we can use digital media to support diverse people to actively engage with and use collection-based stories, knowledge and information.
Being immersed in an organisation right in the middle of this transition meant I got to see beyond theory, directly into the challenges and practicalities. It was inspiring to learn from a museum attempting to become a 'resource' for people to use, rather than to educate or story-tell.
It sounds silly, but it was also a relief to travel so far and find that digital teams at Smithsonian institutions are people just like us who struggle with similar issues we do, albeit in different cultural contexts and fiscal circumstances. And that we also have a lot to offer them in exchange.
How has your internship benefited your career?
My professional career took a domestic turn after my time as the Paul Reynolds scholarship recipient because my daughter was born a bit over a year later. But one of the biggest benefits was the confidence boost.
Seb was a very generous mentor, and he and his colleague Aaron Straup Cope really pushed my thinking. Neither ever made me feel like a 'numpty' (as Paul Reynolds would put it) while I learnt from them or went outside my comfort zone. I learnt a fair bit about leadership and change management from them both as well.
I now work as a consultant/contractor to GLAMs (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums) and am stronger in my conceptual and strategic development skills as a result of my time at Cooper Hewitt.
One of my recent contracts was for a multi-agency project led by the National Library to co-develop resources for schools using Aotearoa New Zealand heritage knowledge and content and I carried the 'conceptual tool kit' I mentioned earlier right into that work.
Would you recommend for others to apply?
Absolutely, yes! No matter what stage you're at in your career.
I'd wanted to apply during the previous round but was so busy in a new job at Auckland Museum that I couldn't even contemplate taking the time to pull together an application. I promised myself if I found myself in the right space the next time, I was definitely going to apply -- even just for the sake of going through the process and clarifying my career development goals.
I was lucky that my Director at the Ministry for Culture & Heritage recognised that career development is a long game. Just because it's not immediately relevant to your current job, doesn't mean that you won't benefit from it in other ways.
I found the entire experience both challenging and inspirational. You definitely get out of it what you're prepared to put in (and have to be quite self motivated at times). Time out of your 'everyday' job and in a new culture or city, as well as the organisation you are based within, is a real luxury and heightens your senses.
Applications close May 30, 2019.