Central Region Museum Educators Forum at Puke Ariki

By Emma Philpott, Sector Training Coordinator, National Services Te Paerangi.

Puke Ariki’s education team welcomed central North Island museum educators to a two-day forum in New Plymouth on 31 January and 1 February.

Taranaki educators including staff from Puke Ariki, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, Rotokare Scenic Reserve, and New Plymouth Regional Council, were joined by Tauranga Art Gallery, Waikato Museum, Rotorua Museum, Whanganui Regional Museum, and Te Manawa staff for two days of sharing ideas and making new contacts.

The forum was set up by Puke Ariki’s education team to facilitate communication and collaboration among museum and gallery educators. Educator Keri Elvin said they had visited a number of organisations across the country and saw the value of initiating discussions across the group. Presentations from museum educators, group discussions, and a tour of the Puke Ariki facilities completed a busy programme.

The first day started with an update from Museum Educators Association of New Zealand (MEANZ). MEANZ representative Margaret Tolland explained that the association has been inactive lately due to a number of unfilled committee positions. However, she invited feedback from attendees about moving forward. She also discussed the sort of support that might be available from other associations in the museum sector.

Rotorua Museum educators Emma Liley and George McLeod shared recent marketing successes. For instance, they asked schools to nominate a museum liaison contact, who would ensure that the schools were provided with regular updates about activities at the museum. Highlights of Rotorua Museum’s education programme included Skype sessions with GNS scientists in response to recent volcanic activity in New Zealand. The coming year looks exciting as well. They will work across the museum to enable a group of children from the Gifted Kids Programme to co-curate an exhibition from start to finish.

Waikato Museum’s Educator, Jennifer Hamilton, reflected on her recent move from teaching into Learning Experiences Outside the Classroom (LEOTC). She highlighted the difficulties teachers face in finding time and meeting costs as two barriers to visiting the museum with student groups. She also noted that the museum’s programmes had to reflect and connect with what is going on in schools. She talked about some of her plans in her new role, including fostering partnerships with Hamilton Gardens and ensuring major events happening in the Waikato are reflected in programming at the museum.

Grant Thompson, from Tauranga Art Gallery, explored professional development for teachers. He suggested that galleries were ideally placed to update art education programmes. He described how Tauranga Art Gallery engages with teachers by providing professional development opportunities and refreshing their art knowledge.

Before a tour of the facilities, Puke Ariki’s education team presented on the development of relationships and connections – both across the organisation and throughout the wider community. The museum shares resources with New Plymouth’s public library, research centre, and iSite. Additionally, they provide learning opportunities in South Taranaki. One of their team is based at Aotea Utanganui Museum of South Taranaki in Pātea.

The Puke Ariki team led a tour of various teaching spaces, including Richmond Cottage, natural and social history exhibition spaces, the research room, and a small theatre. The education team utilises space and resources across the complex. They have enlisted curators to help with lessons, staged public events in connection with their programming, and provided professional development for staff.

Participants returned to the education room for some group discussions. Topics included technology for the classroom, networking ideas, and services that museum educators could provide in addition to their core role.

The forum was a great opportunity for National Services Te Paerangi to understand the challenges museum educators currently face. The main point that stood out for me was the need for education teams to be involved in discussions across the rest of the organisation. From new ideas for programme delivery through to marketing tips, I’m confident that all participants took away a batch of new ideas.

We look forward to supporting some of the participating organisations through our grants and Expert Knowledge Exchange schemes.

Thanks to Puke Ariki for initiating this opportunity for museums to network and for being great hosts during our time in New Plymouth!