By Adrienne Rewi
For Cherie Meecham, Deputy Director of Rotorua Museum of Art & History, every object, every taonga (treasure) has a story and in her 17 years at the museum, one of the many highlights has been discovering those stories and bringing them to the public.
“It may be a wee boy coming in with grandfather’s fob watch and giving it to us with an immense sense of pride; or it may be whanau (family) coming in with their precious korowai (cloak), hesitant but knowing it needs protection. It’s a proud and meaningful moment when they hand it over into our care,” Cherie says.
Born and bred in Rotorua, Cherie has always had a passion for history and culture. After a ‘false start’ studying law for a year, she changed to Classics and archaeology and following a trip to Calabria in Southern Italy for a Neolithic archaeological excavation, her future career was decided.
“I loved the interface with objects and taonga (treasure) and when I first came to Rotorua Museum as a curator, I was very back-of-house. When I became Collections and Public Programmes Manager though, I was introduced to the people side of the business. I’ve always enjoyed meeting artists and collectors, and I love the fact that every object has its own history.”
Cherie became Deputy Director of the museum in 2008 and she’s pleased she is still able to have hands-on interaction with the collections.
“I do have a lot more work with people and administration now but because we are a small museum, I’ve been able to stay in touch with the behind-the-scenes activities – and I wouldn’t want to lose that,” she says.
She pinpoints one of her career highlights as being involved in the B Company exhibition in 2000. The show detailed the role of the Maori Battalion B Company in WWII.
“That was a testing and emotional process for everyone involved – the veterans, the families, the staff – but bringing people together like that is always a special and rewarding experience. It’s also one of the unique things about working at Rotorua Museum. We have a very close relationship with Te Arawa. They’re very keen and supportive of the museum and when we open the new Don Stafford Wing in August 2011, their story will be told in their voice, in much greater depth. That’s been a huge and exciting project to be involved in.”
On the subject of the changing role of museums in modern society, Cherie concludes: “We’re aware that we need to strive continually to create a diverse programme of interest everyone, from three to 103. Now that I’m a parent myself my thoughts about what a museum needs to be have changed. We have to understand our audience; we can’t afford be high-brow any longer. And we should never under-estimate the power of what a museum can do for people and how much it can influence a person’s appreciation of their own history.”
Adrienne Rewi works fulltime as a freelance journalist, sub-editor, blogger and travel guide writer. When she is not traveling the length and breadth of New Zealand updating travel guides, she is based in Christchurch where she readily gives in to her passion for art, museums, photography and fiction writing. In addition to publishing several non-fiction books and travel guides, photographing everything in sight and writing on almost every subject, she is a passionate collector of far too many things and really needs her own museum.