Tracy Puklowski’s new job - City of Launceston's director of creative arts and cultural services including Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery - has put her in a pretty different setting to her old job.
She was formerly the director of the National Army Museum of New Zealand, where she was a civilian defence force employee living on an army base. There, her daily life included hearing gunshots go off, her neighbours wandering about dressed in uniform, and the Singaporean Army performing training exercises outside her living room window.
Then, she was head-hunted by council and asked to take on the responsibility of the city’s cultural life. The Examiner sat down to find out what she’s got in store for Launceston.
Tasmania’s “cultural flowering”
Ms Puklowski said that despite her focus on New Zealand – before the National Army Museum she was was the associate director of living cultures at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa – she had taken notice of the cultural awakening taking place on mainland Australia’s other island neighbour.
“[Tasmania] is clearly on this incredibly positive trajectory,” she said.
“It’s always been this very creative place, but there is this sense at the moment that we’re on the cusp of something really exciting.
“People are ready, I think, to really position Tasmania - and Launceston - as a place of really unique experiences, and arts and culture as part of that.
“What is unusual - and fantastic - about my role is that it ensures culture and creativity has a place around the executive table of council. That is a rare thing, and I think it’s something that sets Launceston apart. It’s a bold and really positive move.”
Launceston’s cultural identity
“In terms of Launceston and what it offers, I’ve got this thing that keeps going round in my head which is that we’re a real city of stories,” she said.
“There’s this amazing natural environment with Cataract Gorge and all the stories around that. There’s this incredible, beautiful, built heritage here, which we are incredibly lucky has been preserved to that degree, and the amazing stories behind all of that. There’s the amazing innovation and all the stories of the ‘firsts’ that happened here.
“I also think Launceston is a real city of ‘did-you-knows’. Did you know that the first person to do XYZ was here, did you know that the biggest whatever was here?
“And then you’ve got some really cool characters, like James Boag. So really, to me, it is very much about stories here.”
Approach to First Nations culture
Ms Puklowski is renowned for her interest in, and work around, First Nations culture, which was the primary focus of her role at the Museum of New Zealand. But she said that despite her expertise, her strategy in fostering Tasmanian First Nation people’s culture and stories is first and foremost “to listen.”
“They’re not my stories to tell,” she said.
“It’s all about relationships, it’s about how you work together, and it’s about listening.
“When I was at the National Museum, that was created as a bi-cultural museum, and so that meant that the Indigenous worldview was woven into every aspect of what we did.
“That’s what could be achieved here. But I don’t want to be the ‘colonialist’ coming in and saying ‘yes, I can make this happen’. It’s very much not up to me. I can provide the conditions, but it’s up to who wants to work with us and who wants to share their stories - and we’re very blessed to have a very supportive and knowledgeable Aboriginal Reference Group at the museum.”
“The museum leaders that I most admire are the ones who have done been bold and forged a new path,” she said. “Museums affect change; I think museums can be transformational.”
“But Launceston is about so much more than the museum and the art gallery. I think they are definitely a key pivot point for the cultural strategy, but one of the things I want the museum to achieve is to see how it can have a role way beyond its walls - so you get that sense of culture being spread right throughout this place.
“[At council] we’ve spent a lot of time talking about how we can create something that’s actually going to embed culture throughout our community.
“It’s a way of thinking, it really is. So when you’re working on a project - say it’s a new park development - can we ensure that there’s a creative, cultural aspect to that development? That’s the kind of thinking that I mean. It’s about the DNA of place.
“I think there’s an exciting conversation around how culture and creative experiences can be scattered throughout the city. So I think the whole idea of having pop-up exhibitions in disused shop spaces; how we can have a more strategic view of public art - it’s that kind of thing.”
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