Think HBR

Julie Baird

Julie Baird

What is your current role?
I am Deputy Director of Newcastle Museum. My role makes me responsible for anything in the museum that doesn’t breathe; collection management and acquisition, temporary, permanent and travelling exhibitions and all the broad requirements that come with working in a medium sized museum. For example all on one day, I could install an exhibition, assist community museum workers, negotiate an exhibition to be on display three years ahead, create a risk management strategy and dress up as an octopus for a school fete.
Tell us about your career path?
It has been pretty winding! I started volunteering at my local council funded museum as a university student majoring in History and caught the museum bug. I went on to do a Museum Studies post grad while caring for a 4 year old and a baby. My first paying Museum job was in an innovative program which took museum objects into a high security women’s prison in Canada. I had no training or experience and I don’t think anybody else wanted to take the job but I have always been brave and realised that she who dares wins. I moved back to Australia and settled in SA to be close to my sister. There I took on a role which took private business’ collections and turned them into museum’s run by trained volunteers. My next job was Senior Curator of the National Motor Museum where I instigated its first temporary exhibition program. As a museum that only had a staff of 15, we managed to be the only Australian museum to sell an exhibition to the mighty Powerhouse Museum in ten years. I came to Newcastle Museum to redevelop and move the museum in 2002. I had never been to Newcastle before, this city and my job of serving and interpreting its people and past has been the most glorious surprise. My career was always built on moving on every 5 years to keep myself fresh and motivated but I have been here 12 years now and love my job more every day. The gallery A Newcastle Story is my big brick love letter to Newcastle.

What motivates you in your job?
My motivation has evolved from my rebellious ratbag teenage past. A lot of people see museums as dead dusty vaults staffed by nice ladies and visited by even nicer old ladies. Museums, for me, are lively, unpredictable changing places that are constantly open to new ideas. The Newcastle Museum holds deep and meaningful exhibitions about science and history but it also is open for a variety of innovative ideas. The Zombie March is a perfect example. Every year, a bunch of kids, aged from 15 to 25 and dressed as the living dead, walked the streets crying out “Brains” before watching their home made movies at a cinema. The part of my job that gives me the most joy is when people without a public platform get to share their stories through the museum.

How do you spend your weekends?
Mostly dancing! I love the live music scene in Newcastle and try to get out to as many gigs as I can manage. The creative and performing arts community in this city is awesome and inspiring. My other great joy is riding pillion on the back of my amazing partner Paul’s motorbike exploring the back routes of the Hunter.
Do you have a special Hunter restaurant?
It is a bit hard to pick just one. I love La Casita Mexican on Beaumont Street, the Pizza Hub on Maitland Rd in Mayfield and Ghandas Indian in Lambton.

Of anyone in the world, who would you invite to a dinner party?
I think I would like to have Stephen Fry to my dinner party. He is a witty observer who would have a high tolerance for the strangeness of my friends and family. I think that would make for a good night.

Tell us something that people would never know about you.
a) I have 14 tattoos and worked my way through Museum Studies as a body piercer.
b) I had to cut my Mohawk off at the age of 21 as my arms were too short to reach the top of it.
c) I have three fantastic kids 14 to 23 who take excellent care of their very busy mum.
Where do you see our region in twenty years’ time?
A creative centre of innovation and learning, proud of their working past and confident in their power….I hope.