Apart from creating cool exhibitions, Te Papa’s Head of Experience Design and Content, Frith Williams, is an advocate for the A in STEAM.
Frith Williams hasn’t had your typical STEM trajectory. She’s studied theatre, film, and photography, done a stack of freelance writing, worked in multimedia educational publishing, travelled the world, and even held a job at the National Library. And now, as the Head of Experience Design and Content at New Zealand’s bicultural, multidisciplinary national museum, Te Papa, she guides the creative team to develop interdisciplinary ways to engage audiences with exhibitions.
“We create bicultural, innovative experiences around our collections for non-expert audiences, across subject areas and platforms – both physical and digital,” she says, “experiences that really connect our communities with our taonga (treasures) and their stories,” she adds.
Although not exclusively a STEM role, Frith’s job – in overseeing creation of the museum’s interactive, audience-focused exhibits – brings together the arts, technology, and education. Creativity and critical thinking are prerequisites, along with an ability to think outside the box – and from multiple perspectives.
“You don’t have to be super techy to work in or around technology,” Frith stresses. “Creativity and critical thinking are key not just to the arts, but also to science and tech. And communicating science and tech is as important as doing it.”
Shaking up STEM education
Without tertiary training in STEM, the Victoria University grad brings a creative perspective to how Te Papa can connect with and inspire communities around its science collections. And a particularly cool example? Her role in championing the fusion of story-based, artistic, and technological approaches in the museum’s natural-environment exhibition zone – Te Taiao | Nature.
Te Taiao | Nature explores the natural world from both Māori and science perspectives, communicating science-heavy topics like climate change in effective, empowering – and seriously creative – formats. A cosy lounge lets visitors rest and reflect on these topics too. Frith rates the project as one of the most meaningful she’s ever worked on, and if you’ve ever checked it out, you’ll totally see why.
“I loved the challenge of creating a really rich space with multiple ways to interact and learn – beyond didactic information delivery,” she says of the project. “I’m passionate about involving our audiences in the process of discovery and learning – not just in testing, but in the final product.”
Frith has been with Te Papa for 15 years – in a bunch of different roles – and despite the long-term nature of the job, she’s still job-crushing hard. Apart from a few personal projects and partnerships she’d love to tick off one day, the mum-of-two is inspired by what she’s working on and feels there’s still much to learn in museum innovation.
“The fact that I get to work on so many fascinating projects, alongside so many talented people, and with the potential for positive national and international impact – well, that makes the job incredibly rewarding,” she says.
Want to check out Te Papa IRL? Catch our FREE Code event at the museum in February.
Author: Cassie Steel
As Refraction’s digital assistant, Cassie Steel spends her days researching robots and stalking famous scientists on Twitter.