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Student story

Petrena Fishburn

20 July 2023

"An Arts degree is the sort of qualification that establishes you personally and professionally..."


Bachelor of Arts in Art History and Theory and English

Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Art History

Master of Arts in Art History

Collection Curator, Aigantighe Art Gallery, Timaru

Petrena had been working as a youth worker and an office administrator before coming to UC, wanting to gain a professional qualification; she discovered Art History as her new-found passion and pursued her degree into an honours and master's year. She is now working as the Collection Curator at Timaru's public art gallery, the Aigantighe Art Gallery.

Petrena's choosing UC was highly influenced from her love of Christchurch after moving from Blenheim, and she has since thoroughly enjoyed its "beautiful" campus and community. Studying an Arts degree, she feels, is a great platform to work towards a professional career.

"I have been really impressed by the support of lecturers at Canterbury who have been part of my journey and I think that an Arts degree is the sort of qualification that establishes you personally and professionally – whichever career path you choose. It was through the contacts I made at UC, what I learnt, and the opportunities that I gained, which has got me to where I am now."

"The study itself has been wonderful, but the people that you meet and work with are even more so."

Wanting to take her skills further, Petrena also took part in one of UC's BA internship programmes. Her course involved researching and cataloguing material from the Baverstock Collection at the Macmillan Brown Library, as records for students and the public to use. The experience has been invaluable, and opened doors for her to gain employment during her studies as a Gallery Assistant at Chambers 241, and as a Research Assistant back at the Macmillan Brown Library.

"What I really enjoy about what I am doing is that there is such a nice balance between research or seeking information, while at the same time building relationships with those involved in Canterbury's art scene. With my own research I really enjoy the opportunity to document part of Christchurch's history."

After completing honours, Petrena was presented with a UC Summer Scholarship which involved working for the AA Deans Trust, cataloguing over 800 works of art left by Austen Deans to his family, and storing them safely for their preservation.

Petrena's master's thesis focused on Barbara Brooke, a Canterbury arts administrator, arts magazine editor, and an early dealer gallery founder and director who was "the ultimate supporter and promoter of contemporary New Zealand art in the period after WWII. She was a woman who helped establish the careers of many New Zealand artists."

After submitting her master's thesis in 2014, Petrena is currently collaborating with the Auckland artist, Julia Holderness, to bring part of this thesis to life. The pair are creating an installation about Gallery 91 – the first contemporary dealer gallery in Christchurch that was founded by Barbara Brooke and her husband Andre in 1959 – for SCAPE Public Art in October 2017.

"Things really began to solidify for me when I did the BA internship. At the Macmillan Brown Library I experienced working in a professional team, and I learnt that my ideas and voice were valid in professional situations. Through the internship I made contacts and gained skills that have directly empowered me for what I am now doing this year.

"Furthermore, through my work for the AA Deans Trust, I gained experience in handling of, cataloguing and caring for artworks – these are skills which lead to a similar job for another New Zealand artist, Philip Trusttum, and then gave me the experience for the role that I now hold today at the Aigantighe Art Gallery. I always wanted to be an Art Gallery Registrar."

Petrena has some short and sweet advice for those thinking of doing a BA or an internship course.

"My advice would be trust your ideas of interest, take opportunities that come your way, and go for it!"

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