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MMSt ’00 grad leads 70-person conservation team at Tate

Submitted on Friday, July 19, 2019

By the time Deborah Potter (2000), now head of conservation for the Tate, enrolled in the MMst program, she already had two degrees and relevant work experience in hand. She knew what she was looking for in a program, and was prepared to move to Toronto from the UK to enroll.

“I absolutely loved Toronto and it was quite amazing to study with an international group of people and in Canada. I learned a lot and observed different perspectives, seeing both similarities and differences in the approach to the discipline,” says Potter of her two years in the program.

With her undergraduate degree in archaeology from Durham University, her Master of Science in information technology and archaeology from the University of Leicester, a separate qualification in Management, and work experience at the Royal Naval Museum in Portsmouth on the south coast of England, Potter was convinced the MMSt would help her move to the next level. “My career was going into  the museums studies direction with a focus on collections care and management and leadership,” she says, adding that receiving a scholarship for the program clinched her decision to move to Canada.

Potter especially valued her “amazing” internships at Heritage Toronto and the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, which she chose strategically with a mind to comparing different work experiences. She focused her master’s thesis on a comparative analysis of collection management databases using the collection at the Museum of Anthropology as one case study. “Their collection is incredible in terms of the location and the work they’re doing, and they also had come up with unique solutions in terms of open and visible storage and earthquake proofing.”

After graduating, Potter returned to the UK to work on a conservation project in her hometown of Belfast, Northern Ireland, before moving to the Glasgow Museums in Scotland, and then to the National Army Museum in London, which she says was an interesting contrast to the Naval Museum.

Nine years ago, Potter joined the Tate, where she leads the conservation department and oversees 70 people across five teams, including sculpture and installation; paintings, frames and workshop; paper and photographs; time based media; and conservation science and preventive conservation. “Within the Tate is an incredible collection of historic, modern and contemporary art, also library and archive collections,” says Potter. The team supports displays and programs across the four Tate sites (Tate Britain, Tate Modern, Tate Liverpool and Tate St. Ives) as well as the acquisitions, loans out and international touring program.

“It’s a fascinating and challenging role, and I am fortunate to work with an amazing team of people. We’re always acquiring works with different and new challenges, and we need to be responsive, innovative and solutions focused.” says Potter, who tries to bring a mindfulness approach to her leadership.

She says the Tate aims to respond to the ways that its collection has evolved while preserving it in perpetuity and working to provide access in new and different ways. “We very much apply a pragmatic, risk and practice-based approach in our daily work,” she says. “Like all organizations, Tate is evolving reflective of cultural changes with challenges for us to respond to as to how we enable access and different trends within collecting, geographic regions and artistic practice. Our practice must evolve continually to maintain the knowledge and skills we require to operate at the cutting edge of artistic practice.”

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