Multi-potentialite, mother, architectural graduate, #ChChAmbassador ... Erica Austin is a woman with a purpose! We were fascinated to catch up and hear about Erica's background and how she weaves her multiple talents and passions into her work.
Name: Erica Austin
Current age: 32
Birth place: Guangzhou, China
Current home city: Ōtautahi Christchurch, New Zealand
How would you describe your current career?
I am a self-described multi-potentialite! I have multiple passions - I’m a designer, facilitator, mentor, consultant, photographer, producer, project manager, community weaver, ecosystem connector and serial volunteer. I am slightly on the ADHD spectrum and I struggle to focus on one job, so I pull all my strengths into each project I work on. So my work life (really, just life) is a mosaic of opportunities to embrace my multiple passions.
After helping so many people and organisations across all these interests, I decided to start E.A.Curation in early 2018 with a main focus on curating meaningful and inclusive experiences aimed at creating safe and dynamic spaces for collaborative impact. This means I currently work with non-profits, government agencies, businesses and education providers globally and locally to encourage cross-sector conversation and co-create forums and platforms for collective impact.
Photo credit: Jonny Knopp
I enjoy connecting people and organisations together, so that they can all grow and enrich communities together, rather than on their own.
As a mother, I also realised I needed control and flexibility over my workload. For me, a traditional job doesn't give me that security, so starting my own business enables me to control my workload and when I work.
What’s the biggest challenge you face being a “multi-potentialite” and how do you deal with it?
People often underestimate me not just because I’m an asian woman and a new mum, but also because they assume I can only do one thing for them. For example, people will hire me as their event photographer but have no idea I’m a professional event producer too.
I resonate being a multi-potentialite because I’m curious about so many things! This does not mean I’m a generalist, I’m also an expert in various things and I bring all my skills to a project. This becomes an advantage especially under uncertainty, I can adapt to any situation and pivot as needed.
My favourites list:
- Colour: blue
- Item of clothing: a quality branded t-shirt! (I love connecting people to cool projects/businesses, and the t-shirts help to start that conversation)
- Café: Caffeine Laboratory
- City in the world: Ōtautahi Christchurch (#ChChAmbassador)
What does a day in the life of you, look like?
Wake up and start the day off with my husband (Jonny, an architect and professional photographer) and our 2 year old son, Jay.
Jay is at home with me two days each week, and on those mornings I co-work with him. Jay is very independent and loves joining me on Zoom meetings. I work on multiple projects and spend time when I can with Jay if he needs me. I usually work on project actions and implementation. We mix up those days with fun activities like dancing, singing and drawing. During his naps I keep this time available for any virtual meetings. And in the afternoons we do more fun activities or schedule video calls with grandparents.
Tuesdays - Thursdays Jay goes to daycare and I walk to Saltworks (local co-working space). I usually schedule meetings and focus time for project research and design on those days.
Early evenings, I keep this time available for any virtual meetings. Usually for planning or regular trustee meetings.
After Jay is in bed it's either relaxation time with my husband, or we work on co-work projects together.
On Friday evenings I go to dance classes!
Tell us about your childhood
I was born in China and an only child. My parents were both trained in structural engineering. My mother became a lecturer (in structural engineering) before we moved to Aotearoa New Zealand when I was 7. My father travelled back and forth between China and New Zealand for work before he passed away in 2011.
My mother’s dream was to become an architect. When I told her architecture was one of my top choices for tertiary education, she was thrilled! Although I did not pursue the conventional architecture career, I’m using my architectural training everyday.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
People are very surprised I’m ‘more Chinese’ than they thought! I speak three different Chinese dialects fluently. I love traditional Chinese food and pop music. I’m constantly looking for karaoke buddies that can sing Chinese songs with me. I was fully immersed in the Chinese education system when I was 13. I spent two and a half years attending boarding school in China where I picked up my language skills in writing and speaking. I currently only speak Chinese to Jay, in the hopes that he will grow up loving the culture and language as much as I do.
What was the happiest moment of your life?
The happiest moment of my life (other than my wedding day or when Jay was born) was the day when the first FESTA - Festival of Transitional Architecture in 2012 became reality. FESTA was a vibrant celebration of urban creativity and regeneration. It started out as an annual event in 2012, but became biennial in 2014. The festival involved collaborating with creative practitioners, local communities and architecture students in a collective reimagining of Christchurch city. The programme also involved one large scale event, where an entire city block was transformed for one night only for the public to enjoy. In 2012, we brought in over 20,000 people into the city! I was so proud and overwhelmed by its impact, that I literally sat in the street and cried.
At the time, I was a teaching assistant at architecture school in Auckland and the project manager for the large event while completing my architectural thesis for my masters. I realised what architecture meant to me on that night and how I can make a positive impact.
Soon after that, I moved to Christchurch permanently following a desire to see the city rebuilt into a vibrant and inclusive place.
Who inspires you?
Entrepreneurial women inspire me.
- Belinda Austin (my mother) - although she spent most of her life focused on raising me, she has an entrepreneurial spirit and can-do attitude. She ran a few businesses in the early years of being in New Zealand and now operates a successful airbnb space in her current home.
- Camia Young - My architectural thesis advisor, trained architect and co-founder of XCHC. Camia was the first to expose me to leadership concepts, teamwork and collaborative practice.
- Dr Jessica Halliday - Architectural Historian, Director or Te Pūtahi (Centre for Architecture and City Making), FESTA and Open Christchurch. Jessica’s passion and vision to make it easy, desirable and fun for everybody to participate in the shaping and enjoyment of Ōtautahi Christchurch motivates me to be connected back to what I’m trained in.
- Kaila Colbin - Co-founder of Ministry of Awesome and Boma. She taught me the power of effective communication, public speaking, event curation and facilitation. Her recent work in the Dare-to-Lead programme helped me to have courageous conversations in the workplace.
What advice would you give to other women?
If you're curious about something, give it a go. Open the door and see what happens. Eventually, it will work out.
If you could have one superpower what would it be?
The superpower of a good writer! I’m not bad but it takes me a bit more time.
What does beauty mean to you?
Beauty for me means we can show up holistically in the world and fully express ourselves no matter the situation.