Monday, July 24, 2006

Museums Australia Conference writeup #2


Keynote address: Indigenous People and Cities - Jackie Huggins (Paper available here).
Forty years ago next week, a referendum was passed that allowed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to be counted as Australian citizens. This year, another national census will be held and although the counting of Indigenous Australians is fraught with difficulty, unprecedented numbers of us will raise our hands in cities and towns across the country. The vast majority of us are young, a fair proportion live in cities and despite the fact that more of us will report higher incomes and loftier professions, too many Indigenous Australians remain on the fringes of urban life. Four decades on from the 1967 referendum in which a remarkable 91 percent of Australians voted YES for Aboriginal citizenship, communities of today must use what they have learned, through failures and some success, to take the next step in reconciliation. Achievement hinges on national teamwork, identifying what works, and backing it on the basis of Indigenous aspiration and evaluation. The objective can be simple: closing the 20 year gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children.
The solution is complex only in that involves all sectors of the Australian community, and that our commitment to it must be long term. But life is too short to put it off any longer.

* Museums should be telling the stories of the referendum, using the objects etc that have been collection with regard to the campaigning. The stories are worth telling and re-telling to aid reconciliation, and the stories give renewed meaning to indigenous citizenship.
* There are many strong people whose names are unknown outside of their own communities, despite their activism and efforts during the time of referendum.
* Suggests that next year a project be started aiming for the 50th anniversary with things like story trails between museums, recognition of significant sites and objects, and a real trail to follow – regions to weave their trails together, which would then map together over the nation.
* Use these opportunities to trigger thoughts about and conversations with our collections.

Exclusion Zones: Urban Indigenous People in Unfriendly, Built Environments – Samuel Wagan Watson
Since its inception in 1825 the city of Brisbane, capital of the Smart State, has been a problematic environment for Indigenous Australians to navigate. From the hanging of a prominent tribal resistance leader in ‘colonial-period’ Post Offi ce Square, to the death in custody of a young, talented song-man and dancer in the 1990’s, and now onto the new ‘Move-on’ laws enforced upon the Indigenous people in the city at present…the dysfunctional patterns of progress prevail. Although the local government has strategies which acknowledge the ‘inclusion’ of people in arts and cultural practices, why do the ghosts of ‘exclusion’ linger and prevail?

* Boundary streets in Brisbane
* No metropolitan areas in Australia were planned as a meeting place for all cultures; they were forced upon indigenous groups
* Indigenous models of land rights are being taken on by East Germans and also the Sami in Norway.
* Important to consider the past of Brisbane when looking to the future.

(Publications mentioned: “Bound in Bitumen” and “Last Exit to Brisbane”)

Finding Country - Kevin O’Brien
In acknowledging Jackie Huggins’ paper I find myself gazing directly at the tension between Indigenous Australia and the idea of the City. What contributes to this tension? To take Brisbane as an example, what are the references to Aboriginal culture (and people) within the urban fabric? It is easy to mount an emotive argument that demands action, but what precisely is the action in this construct? How do I feel about these issues as an Indigenous person versus what can I do as an architect? As a member of MERRIMA design our work strives to make architectural places in an idea of Country rather than as a derivative component of any specific city. It is this approach that now informs an observation about our cities, one where the Australian landscape supports an initial layer of Aboriginal culture, overlaid by a separate layer of European culture. The challenge for our cities is to find those architectural possibilities that connect all three.

* The sense of place is paradoxical; there are points of connection and difference.
* How can you incorporate a sense of Australian culture as a construct? How can you bring multiple histories together in place?

* 3 scales:
- Acknowledgment of people and place
- Architecture attempting to engage; places specifically designed for cultures
- Public art
(the last two using urban spaces)

* Designing in and around indigenous spaces rather than over them is something that should be considered when developing urban spaces.

Keynote address – Interpreting Cities - Tim Evans. (Paper available here)
Tim will provide a brief understanding of his role as Project Manager of the National Museums of Liverpool project, the history of Liverpool and the client organisation. The objective of his paper is to:
– Convey the vision and mission for the New Museum of Liverpool
– Provide an understanding of its future role in the city community and the local, national and international visitor experience
– Discuss the fundamentals—what will make it a radical Urban History museum
– Outline the key risks, pragmatic realities and issues that have been/will have to be addressed to deliver the project
– Review the organisation and process that has evolved to develop the vision, content and design.
– Illustrate where we have got to and how the design delivers the vision.

* The fundamentals of the new museum – history, location, money
* There are about 8 national museums in Liverpool, including the Museum of Liverpool life.
* The vision is simple: a “wondrous place”
* Aim is to provide for Liverpool’s community as well as visitors; to be a portal for the city. Want to be a “radical urban history museum”

* At the moment, the approach doesn’t see the need for 100% of proposed exhibitions to be finished for day 1. The idea is to phase things in over a few years after the bare minimum in the beginning. [Would visitors be happy with this though? Wouldn’t it seem half-baked and non-committed?]
* Aims for the exhibitions include: accessibility/touchable stuff; Beatles; football; Tale of Two Cities (savoury/unsavoury sides of Liverpool); testimonies from Liverpool community; “Community Pods” small exhibition spaces [not unlike Te Papa]; avenues for feedback from visitors.

Lost and Found in the Museum of Collective Memory – Peter Emmett
Are there fresh metaphors to interpret the shifting dynamics rather than fixed development of cities? How can museums represent the lost voices of those who have been excluded from the city biography of firsts and greats? And how can we engage in conversations across time and place to nourish the collective memory that sustains the dynamics and diversity of cities?

* Archaeological displays “in situ” give the idea that modern metropolitan areas are built on deep history
* Cities and museums should be places of memory
* There seems to be too much focus on identity (and difference) rather than urbanity (and being).

Interpreting Cities: Brief Suggestions for Actively Engaging Visitors and Residents with the Cityscape - Roy Ballantyne
In response to Tim Evans’ discussion regarding work currently being undertaken to design and establish the New Museum of Liverpool, brief suggestions are made regarding the way in which interpretive experiences can facilitate the achievement of the ‘planning group vision’ by engaging visitors and residents in learning experiences within the ‘living’ cityscape. In particular, themed interpretive trails (both guided and unguided) are advocated as a useful method of designing ‘powerful’ free-choice learning experiences supporting messages and reinforcing learning gained from exhibits within the museum. Practical examples are given to illustrate how these can be designed and delivered.

* The interpretation of cities tends to focus on the past and on heritage more than emerging environments.
* How can you draw visitors in to the interpretation of cities that encompasses past/future?
* Interpretive trails should ideally encourage perception of the urban environment, and to boost their ‘urban literacy’
- They shouldn’t just itemise and label, provide historical blurbs
- Arthur Percival (1979) writes on successful urban trails – focus the senses, tell the truth, look for links with the past and future.
* Interpreters who try to work neutrally in a value-free zone will not engage visitors
* Trail examples – focus on senses; look at conservation areas; focus on problem areas; investigate patterning
* The way visitors are actively engages in trails in important. Involve them with:
- higher order thinking
- problem-based learning
- empowerment
- active citizenship
- environmental investigation
- reflection
* Don’t’ contain visitor experience just within buildings, take them out into the urban landscape

Gone in an Instant? Museums and History - Kay Saunders
This paper addresses the issue of the viability of representing important historical events within a museum context. Specific attention will be directed towards the Russian communities’ experiences in Australia in the period 1917 to 1961. The Red Flag Riots and the deportation of Russians living in Brisbane in 1919 and the internment of Father Valentine Antonieff, the priest in charge of the Russian Orthodox Church in Brisbane in 1942, events all contained within the area of South Brisbane, permit an interrogation of events of global significance within a defined geographic area. These events are difficult to display in a museum lending themselves far more sympathetically to an archives or library exhibition. In contrast the crowning of Chinese born White Russian refugee, Tania Verstak as Miss Australia 1961 was a landmark event in Australia, heralding a new attitude to multiculturalism. By utilizing her extensive collection in the National Museum, the parameters of debasement concerned with core British identity, ethnicity, politics, celebrity and Australia’s international reputation can be evaluated in some depth.

* Many events in Brisbane history have been forgotten to history and archives, and the streets now feel so different.
* How could we have been at the centre of particular world events (re: her example of the Bolsheviks) which have all but been forgotten?
* We need artefacts, not just documents, to tell stories in museums (even though there’s so much information and so many stories in the documents – they need to be accompanied)
* Stories of people/events reflect cities – how can you get across the complexity of these things, however?

Concurrent Session 1A: Vital Cities and Belonging

Local Heritage and Cultural Vitality - Melissa Hayes and Richard Holt
At a local government level the policy context that applies to a municipality can influence and shape the way heritage is considered. At the City of Port Phillip, where a commitment to ‘cultural vitality’ means heritage is recognised and valued as critical in framing what the community is, some innovative and collaborative approaches to the collecting and dissemination of stories and the preservation of community artefacts have emerged. While dedicated heritage and curatorial staff generate much of this activity the policy context results in projects demonstrating a strong appreciation for heritage values across the organisation. Thus the importance of understanding where the community has come from is not a primarily academic exercise to the organisation but is woven into the fabric of public administration in the City.

* Council of Port Phillip (Melbourne) - 90,000 people, oldest of the municipalities.
* “Icon Study” allows the council manage significant places
* Port Phillip “museum without walls” – with no museum building, they can look at getting stud out into venues and presenting it to the community in different ways. For example, the Baths exhibition at St Kilda (put together with input from community); situated within the context of foreshore history.
* Council understands and recognises places of culture/heritage (a good and sometimes rare thing for most councils); all bids for development money must consider culture and heritage of the area.
* There is quite a lot of consultation with the cultural management sections of council for certain ‘products’.
* An “Urban History Centre” is under development, which will hopefully be of use but no encroach on using other venues as they have been. This centre will be used as a space for community, and to facilitate understanding between groups.

Beyond the Garden Walls: Greening Cities and Cultivating Communities - Janelle Hatherly
Large government-funded cultural institutions have a mandate to serve the entire state or nation, not just those who visit their spaces and collections. The Botanic Gardens Trust in Sydney has a commitment to take its expertise and programs ‘beyond the garden walls’ to enrich the life of our cities and regional centres, serve the broader community and green the urban environment. To this end the Trust joined forces with the NSW Department of Housing to establish a state-wide program called Community Greening. This program facilitates communal gardening on wasted public land and in housing estates, schools and churches. Through this program, disadvantaged groups in our society, including residents of public housing and local school communities in urban and regional NSW take ownership of their surroundings, connect with plants, learn new skills and make friends with people from a diversity of backgrounds. The program also involves the participation of several local and state government bodies and benefits from contributions-in-kind from industry and the commercial sector.
Beyond greening the urban landscape, community gardening builds social cohesion and develops community networks. People who might never visit botanic gardens are given the opportunity to gain an understanding of plants, recycling and sustainable horticultural practices. However there are challenges involved in establishing community gardens and empowering individuals and neighbourhoods. This presentation will examine the role of botanic gardens in the urban environment, not only as a cultural space but as a catalyst for social change and community building.

* Current attitudes (in general) are so urbanised that we are “nature blind” and very removed from green spaces. Botanic gardens can allow “measured access” to nature.
* Botanic gardens are museums with collections both inside and outside. There is a big challenge to educate and raise awareness of this, as well as living with/managing nature.
* There are 2024 botanic gardens worldwide.
* There is a pressing need for botanic gardens to be involved at a local level in their area.
* There are great physical and mental benefits in proximity to parks/botanic gardens. “Healthy parks, healthy people” programs. Community gardens, to help people connect with each other and green spaces.
* Sydney Botanic Gardens reach out State-wide with education programs; “Community Greening”
- Help develop the gardens that communities want
- Gives people something meaningful to do, somewhere to meet, skills to learn
- Successful for urban renewal

There is a Pottery in our Street: Cities and Belonging - Jacqueline Healey
This paper explores the role of small metropolitan galleries and museums in creating a sense of belonging in their communities. Despite limited resources and facilities these galleries and museums are able to engage at a grass roots level that teases out a myriad of connections with the local community. The labyrinths of cultural organisations that map our cities outside their epicentres create intense layered experiences that are difficult to replicate in larger state and national cultural organisations. Through the case study of the development of the exhibition Premier Pottery Preston and its tour to regional centres I will support this premise. Bundoora Homestead Art Centre (the public gallery for the City of Darebin) charter is to develop exhibitions that reflect the cultural and artistic heritage of the City of Darebin. The catalogue and touring exhibition Gumnuts and Glazes: The Story and Art of Premier Pottery, Preston 1929-1956 paid tribute to a remarkable pottery that emerged from Preston in the heart of the City of Darebin in the midst of the depression in the late 1920’s. A group of unemployed potters established their own business and created a range of ceramics called Remued ware that became an icon of Australian ceramics. The process of researching the exhibition was undertaken in the community where the pottery existed. It brought together the families that contributed to the pottery. While the exhibition was on display members of the public, some who had worked in or lived near the pottery came to share their memories. Such a gathering of community could only have happened in the heartland of where the pottery had existed. As streetscapes change and buildings are redeveloped or replaced, the past life of an area may disappear in a generation. This project documented the life of the Premier Pottery Preston in Oakover Road bringing to life the cultural and artistic legacies of that era to the community.

* The BHAC is trying to create a vibrant community by creating connections to neighbourhoods.
* What is distinctive about local gallery exhibitions – accessibility, connectedness, belonging; creating local connections as a result of the process of developing an exhibition.
* The community wanted the exhibition done locally, and held locally. There was a strong input from families involved who have heritage in that area, and connections to the pottery.

Concurrent Session 4B: Creative Access to the Digital Space

New Literacy, New Audiences - Angelina Russo and Jerry Watkins
How can Australian cultural institutions use creative media technologies to create new audience experiences? This major Australian Research Council research project has brought together an expert group of strategists and technologists from some of Australia’s leading cultural institutions. This group is examining the challenges and opportunities presented by the evolution of ‘information literacy’ in their audiences, brought about by the widespread uptake of internet, games and mobile technologies.
New Literacy, New Audiences examines how both information literacy and creative media technologies can be used to reconfigure relations between the institution, the communities it serves and its wider audience. The project will inform a model for effective digital content distribution, and in so doing will advance national research priorities for smart information use and the promotion of innovation culture.

* New audiences are gained through multi-platform distribution; selective content distribution to targeted audience segments across multiple communication platforms

* One-way knowledge transfer:
Source --> Content --> Platform --> Segment
--> Web platform expands available segments
--> Multiplatform extends further (more content available through the multi platforms, and more segments available – niches, harder to reach people)

* Online – there is an appeal to youth, hopefully engaging them for lifelong learning.
* One model of multiplatform distribution of cultural experience is the Australia Zoo site. This site appeals to pre/post visit or those unable to visit at all.
* New literacy – skills required to produce and consume digital media; co-creative media (interactive communication), feedback, no longer one-way communication.
* Co-creative media projects engage community and produce new cultural content
* Examples: ACMI memory grid, QLD stories Workshop, NMA broadcast studio

Making Connections: Telling the Story of Artefacts Online - Steven Decosta (
Capturing the spirit of an artefact and illustrating it online presents a number of challenges. Not least of which is the difficulty of harnessing this forum to communicate an artefact’s cultural, historical and aesthetic value in a relevant and diversely understandable context— How do you tell its story online?
A number of existing online spaces will be reviewed to give a broad overview of approaches that can be taken in the telling of these stories. Focusing on aspects of the online experience that communicate a sense of value for the user will reveal any commonalities between these approaches. This paper suggests that to communicate the value of an artefact to an online user the virtual space must inspire a personal connection between the artefact and the individual. The lesson for curators of online exhibits is to provide opportunities for people with diverse learning styles and educational backgrounds to make such connections.

* Approach: What are the stories to be/that can be told? How can we structure stories? How can we expand stories?
* Methods
- Reconstruction
- Thematic overview
- Embedded info
- Contextual overlay

* Making connections
- Think hard about intention
- Provide context that works online
- Provide content
* Ensure you make a meaningful connection.

Manhua Wonderlands Exhibition and Education Project (State Library of Queensland in partnership with MAAP (Multimedia Arts Asia Pacific) - Kath Kerswell
2005 celebrated the Queensland Centenary of Women’s Suffrage and also marked the 40th anniversary of Indigenous People’s gaining the right to vote in Queensland. The Queensland
Government’s Office for Women initiated historical resources through its website and encouraged participation by organisations across the state. The theme developed for the year was “Celebrate the past, claim the future”. The State Library of Queensland administered a program of events during 2005 which responded to historical, contemporary and futurist perspectives on the topic:- What We Want—an historical exhibition featuring material drawn from the John Oxley Library including political cartoons from 100 years ago. This small exhibition was displayed at Cannon Hill and is currently touring regional libraries and museums. Sufferance: women’s artists’ books an exhibition featuring the work of eleven artists who were invited to research the State Library’s collections and commissioned to produce artist’s books which address these issues from a contemporary perspective. Locus voci: a place of voices featured new media works by young women which comment on the lack of voice traditionally afforded to women by their representation in mainstream film. The publication Mending Matters included commissioned works from writers who were encouraged to envisage futurist scenarios from diverse perspectives. The HERizons Symposium stimulated debate on issues raised
by artists and writers contributing to the yearly program. What We Want documented an historical perspective on events of 100 years ago drawn from traditional news media and published historical references held in the State Library’s collections. This exhibition represented a response which could be considered typical of Government celebratory interpretations which re-present historical material in a didactic format drawn from published sources. The other projects gathered responses in “non-traditional forms”, such as visual art and fiction, which challenged the “authoritative” perspective of historical accounts in published material and mainstream media. Many of the artists and writers responses address the enduring difficulties which continue to be experienced by women in their domestic, personal and working lives.

* This project was developed by and for young people, and exhibited in real/virtual spaces. Made use of mobile multimedia lab, DVD zines.
* Multimedia artforms and new forms of literacy are being combined for this project.
* Creating, presenting and reflecting on the work are some of the most important things.

Ah, I shouldn't have left writing this stuff up for so long. My notes are so vague!

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