It’s always great to be acknowledged for your work. It helps motivate you to strive for even greater things. Indeed, most people say it’s not only the pay packet that motivates them - it’s also the satisfaction they get from their work being appreciated.
In museums we get that appreciation in spades. It’s written on the faces of the children and the public who visit. And from time to time we also feel that success by winning awards for our work.
A couple of weeks ago a team from the AM travelled west to Perth, Western Australia for the Australian Museum and Galleries Association (AMaGA) national conference.
It was the first time we’d been together for a couple of years due to Covid so it was great to reconnect with colleagues and tour the new West Australian Museum, Boola Bardip, a $400million contemporary complex wrapping around heritage buildings.
The AM was a sponsor of the conference held at the Perth Convention Centre and I got to chair a multi-presenter session on how different museums were dealing with climate change and the impacts of bushfires and floods with recordings of first-hand accounts of those impacted.
In the few days ahead of the conference, the Council of Australasian Museum Directors (CAMD) meeting discussed initiatives around sustainability and climate change – there are 22 major museums in Australia and New Zealand and our issues are common – how to save on energy and reduce our carbon footprint, how to engage our staff and the public in these issues and how to influence public opinion around climate change.
How Museums engage effectively with First Nations peoples was also discussed at length at both meetings. The WA Museum consulted widely with First Nations communities across Western Australia when it was developing content ideas for the new museum. Indeed, its community relations team engaged with over 60,000 members of the WA community, including Indigenous leaders to help formulate the stories the locals wanted told. The result is outstanding.
The AM also conducted deep community consultation when we developed our ground-breaking exhibition Unsettled – which presented the experiences of First Nations people since white settlement, a consultation led by First Nations people.
The result was truth-telling unfolding as it should, led by those with lived experience.
This was recognised by our colleagues at AMaGA when the AM received four awards including the major overall award for Unsettled.
The exhibition curators Laura McBride and Dr Mariko Smith had already been acknowledged by winning the NSW State awards for their work, but this was the icing on the cake. They are both proud First Nations women who brought a passion and commitment to their work steeped in their personal lived histories.
I shed a tear or two when Unsettled was announced as the overall winner. Apart from feeling incredibly proud of the AM team, I was moved by the acknowledgement we’d received for the effort, knowledge and critical thinking that went into creating this truly moving and influential exhibition.
While it’s no longer on exhibit at the AM, you can see it online here and elements of Unsettled will be adapted into our permanent First Nations galleries in the future.
In addition to our incredible AM team who produced the exhibition, it also would not have been possible without the support of our partners and donors, including The Balnaves Foundation, IAS Fine Art Logistics, Reconciliation Australia, Ashurst, DLA Piper, Gilbert + Tobin, and ABC Radio Sydney. The acquisition of cultural materials for Signal Fires was funded by a grant from the Australian Museum Foundation.
Our commitment to preferencing First Nations voices in our work at the AM continues with the opening of Burra (eel) – the new learning and play space that combines First Nations knowledge systems with western science.
Showcasing the strenuous, determined journey of the eel from the Pacific Ocean to Sydney Harbour, Burra is an extraordinary collaboration between our teams at the AM, delivering a fresh interactive experience for young people from pre-school age through to Year 10.
Since we’ve been strategising about pre-school it’s brought many happy memories back to me about my ways of learning and – I believe – my commitment to working hard for greater collective reward.
So come into the AM soon, share your experiences with us and see Burra and our First Nations galleries for yourself.