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Director's review of operations

Portrait of Andrew Sayers
Director Andrew Sayers AM

This was a year of success for the National Museum of Australia and one in which the strategic directions established in 2010 were developed and further analysis of the direction of the Museum was undertaken.

The Museum’s future depends on our capacity to build its profile in the community, develop strategic partnerships and ensure that the Museum operates on a sustainable footing with the capacity to invest in infrastructure. In order to achieve these goals, work is currently underway to align the Museum’s people, culture and structure.

We now think of the Museum as a place ‘where our stories live’. This branding was consolidated during the year and now informs all of our attitudes about how we position the Museum in the lives of Australians.

This year we placed particular emphasis on the idea of the National Museum as an educational resource. There were many dimensions to this. School visitation continued to be strong, with 84,282 students experiencing the Museum’s educational programs. Looking further into the future, we are actively engaged in aligning the Museum’s programs with the developing national curriculum in history. We have a great deal to offer in this area, not only in tailoring school visits to the themes in the curriculum, but in developing resources, in print and online, that can be used in the classroom setting.

In June 2012, in conjunction with Ryebuck Media, we launched the latest in the series of Australian History Mysteries at Lake Mungo in south-west New South Wales. I was honoured to be at the launch; it was an ideal conjunction of the Museum’s long-standing interest and expertise in Australian archaeology, a desire to work in close collaboration with Indigenous communities, and a commitment to quality and targeted educational material.

Seeing the Museum’s educational role in its widest context means a commitment to the idea of lifelong learning. The Museum’s public programs play an important role in introducing very young children to the life of the Museum, as well as creating exciting and attractive programs for people of all ages. Public programs associated with the exhibition Travelling the Silk Road: Ancient Pathway to the Modern World were spectacularly successful. The Silk Road night market, held in June 2012, attracted an estimated 10,000 visitors to the Museum, the highest attendance at an event at the Museum since we opened in 2001.

The success of this and other programs during school holidays has heightened our awareness of the capacity constraints on the Museum’s site and the increasing pressures on infrastructure, such as visitor parking. The Museum looks forward to working with various levels of government to achieve long-term solutions to these problems, which are highlighted by our success.

The major exhibitions mounted during the year focused on Asia. In September 2011, we launched A New Horizon: Contemporary Chinese Art, the second part of an exchange with the National Art Museum of China (which hosted Papunya Painting: Out of the Australian Desert in 2010). A New Horizon drew attention to the significant role the Museum can play in cultural diplomacy. This exhibition included several highly significant paintings in the history of twentieth-century Chinese art and gave us the opportunity to engage with the considerable academic interest in this subject.

March 2012 saw the opening of Travelling the Silk Road: Ancient Pathway to the Modern World, an exhibition developed to tour by the American Museum of Natural History. The exhibition focused on four major ancient cities along the 7400 kilometres of the ancient trading route: Xi’an, Turfan, Samarkand and Baghdad. The exhibition was particularly popular with families, and attracted 55,778 visitors.

Although it was a smaller exhibition, Inside: Life in Children’s Homes and Institutions was no less impactful in its engagement with history. Emerging from the Australian Government’s 2009 apology to the children who experienced the abusive aspects of institutional care, the exhibition was assembled with the extensive help of care leavers. The exhibition continued the Museum’s long-standing commitment to examine the truth about our past and to reveal the stories of Australians that have previously been suppressed or ignored. This exhibition was supported by the Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

This year saw some notable additions to the National Historical Collection, acquisitions that have rapidly found their place in the displays of the Museum, as well as the launch of a campaign to undertake the extensive restoration of the 1948 Royal Daimler landaulette.

During the year construction commenced on two projects that will have a significant impact on the future of the Museum. The extension of the Museum’s administration wing and the construction of a new cafe will increase the space available for collection access in the Museum. The most visible expression of this will be the display of large objects from the Museum’s collection in the Hall, which will be installed by late October 2012.

Other initiatives introduced in 2011–12 included significant enhancements to the Museum’s website and the introduction of a new magazine, The Museum. This magazine has been widely distributed across Australia and its first issue was encouragingly well-received. The Museum is the latest in a range of new ways we seek to bring the Museum, its collection and its ideas to the widest possible audience.

Andrew Sayers AM
August 2012