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The future of museum multimedia

Carol Cartwright, Nicole Ma, Michael Hill and Tikka Wilson, 26 August 2010

RACHAEL COGHLAN: Welcome to the National Museum of Australia. My name is Rachel Coghlan and I look after public programs here.

It is my pleasure to introduce Carol Cartwright who is the President of the ACT branch of Museums Australia. She is also the head of Education and Visitor Services at the Australian War Memorial. Thanks very much for coming.

CAROL CARTWRIGHT: Thank you, Rachael. It is lovely to see you all here this afternoon on this cold wintery Canberra day. Firstly, I would like to acknowledge that we are gathering on the land of the Ngunnawal people and we acknowledge their traditions, past and present.

On behalf of Museums Australia ACT branch and the National Museum of Australia, I am delighted to welcome you today to this forum: ‘The future of museum multimedia’. We have a couple of interesting speakers lined up, and it should be a great couple of hours. As Rachael said, my name is Carol Cartwright and I am the President of the ACT branch of Museums Australia. Museums play a really important role in our lives, particularly as most of us gathered in this room today probably work in a museum or are a frequent visitor to one. Of course here in Canberra we are surrounded by some of the finest museums and galleries not only in the nation but also in the world. In my paid job, I am the head of education and visitor services at the Australian War Memorial and I have worked in the visitor services and public programs for most of my working life. So I am a bit passionate about visitors, their experiences and how we can measure them and do better with them. I am really interested to see where the new technologies are taking us and what the future is for us in that area.

This program today is a part of the National Museum’s programming in association with this magnificent exhibition Yiwarra Kuju: The Canning Stock Route. Hopefully you have all had a chance to look at the fantastic multimedia display which forms a part of that exhibition, because these are the people that made it and this is the opportunity you have today to listen to what went on to produce that. Museums Australia is very happy to be in partnership with the National Museum today and to support this program. Just to let you know the order of things: we will be introducing Nicole Ma in a minute, then Michael Hill will follow, then Tikka Wilson and we will open it up for questions at the end. It sounds like a great day.

Firstly, I would like to introduce Nicole Ma. She is the multimedia producer and mentor. Based in Melbourne Nicole produced and coordinated this project with the exhibition’s film and mentors the project’s four Aboriginal multimedia practitioners. Co-founding Blue Horse Films in New York in 1990, the company won a prestigious screenwriting award at the Sundance Film Festival. Nicole then returned to Australia and was appointed executive producer for this project and this inaugural exhibition. She has a number of recent documentaries and I know she is working on another one right now. I am looking forward to hearing Nicky speak. Please welcome Nicky to the microphone, thank you. [applause]

NICOLE MA: Good afternoon everyone. Thank you for coming. Thanks, Carol, for that introduction. The Canning Stock Route is a huge, sprawling project that extended over three to four years with a core team of about 14 people. It was initiated by Carly Davenport and Tim Acker. They presented the idea to FORM, which is an independent arts organisation based in Perth. I want to quote Carly who said:

It began with the idea of the road. One track cutting a single line across three deserts: the Great Sandy, the Little Sandy, the Gibson … In the remote communities of these deserts, Aboriginal people have their own histories of the stock route, which they have often recorded in paintings.

These artists, many of them stars of the contemporary art world, work in their communities’ art centres, the small cooperatives that enable desert painters to pursue their artistic careers. It was in collaboration with these art centres that FORM … proposed to set up a creative project dedicated to researching artists’ connections with the Canning Stock Route story.

So it was an ambitious idea. The Canning Stock Route runs through country which has over 15 language groups. Whilst the story of Aboriginal art in Western Australia is also intricately woven with the Canning Stock Route, at the time, droving and drought caused many of the family groups to move out of the deserts. This movement to mission towns and stations established communities living on the edge of the deserts, which in turn saw the genesis and subsequent flourishing of the Aboriginal art movement.

I had been working for a number of years prior to this project in Fitzroy and came on board initially as a producer for a six-week trip that Carly and Tim proposed to do along the Canning Stock Route in July 2007. I didn’t have a brief. They said to me, ‘Just film everything’. So I thought ‘Well, yes, I can do that.’ I took with me a cinematographer and a sound recordist. We had our own car and we filled up the car with as much equipment as we thought we could take, which included cranes, editing material and we had three or four different types of cameras.

The core convoy was six four-wheel drives and a team of 20 which included mechanics, nurses, curators and anthropologists. Over 100 artists with familial connections to the stock route and who had historical background to country surrounding the stock route joined us at various points. The idea was that we would have four painting camps along the route. Within the six weeks we spent the first week travelling along the stock route. Then we stopped at Well 17, which is Durba Springs, and had our first painting trip. It became a mammoth logistical exercise, as you can imagine.

When we stayed at the camps for three to five days, the artists could paint. Being in country stimulated creativity and the sharing of stories. Some of these stories were handed down through family and some were personal experiences living in country. This is when we realised the amount of material that we were going to collect from people who had actually experienced living around the stock route and had stories of first contact, of droving, of the animals and plants that existed in that time.

From the trip the heart of the material for the project was collected, and at that time we realised that we just had to abandon all expectations and allow the days to unfold. This film I am about to show you is one of about 100 interviews that we did on the route. Dusty was a drover. His country Durba Springs was the first place that we stopped for our painting camp.

[Interview played]

NICOLE MA: I wanted to show this film. This is one of the films in the interactive where there are over 150 films to show the range of material that we had. During the trip I was mentor to three film makers who joined us and when we stopped for the painting camps we filmed what was going on. The three film makers made their own films in an editing studio that we set up under the trees and they produced a number of short films that are featured in the exhibition. This mentor program actually became one of the most important aspects of the project. The films made by the emerging film makers had a very fresh, live aspect to them. They lived in the communities and the films were about their families and their lives. It was their story and showed the vibrancy and colour of their lives. Eventually these three emerging film makers - plus one other who decided that he wanted to come on board as well, Curtis Taylor - became part of our core team.

Over the next three years while FORM was looking for financing to fund the project which kept growing. Every time we had an idea it required money, so FORM had to go out and see if there was money to back the ideas that we had. They were also negotiating a partnership with the National Museum. We eventually realised that it was going to become an exhibition. We had all this material that needed to be collated and designed to suit an exhibition.

Over the two years we travelled together a lot, the core team of 14. We had urban meetings which were curatorial where the emerging curators and the film makers came together and the design and shape of the exhibition were discussed and evolved. The paintings were curated, and then I came in and looked at what paintings and stories were being told through the exhibition and put in my feedback as to how I felt the media could support those stories.

After the two years FORM was committed to give the artists and their families control over their knowledge and to ensure that sensitive materials were safeguarded. As a result, all the translations and community clearances of stories meant we had to take repeated visits to communities to complete this. So as we were talking to artists and communities they said, ‘If you are going to come we might as well do workshops,’ so as usual everything became bigger than Ben Hur. It started out as we just wanted to go and get approvals to use certain stories. Then they came to us and said, ‘We would like to do a workshop. We want to paint more. We want to make artefacts. We want to sing and dance. We want to transfer the knowledge to the young people.’ So we ended up doing numerous workshops at all the different communities as well as these urban curatorial meetings.

All of the emerging film makers and me documented workshops, meetings, approval bush trips, interviews with artists and contributors. We were collecting libraries of content. The sheer amount of material was overwhelming. There were over 120 paintings, 200 hours of film, over 20,000 photos, 100 oral histories, most of which were in language needed to be translated, maps, historical research, as well as cultural and social data. On the one hand, we knew that this was an incredible resource for the communities in the future as they were going to be given all their copyright material back. However, looking at it from an exhibition point of view, we were only touching the tip of the iceberg. We started to debate how we could pull this information down so that the public could share in it and we came up with an idea of doing an interactive.

So we started to throw around stories. We realised that the European side of the history of the exhibition was not being told. There were no artefacts from that time. We were offered the use of [Alfred] Canning’s map. That’s how the idea of a mapping interactive came about. We thought we would layer interactives with maps, because everything that the Aboriginals were painting was about mapping and Canning was about mapping. It was an obvious choice to use mapping as a basis for the interactive.

The signature piece merges artistic, cultural, historical, ecological and scientific data. It’s a multi-disciplinary approach but it was all tied together by the first person stories that the artists gave us and the fact that they were fully involved in the project and had complete jurisdiction on what was and what was not to be told.

One of my mentorees, Curtis Taylor, said - and this is part of the signature piece:

The missionaries, they concentrated on the kids and that’s what we are doing here. For this to start we are using the newest technology with the oldest culture.

And to me it feels like we have used technology in a way where we have an opportunity to embed these libraries of content. It may be that not everyone will be able to see everything that is in it, but we know it is embedded in this way for the future - for the Museum and for the public.

I would like to play another film called Kunawarritji which came out one of the workshops we did. This film is also in the signature piece.

[Film played]

NICOLE MA: I would just like to read you a quote from our anthropologist John Carty on maps:

Canning relied on his Aboriginal guides to map the surrounding waters in ground paintings. His own map of the Canning Stock Route could be seen as a symbol of colonial myopia, a ribbon of wells and native waters within a vast fabric of emptiness. Yet invisible to Canning and to most of us today were the complex fields of knowledge and information, delineated within the very landscape in the detailed network of Dreaming tracks. Within this matrix of stories, songs and ceremonies, every aspect of the country was wholly mapped.

Thank you. [applause]

CAROL CARTWRIGHT: Thank you, Nicky. We are now going to ask Michael Hill to join us. Michael is the director of Lightwell. He formed the company in 2004. He studied painting at the National Art School and has a BA in sculpture and installation from the Sydney College of Art and also works in media art. He’s interested in performance and theatre as well as media production. He exhibited films and videos as a media artist before working with the Australian Film Commission in the mid-1990s. There he financed and oversaw the production of interactive projects and experimental media. He has produced video and interactive programs for museums and other public spaces for more than ten years, including programs for the War Memorial - and I work very closely with Michael there - the Australian Museum, the National Sports Museum, National Archives of Australia, and he’s working on a couple of exciting projects at the moment. Michael, come and tell us all about the multimedia. Thank you. [applause]

MICHAEL HILL: Thanks Carol. It’s a pleasure to be here. It’s a great opportunity because we do a lot of work in museums and it’s very difficult to evaluate the work once it’s been installed. It is terrific to come along and today to discuss and evaluate the project. Often to evaluate you are sidling up to groups of visitors and trying to overhear their conversations and things like that. It either results in some strange looks or police action. So it’s good not to have to face that again.

The talk today is titled ‘The future of multimedia in museums’ which sounds quite grand, and hopefully I am not going to spoil the party by saying, ‘we’re going to talk about a project that is already a little bit in the past,’ but maybe out of that we can tease out some of these themes and talk about the future of multimedia later on.

I am going to talk a little bit about interactive tables. Many of you would have already interacted with some of these sorts of installations before. These are two examples from the early 2000s [slide shown]. The top one on the left is the numbers table at the Berlin Jewish Museum and the bottom right is the timeline table at the Churchill War Rooms. These kinds of installations have been around for a relatively long time in the scheme of museum installations so there’s a few antecedents for the project out in Yiwarra Kuju.

We have also developed these kinds of things for the Australian Museum and another one for ACMI [Australian Centre for the Moving Image] down in Melbourne. We have developed five of these projects now and this character of them being tables is very important. The fact that people gather around tables and are used to talking across tables or meeting around a table is very useful because it changes people’s behaviour about how they interact with the media. The best thing about it is this kind of conversation that people have across the table when they come and start to interact with the piece. There are all sorts of ways we have tried to develop those kinds of conversations or opportunities for conversation in the one road interactive. It is fantastic to see it when it happens.

Being a table, it’s on a horizontal plane. That is one of the things, as we developed the project for one road, that Susan Freeman, the exhibition designer, picked up on it: the fact that you wanted to privilege the objects of the paintings. You walk into the space and see these fantastic paintings all on the vertical plane; we didn’t want to lessen the impact by having the media on a vertical plane as well. Having it on the horizontal, you have to approach it and then you see it, but you don’t necessarily see it in your peripheral vision while you are looking at the objects themselves.

Also these tables are multi-user. First of all there is the benefit of having lots of people able to interact at the one time and share their interactions. People can interact in parallel. They can interact together in the case of the painting area at the end of the table where people draw things together. People can do high information things like you can be reading text or looking at video, and other people can be squashing ants or moving their hands through the sands. It is great for families, parents with their children, by creating opportunities where family groups can bundle together but be working in parallel rather than all on the one thing.

The multi-userness is interesting as well, because it raises a lot of issues about negotiation and consent and how you arrange yourselves around the table. It’s in the early days of these tables so we don’t really know how far to push the idea of how to create a space where everybody has a happy time - as long as your happy time doesn’t impinge on my happy time then we are all going to have a happy time - but it’s something we could push more where you give more control to individuals perhaps and they can take over the table in certain ways. That might be a point to think of in future.

But what makes this current example different from those previous examples is the fact that this is multi-touch so individuals’ hand movements and individuals’ fingers - just like the iPad and the iPhone - are tracked individually. That opens up this whole range of gestures that people can use to move media around such as with the pinch and the zoom, with the rotate, with pushing things away and dragging and offering things with velocity. So that instead of it just being a point and click on a traditional touch screen in a way that feels like a contained or an ordered experience when it is all point and click, here it’s a little bit more free form and people are able to have some sort of agency over the content. And especially in this case with those paintings where you can zoom them up to as big as you want them and then zoom them down again and put them away. That kind of stuff gives you a totally different experience. When coupled with looking at the paintings, the actual object, it is definitely look and don’t touch; whereas over here you can look and peer into different details. That is certainly a fantastic augmentation or interplay between the authentic object and the virtual object.

Just talking through the process of how we came about this project arrived, Nicky Ma approached us early on at the beginning of last year where they had this kind of idea for a table and they wanted to use the map. That was about as much as we had at that point. They wanted to use this Canning map and annotate or populate it with a whole lot of stories, paintings and text objects. The map is fantastic for the table orientation. We are used to looking down onto maps, sharing a map on a table and all looking from different directions. It made a natural fit with the interactive table.

The other parameter that decided a whole lot of design things was the fact that they wanted this exhibition to travel. We normally would have naturally kind of fallen into the other idea of those earlier examples I showed where it was all projected down onto a hard table top using projectors and cameras to pick up the touches of visitors or the hand position of visitors. All of those early examples I showed used projectors and infra-red enabled cameras. It’s great for that big, spectacular, theatrical look but not so good for all those multi-touch gestures I have mentioned and also not so good to travel. There is quite a lot of hardware in the ceiling and delicate calibration is required. For this thing to travel - in six months time it moves off to Perth and then perhaps another six months after that it moves to, I don’t know where - it would be a bit of a pain to rebuild that rig each time.

So we started to look around for these technologies that might enable travel, and this particular unit suddenly came on the market. Even though it was a little bit experimental when we were first looking at it, I think the only ones in Australia were owned by CSIRO, they were in this factory in Finland making them one at a time. But luckily, I hope, we backed the right horse and they are now a burgeoning company sending these things all over the world. It’s basically that whole projection device. It doesn’t use a projector in it. It’s like an LCD screen and the whole rig is packed into one box so you can fit all these boxes together and each one has individual calibration. It basically means that it has extremely high resolution, especially compared to projectors, which is fantastic for text, videos and still images. The fine detail that was in the map that I don’t think we could have achieved with projectors we were able to achieve with this particular technology.

Here are some early visualisations [image shown] where quite early on this shape emerged of an arrangement of these cells or these screens along the shape of the Canning Stock Route. The map itself has a lot of blank space that Alfred Canning thought was blank but that we now know shouldn’t be blank. It enables us to populate the whole area where the content could naturally sit.

One of the first things we always do once we have kind of established the parameters of our design is to do a paper mock-up on foam core. We measured up the map and got it all printed just to give a sense of what it feels like to walk around the place and what it feels like in terms of space. We soon found that these little niches within the screen array emerged and realised they would be great nooks for people to stand at, and small groups or individuals could stand at different sized ones. That kind of natural tessellation, I guess, of the screen array allowed for a more broken up and an interesting shape than it would be if it was just a big, long bar.

As we started to work up the design, one of the key things we thought about was not only the volume of content that Nicky has already described and enumerated but also because of the size of this thing - none of us had really seen an eight-metre interactive before and we didn’t know how people would respond to it and we thought fatigue would be an issue, particularly given the complexity of the rest of the exhibition anyway - by the time you arrive at this you have probably had enough, so to expect visitors to work their way along from one way to another was a bit of an ask. So we started to think about ways of trying to introduce variety into the experience so that people move along these screens and see something different at each place.

This early design [image shown] was almost like a wire frame to throw in some ideas about how you could look at things in a variety of ways. But early on we knew we wanted to have this kind of satellite viewer with ways of showing video, ways of showing text and ways of showing chaptered stories. We also had to think about the clash of audio from multiple sites because audio is a big issue with these multi-user displays. But ultimately we thought we would wing it and see what happened. In the final result it seems to be okay in that because people have control over their individual video program - they can rewind, fast forward and do those sorts of things - competing audio sources doesn’t seem to be as much of an issue as we had originally imagined.

We started to think of different ways of populating this content but also this early version shows a thematic break-up of the content. We thought the first screen might be about conflict; the next one might be about droving; the next one might be about painting techniques. We were thinking of a thematic break-up of the content. The idea there was that you would move through more regularly than if you just saw a massive bunch of icons on screen and you didn’t quite know what you were getting into until you touched them.

This is another developed design [image shown]. One of the things we also had to work out was because you can reach across these screens and touch a button on the other side, how do you orient the content when it gets touched from the other side? We had to think about ways of launching content from different sides of the screen. Our initial ideas turned out to be stupid ones so we moved on from those.

During this whose process there was a bit of a dance going on between the content team and the design team: we were waiting for content; they were waiting for design. Because this massive amount of content could be gathered, it could have been carved up in a myriad of ways. I think Nicky and Monique La Fontaine were waiting to see the design so they could go and chop bits off and put it into the design; and we were waiting to see what the overall picture of the content was. So there was a bit of back and forth between us trying to work it out. We had a few goes of: ‘We’ll do the content this way’ and they went off and kind of managed and then we said, ‘That didn’t work.’ It was an interesting time.

But ultimately once we got to see it and to understand it we soon started to realise that the content had to be geographically located. So this idea of breaking the screens up into themes or breaking the screens up into any other form didn’t work. It all had to be based on the map, and that story and that painting had to exist on the map in its location. So the one thing that certainly I feared -this kind of confetti of dots over the entire map - turned out to be the best solution. I think ultimately it has worked well because people do just make their way around and are continually brought back to place and to the country.

This is a final bit of video. There is a lot of not didactic content but there is a lot of text and images, and so we had to have a lot of leavening of fun and respite from the story and the non-fiction side. So the 3D animals, the sand and the ants try to give you something else to do before making another launch on the content.

[Video shown]

MICHAEL HILL: We might end it there and we will throw over to Carol and take your questions later. Thank you [applause]

CAROL CARTWRIGHT: Thank you, Michael, that was fabulous. I have popped in there a couple of times and I have had a little play but I really have to go back because there are all sorts of things there that I hadn’t found yet. That is one of the great things about an attractor that will keep people coming back to it. I can see the potential for learning with mum, with dad, with grandpa showing each other in that social environment of learning together. It looks fantastic. I must say I liked doing the sand drawing. I just thought that suited me. There are all sorts of potential in there. Thank you very much for that.

I was also reminded as part of my life as an exhibition developer that there is no such thing as an easy development and that is because it is such a complex business. So I wasn’t surprised to hear that it went back and forward and back and forward and there were lots of different ideas and themes because that is how things happen. The reality is you came back to the map which underpins all of what this exhibition was about in the beginning and, as you say, that sense of place and that geography was probably the right place to be at. Having watched visitors access all sorts of information, programs and exhibitions that if you had expected them to start at one end and move across they wouldn’t have done that anyway so now they can dip in at any point and get a snapshot via a geographical space is probably a great way to work. I am really looking forward to our conversation now. Thank you for that, Michael.

I did say that Tikka was going to talk to us. Tikka is going to join us on the couch and weave through some of her role. She is the multimedia and web person here at the National Museum, so you can imagine that she had a critical part in all of this as the project came together. What we would like to do is thank Michael very much for your entertainment and we are going to move up here to our seats where I am hoping you have a number of good questions stored up to tease out some of the issues not only around this particular project but also about the potential of multimedia in the museum, so thank you.

Here we are on the couch – you will remember Michael, Nicky, Tikka and roving microphones. Just remember that it is being filmed for later use. When you want to ask a question, hand up and identify who you are. If you have a particular person you are putting your question to, identify which one of these people or it may be a general question for discussion, and make sure you speak into the microphone.

I guess I could start by saying that I am a visitor junkie and I think the potential of multimedia in the Museum looks very exciting. Having seen just a glimpse of what this is all about, would we like to explore how that is going to work for us and where is that potential? Michael, do you want to start leading us that way? You have dibbled into the potential.

MICHAEL HILL: Sure. The potential for me in terms of these sorts of experiences is this notion of interactivity and breaking beyond the traditional form of the screen and the relationship between media and the collection object. They are the key things that museums do really well. Some of these experiences are different enough from what you can do at home. It’s an important thing that you don’t do stuff on a small screen that you can do over the web - within exhibitions I am talking about - or a kind of cinematic experience. I think those things are kept for those sorts of media, because the budgets aren’t there in museums. But what you do have are fantastic objects, and the connection between the collection object and the media is where the media becomes really rich. At the War Memorial we early on produced the media for the striking by night using the ‘G for George’ Lancaster. If you just watch that by itself you would just think it is terrible, Micky Mouse and hopeless, but then when you see it in connection with the object itself and it suddenly comes to life, the authenticity of the object is the thing that interests me. Just returning to the point about interactivity, that also seems to be the big thing that museums can offer, these spaces that are different enough from anything you can do at home - people just love it.

CAROL CARTWRIGHT: They do indeed. Another observation is that I guess the old days of didactic panels and objects in glass cases are gone. Today the young person particularly expects some kind of interactive experience when they visit us.

QUESTION: The virtual exhibition is absolutely beautiful and I am wondering: once the exhibition is over, can it be migrated back to the desktop? What is the potential for people to do a virtual exhibition at home, given that you have done this beautiful thing for people who come?

TIKKA WILSON: We are certainly thinking about that. As you can see from the enormity of the project we really put that to one side, but that is certainly one of the next steps. I agree that it’s wonderful and we should be able to migrate it into the next space.

CAROL CARTWRIGHT: I certainly hope so.

QUESTION: I am Jackie Trove from the University of Canberra. This is a wonderful exhibition in terms of teaching on a range of levels about the Western Desert - its peoples, its history, its visual art - and also teaching about how to put together good teaching materials. I love your online education kit and I like the hard copy version too. This is the kind of hard copy version, if you can make that connection, because it is so virtual. This is perhaps for you, Tikka: I would love to see it realised as an online web enabled resource. Is that a possibility? Can you migrate your tables into cyberspace so that you can download some component of it?

TIKKA WILSON: Certainly we can migrate the content and some of the interactivity. But even though multi-touch screens are being released onto the home market, I think the aspect of having ten screens, that clearly we can’t do so easily - but yes, absolutely.

QUESTION: What I was particularly thinking of is that now most classrooms have interactive whiteboards and I see them less used in high schools, unfortunately. This is the kind of exhibition and basic e-media type display that I think would work at any level of schooling, particular aspects of it.

TIKKA WILSON: Yes, I concur.

QUESTION: John Worthington from the Australian National University. The last two speakers asked the same question I was going to ask, so I will try to ask a slightly different question: how do you communicate the different nature of this to the people who might come to it? I just came expecting a normal exhibition and was remarkably impressed when I got here, but what it was not clearly communicated and I was expecting a few old stock whips and things hanging up. I just wonder if hardly anybody is going to come because they won’t realise what’s in there. How do you communicate the different nature of this to the potential audience? The last question is: where do you buy these screens because my colleagues in the defence department would want to buy them?

MICHAEL HILL: They probably already have them.

CAROL CARTWRIGHT: We almost need a person from the marketing department of the National Museum. Tikka, do you want to take it?

TIKKA WILSON: Yes. So you thought it was going to be whitefella history basically - stock whips and whatever - because it was the Canning Stock Route part of the title that grabbed your imagination rather than Yiwarra Kuju? That didn’t mean anything to you. That is interesting. We have certainly been making an effort to communicate that it is the Indigenous story and that it is told through paintings.

CAROL CARTWRIGHT: I would just add to that: being in the museum sector I had heard this exhibition was in development for quite a long time and I, like you, just grabbed on to the Canning Stock Route part of it. I came on the first Saturday it opened after the Thursday night opening and was absolutely blown away by it. The first thing I said to some of my colleagues back at work on the Monday was: I’m not sure that people know what they’re going to see, and I don’t know whether they are going to get that message out. So I am with you a bit. I think the National Museum knows that and will probably vary the messages they are getting out there.

The interactive part of it isn’t obvious to anybody. It is quite nice when you happen upon it because you discover it. One of the nice things about museum visits is that we know that the people who come expecting something and then you surpass your expectations is even greater. But the risk is, of course, that a whole lot of people out there mightn’t know what they are going to miss, and this is where word of mouth becomes your greatest seller. I’m quite sure that in the next month - and I am already hearing it around town - the word is going out get out there that this is a fabulous exhibition. But you’re right, I think I expected more about a stock route and less about contemporary Indigenous art. Although I knew the interactive was happening, I didn’t expect the level and complexity of that interactive.

TIKKA WILSON: That is really helpful. I will certainly feed it back.

CAROL CARTWRIGHT: I am sure Rachel will talk to the marketing people.

QUESTION: I am Richard Le Monde and I am an information researcher. When you were talking about interactivity, has the notion of our mobile internet interactivity ever come into the discussion? We all carry interactive machines in our pocket but we talk about foreign interactive machines, the whiteboards and stuff?

MICHAEL HILL: Your question is: could we integrate mobiles and that sort of technology into the broader experience?

QUESTION: Yes.

MICHAEL HILL: I am probably quite old-fashioned. I love going to places where you can get something that you can’t get anywhere else.

QUESTION: That is what I was talking about. You get headphones when you go to the library but it is very limited.

MICHAEL HILL: It becomes a destination; it becomes something to go to in the flesh with your physical person.

QUESTION: I wasn’t separating them; I was talking about combining them.

CAROL CARTWRIGHT: Using it as a tool in the space.

MICHAEL HILL: Within the space. I guess there are ways of interacting - we often get asked to create programs where you can bluetooth in and get the media off the device and on to your home device to take away. But when you start to go through the steps required to do that for a multitude of phones it becomes really difficult - that is not to say it doesn’t happen elsewhere in the world. It’s not something that we look at. We like to have this relationship with objects and media directly rather than augmented through yet another device, but it’s still interesting.

CAROL CARTWRIGHT: There are certainly some museums that are using a variety of technology and tools.

MICHAEL HILL: Especially GPS interpretations of heritage locations, that is definitely being used.

QUESTION: It’s Stephanie from the War Memorial. I have a couple of questions, one for Nicky and one for Michael. Nicky, you said that you went up without a brief, and I am sure we have all had the experience of finding ourselves in the deep end but having fun at the same time. But you also said you had to abandon your expectations. I just wondered if you could tease that out a bit more: what did you expect or what did you find yourself abandoning along the way?

NICOLE MA: As a film maker I really have to frame what I am doing and at least go out there with an idea and also brief my crew. So I couldn’t do that. It’s very hard because I knew that at the end of it they would look at me and say, ‘Can you make a film out of this?’ and I would have to be able to say ‘Yes, I can.’ When I started the project I made a list of all the things that we could shoot and that could potentially be worked into some sort of story, which are the painting camps, the landscape and the bush tucker. Because I had been into the desert a few times already, I knew the sorts of things that we could film and I needed to have drama as well. I had to make sure that everyone who was at all able to carry a camera carried a camera so that we could film any interesting and exciting moments, because these don’t happen very often, as we all know, and you need to be in the right place at the right time. I thought that I was going to make a film at the end of it. I didn’t expect the project to expand the way it has. We actually went into it without any parameters of where and how the Canning Stock Route project was going to evolve into. Does that answer your question?

QUESTION: That is fantastic. I wonder if I could be greedy and ask Michael a question as well: you were talking about the layout of the tables and the fact that people are at a different kind of surface and they are standing together and working in a different way. The implication is that they are learning in a different way as well? I heard something recently about a theory where people are moving at the same time that they are learning then they learn in a different way. Is this the way that museums are going?

MICHAEL HILL: I guess there is a range of responses to that. I think being the father of 13-year-old boy he definitely learns in a different way than my 11-year-old girl. This kind of parallel play that people always talk about in childhood - kids doing things separately but together - is fascinating. As you watch people working with the table that is kind of what happens. People are touching base every now and then with their partner but back doing their thing. So it’s a shared experience but they are getting what they want to do. When they have had enough, they might have read a text story, they close that up for a while and go off and do something else maybe a bit more restful or low information for a while. Those niches or little areas around the table happened due to the geometry of the boxes fitting into the way the stock route was laid out and happily just created these places for little groups or individuals to gather. There was certainly no intent that that would happen, but people have just moved in and populated them.

TIKKA WILSON: If I can add something to that: one thing I have observed while I have been doing a lot of walking around the table is that there seems to be a viral learning thing going on, which I think is really exciting. People will discover something, especially that you can squash ants but other things as well, and you can see it ripple down the table when somebody watches one person do it and then they try it and it moves its way down. That is really interesting, because it’s a different way of sharing. It’s very informal learning but it starts to spark things. Or somebody opens up one of the big paintings that you can stretch around and then somebody else does it. I don’t know exactly what it means but it’s really interesting to observe this ripple effect across a large shared space as opposed to people at even fairly large screens where there is only one driver.

QUESTION: It’s Louise Hamby from ANU. I teach in the museums and collections program. I want to get back to the future that we were talking about before. From listening to your discussions and particularly in relation to the last question to Nicky about what your brief was and what you were anticipating doing, it seems that everything has gone to a short and punchy kind of information level. Nicky said she thought she was going to be making a film, and I would like to go back to that. I think the interactive table is brilliant but there is a part of me that wants to have a bigger picture such as I would have loved to have an actual film about the whole project that lasted more than three minutes. I think there is definitely a place for the short and punchy. It draws people in. Is there no future left for the bigger picture in interactives and museums? Whoever wishes to answer that question, I will be happy with.

NICOLE MA: I would think there is a place for everything. I think the wonderful thing about having content like what this project has is that we are in production with a long version of behind the scenes film about how this project evolved. During our many debates about content, Monique La Fontaine, who is the content manager and curator, and I spent many months debating how to do these stories and how to fit them into the interactive. Me as film maker was always trying to put more of the film into it and make it a story because I keep thinking we have to have a story. In the end we realised that in order for each piece to stand alone, which it had to do because you couldn’t ask people to walk from one end to the other end, we had to develop ideas where each film could stand alone but also have relationship with the rest of the interactive and also have relationship with the exhibition itself. We ended up coming up with, after a lot of arguing, chaptered stories. If you do look at the signature piece, the chaptered stories are eight stories of two to three minutes. You can string them together to actually make a longer film. So if you could be bothered to go through all of them you will see there are longer versions within the signature piece. We have strung them together and it does work if you put all the chaptered ones together, but each chapter works on its own as well. We also developed a scenario where each film could stand alone but also was linked in the chain with other films. Maybe it’s just a different way of looking at film.

TIKKA WILSON: Also I don’t know if you noticed the theatrette when you were in there where we do have some longer-form films, the very large orange space, with three 10-minute films so that you can sit and get more of a narrative. We’re conscious that to ask people to stand for 10 or 15 minutes is a big ask in an exhibition.

QUESTION: In terms of the longer 10-minute films versus the interactive, have you observed whether more people watch the 10-minute films or are more people involved with the table interactives?

TIKKA WILSON: I don’t know about more and less. They are different experiences and people would do both. In going through an exhibition, I love the moments when I can sit down and be with some content, and then I will get up and become active again. In watching people I have noticed that they go in and out of the space. Some people probably prefer one way of absorbing content and others prefer another way.

MICHAEL HILL: It’s an exhibition design issue as well where you are thinking about visitor circulation and hold points where people come in. I personally don’t like going to a place and seeing a half-hour movie, especially if I come in at minute 15 and you see the last half and then you sit there and watch the first half. Places like here [Visions Theatre] are fantastic for that because you can say ‘session time 3.15, be there at the beginning and you can watch a half-hour movie’. Whereas if you put those on the exhibition floor they become either choke points where a great audience comes in and leaves all at once or you get this business of looping video and you see the end before you see the beginning. It’s hard, but I come back to that point of media for its place. Theatrettes like this are great places for the half-hour intense piece. But you are right: we generally now tend to make things broad but shallow rather than deep. Those information kiosks that we used to design used to have 19 levels to them and 33 different things because the hardware was expensive so you would cram all sorts of stuff in there, which would be a very detailed and deep experience. But now it’s much more about having lots of screens and having shorter experiences so that more people can access them and all have an interactive experience at the same time.

CAROL CARTWRIGHT: Towards the end of this exhibition where there is some evaluation about how visitors do access the space, I am sure people will be tracking, following and measuring time - what is the average length of stay and how people do dip into that - we people [in public programs] love that because then we can see it and translate it for the next exhibition development.

MICHAEL HILL: We people hate that when we get the sheet of paper that says ‘average length of time spent in exhibition, 14 seconds, viewing this piece of media, 23 seconds’.

CAROL CARTWRIGHT: Yes, I know.

QUESTION: Hello, Susannah Churchill, I worked here. I was just wondering because I am in the education section and when I am in there I am usually with children and of course they are all flocking around there. I was wondering how it is getting in the older generation when they come in with families? I have noticed with the vertical screens the parents and grandparents stand back and watch all these junior geniuses interacting with the computer. Is this a good way of getting the older people to come in and share it with them across that table because it’s a less threatening format for them?

MICHAEL HILL: What I find is that older people tended to have a fear that with a touch screen they would break something or press the wrong button; whereas now they feel like that sense of play and discovery is so embedded in it that people don’t feel like they are going to break it - at least they are going to have a go and see what happens, but there is no sort of fear. There seems to be a bit more openness to that kind of media rather than ‘what’s this thing expecting of me’. And also because you don’t have a crowd of people behind you watching you touch a touch screen, you are just in there amongst everybody else and learning at the same time, it feels like there is a bit more openness towards it.

QUESTION: It would be interesting to see if there is any follow-up of that and whether people are less threatened by computers as a result of that and doing a longitudinal study of older people’s approach to computers as result.

MICHAEL HILL: Yes, definitely.

NICOLE MA: I was in there this morning and there were no young people around the table, only about six older men and women. They were tentatively touching it but gradually they started to show each other what they were discovering on the table, so they started getting more and more adventurous as it went on and after about ten minutes they were all over the table. As Tikka said, there is something about this particular piece that invites people to learn how to use it because it has on the surface a lot of fun things that children can come in and start doing, but underneath that the older people can come along and realise there is genuine content underneath the fun stuff and then they can start exploring that. So the older generation can show the younger generation that, and the younger generation can show the older generation how to explore. I think it’s going to be interesting to see how it does teach in different ways. I think there is a two-way street there that could happen.

TIKKA WILSON: One of the most gorgeous moments that I observed was when the communities came the night before we launched it. There were kids running around with older people in wheelchairs, the kids were pushing things and the older people were learning and laughing. There was the most amazing ebb and flow of information, including I was watching one older person draw in the sand and do sand teaching with a younger person. It was quite extraordinary.

QUESTION: Hello, Linda Roberts from ACT Heritage: congratulations on a wonderful exhibition. I have a question and perhaps you might see it as looking backwards rather than forwards: is there still any room for tour guides or face-to-face people? Nicky, you have already mentioned that things do complement each other, but in this exhibition do you have any guides or helpers helping people along?

NICOLE MA: We do.

CAROL CARTWRIGHT: We don’t really have anybody on the panel who is from the National Museum front of house -

TIKKA WILSON: But we do have guides, we have our visitor services people. They have reported back to us that they find particularly the interactive a really good talking point and that it’s a place from which they launch off into other things. Absolutely yes, people are vital, I think.

QUESTION: As a tourist destination, are there any plans to make the resources more available to people who don’t speak English as their primary language?

NICOLE MA: Yes.

QUESTION: What do they involve?

TIKKA WILSON: We are hoping to be able to translate a lot more of our material, and clearly digital media makes it easier than printed material. It is certainly very high on our list. Also our visitor services people speak many languages, so our tours are available in multiple languages.

QUESTION: I was going to ask two questions. One: is the wonderful table distracting from the other part of the exhibition and putting that in the shade?

MICHAEL HILL: I will answer that. I don’t think at all. In fact, we were disappointed when the paintings were lit for the first time. We had been working with work lights on and our tables were magnificently glowing and then as soon as the lights came down and the paintings were lit properly, we just thought, ‘Oh, we may as well give up,’ because the paintings looked so fantastic. As soon as you walk in, you know what the show is about when you see that magnificent curve down the left-hand side of all the work. The screens are still screens. It’s still that glossy television kind of look, whereas you see the richness of the paintings. They complement each other.

QUESTION: The other question was: how much of this show or exhibition is going back to the people it came from, and how?

NICOLE MA: The paintings were purchased by the National Museum as a collection, and with that collection they will also get all our research, the film and the photographs. But all that will also be duplicated and get given back to the ten art centres - all the communities that were involved - so basically everything. The Museum will hold it as a repository, and the people will be able to use it in the future, the emerging film makers or whoever needs to see it. All people love looking at any sort of pictures or film about themselves. I think it’s going to be a rich resource for them. Also FORM worked very hard to negotiate copyright to remain with the artists. There are certain protocols with the Museum that have been established with this project that we hope will become the norm in the future - for Indigenous projects anyway.

TIKKA WILSON: I would like to add that the communities specifically selected the National Museum to hold the collection, because they wanted it to be here and they wanted it to be available to the nation rather than locating it in any number of other museums. One of the expectations is that we will make it available online so that everybody will be able to access as much of the material as possible whenever and from wherever into the future. I think to pick up the theme of the future of museums that that is one way we are going. On the one hand there is the physical embodied experience in a museum; and, secondly, there is increasingly an expectation that we all make our collections and all of the interpretive material available to everyone not only in Australia but worldwide. The communities were certainly aware of the worldwide reach of their story, of their paintings and of their history.

QUESTION: Before I hand on the microphone, I would give a big plug for a narrative too. Maybe I am that generation but I would love to see a half hour or little longer narrative to string it all together - these jewels on a necklace.

QUESTION: Anne Blainey from Questacon. I have more of a practical question for Michael. Did it take you a while to settle on using those particular screens? How are you finding them for reliability and durability?

MICHAEL HILL: It is week six [of the exhibition]. We settled on them because first of all they have an LCD foil rather than a projector in them, so we thought straight away there are no lamp changes and not as many heat issues. They have a thin mullion around the edge so you can fit them together and almost pretend that they don’t have a frame. Competing things like the Microsoft surface and those sorts of products have a thicker edge, and when you put them together they kind of look a bit ‘gooby’. That is the reason we went with those ones.

I guess there are other products on the market now but still none with that sort of thin frame to them. All the research came out of the University of Helsinki in Finland where the researchers within the university developed this company that now supports them and ships them all over the world. Because it’s an LCD light source they are meant to live for 50,000 hours without needing to change the lamp. So we will see, and at the bleeding edge that’s all we can do …

TIKKA WILSON: But so far, so good.

QUESTION: Len Glaser, film maker. I am interested if you are able to talk about a bit of the financial structure of how this works, the business structure of relating so many people and so many organisations that have such intense connection and involvement with various pieces of this - I guess you call it a collection, yet it’s a production. I have heard discussion about FORM involved with it and about the National Museum coming on board. But there has been a lot of mention today about things that are still going to happen with the project: the potential for international translation, repatriation of the original work, presentations back, copies and so forth. At this point who is the ‘fearless’ leader in a sense? Therefore, how has the channelling for the various aspects and resources come together, if that can be done briefly and in public?

NICOLE MA: There is a bit of jockeying for position in that regard. The funding happened as we needed the money. As ideas came up and as the project moved forward, FORM went out and looked around at who could fund it. We were initially funded by BHP, who have been very generous. They actually had first option for the collection but they deferred to the Museum, which was very big of them. Western Australia does have a lot of money to put into things like this, and we have been funded to return the material back to the communities. The mentor program was also well funded by the [Western Australian] Department of Arts and Culture. They are very interested in sustainable living for the young people back in the community, not having them come out into our world but being able to get their skills up outside and go back and use them back in their community, which is what has happened with this project. My four mentorees live in their communities. They are very adept at travelling. They come out and learn and go back and take it back but they all will stay within the community. That was well funded.

With the signature piece, we did a big pitch to the Major Fund in WA, and they loved the idea as long as it gets shown in Western Australia. There are certain obligations within each piece of funding we got that we still need to disperse. Basically it was a project that appealed to people’s imagination and, as it grew, the enthusiasm for it seemed to grow as well. We have been pretty lucky with being able to finance the various portions of it. It wasn’t done by one person; it was done by many different funding bodies.

TIKKA WILSON: In terms of the future, it’s still very much a partnership between the National Museum and FORM. FORM took the initiative in the project by bringing the people together, working with the art centres and working with people in WA; and the National Museum has taken the leadership role in the exhibition itself, in producing the multimedia working with FORM and with Lightwell. We will also take the initiative into the future in terms of caring for the collection and making sure that it’s available as it needs to be available.

We don’t do all that many partnerships with non-government bodies. It was pretty interesting to try to manage all of the various requirements that you have as a government body with what we perceived as being the amazing freedom that a non-profit organisation that could say, for example, ‘We’d really like this, let’s find somebody to give us money.’ We are not able to operate that freely. However, we also had in place a fantastic organisation and institution with lots of people that we can bring together to do different things. As a partnership I think it worked really well overall in that we were incredibly complementary and our various strengths worked together really well. Then we worked very hard at collaborating and communicating effectively with each other, because we had very different ways of doing things.

QUESTION: Do you see this as the future of installations in museums (inaudible)?

TIKKA WILSON: It could be one model. There are some incredible strengths in working with different kinds of organisations, and the depth of the exhibition is a testament to that. It was developed curatorially so in collaboration with the communities, which is something we wouldn’t normally have either the time, the energy or the resources to do in such great depth. Of course we collaborate with many people when we are developing exhibitions, but I think FORM did that differently and in a way that would have been difficult for us. But bringing the two together works really well, so I would hope we would be doing more partnerships like this.

QUESTION: Hello, I’m Rochelle. I do home duties and I have two kids that are 11 and 15. I hadn’t actually realised about the tables before I came in this time, and my 11-year-old just refused to come. Now I can go home and tell him - I worked up the courage to go over to the tables today and then I realised what they are about - there are these fantastic tables, and that will get him in to see this show.

I have a couple of questions - one is to Nicky. I imagine now that you have this fantastic technology - I have never seen anything quite like it before - you could put so much into an exhibition in terms of filming that you no longer have to think in terms of ‘I have to throw something away because I haven’t got enough room in this exhibition.’ Has the ability to put so much into the exhibition with this technology meant that your reasons for why you might keep something or why you might throw something away or not put it in an exhibition - have they changed?

My other question to everyone on the panel is: I imagine it makes you think there must be a whole lot of projects out there you can do now that maybe a few years ago you couldn’t even think of doing, because the amount of information that you would need to put into the exhibition would be so great. But now maybe you can think of doing things you couldn’t do before. Would each of you have a favourite project that you might like to do, resulting from now being able to use this technology?

NICOLE MA: It’s an interesting question. First of all, this project is unusual because the amount of time and resources that went into it enabled us to have this amazing range of content. You couldn’t go out with a normal project and collect this sort of content. It needed a team of 14 dedicated people over three years to bring this to fruition. It would be difficult to repeat it again on this scale.

But having said that, as I am watching this project evolve, it is not just that it’s an exhibition now, the future possibilities for the material is immense. I am very proud to say that for the first time in my career I nearly used every frame that I had for the signature piece. I would be searching through the material all the time thinking I need this to put there and to illustrate this and I managed to actually use everything. That was very satisfying for someone whose idea of material in making a film is 1:100. There are huge possibilities, I think. Now we can go out and make a ‘making of’ film. I can give the material to the emerging film makers, and they can use it to make their own little films and do whatever they want - they can have new perspectives, new ideas and new stories come out of it.

What I have learnt is that you can take any material that is shot and give it to ten people and they will come out with different stories. In that way maybe this is a new way of using content and material so that we are not thinking of it in a linear fashion where it can only be used for one thing and then you throw it away. Granted the material in this project - most of it was really a film makers dream because it is all so beautiful. I see the possibilities for it are enormous as an archive, as a library, as returning to country and being used by the community. In that way I think it’s earning its keep for the amount of time and resources that have gone into it. But whether it changes my idea of how I would do it in the future, I shudder to think, to tell you the truth. It was hard.

MICHAEL HILL: I would shudder as well if you had said that you were going to change your way of doing things, because things still have to be edited. You still have to have that kind of capacity. You can’t just give all the out-takes to the visitor and say ‘knock yourself out’, because it’s two or three hours or more of finely edited footage. You need to tell people what you think is important. We all know the experience of the world-wide web. Those skills of editing and shaping the content and creating these little islands of interest are still valuable. But the fact you can have this long tale of media within those areas is of tremendous interest. If you have a particular focus and want to find everything with droving, ‘yes, here’s half an hour of film for you about that.’ So, it’s that sort of stuff. You still have to tell them it’s about droving.

CAROL CARTWRIGHT: There is only so much time that people are prepared to delve into information. That is one of the tricks of putting together an exhibition that will engage the visitor. Not everybody will want to stay and watch every single piece of every bit of information that was collected along the way. The role of the curator, the producer, the designer and all those people who come together is to float the really good stories to the top, make it engaging and find the right communication method to engage that. I think there is potential there for archiving. The world-wide web is out there now so people can delve in and find all sorts of supporting information as well.

TIKKA WILSON: One of the most exciting possibilities is to encourage users to contribute content to it. I don’t think it was appropriate for this particular interactive, but one of the things we are all looking at increasingly is figuring out ways of combining our content with the content that visitors bring or contribute, either when they are here or online and then feeding that through into an exhibition space. It is very complex to manage that but it is certainly one of the potentials I think of this kind of technology.

CAROL CARTWRIGHT: We have about five minutes left.

QUESTION: Peter here. A quick follow up on that one. You said you are thinking of making it available to anyone who wanted to make a film or maybe an Internet presentation. Would that be free or would charges have to be paid to whoever owns the copyright on it? Are you saying it’s open and anyone can take it?

NICOLE MA: No, I wasn’t saying that. I meant that the communities could use it. The material is going back to the ten communities that we worked with so that they would have the opportunity to make what they would like out of it, if they needed to. For instance, when my emerging film makers make a film, they use a lot of archive footage. They also like to have footage of their country, and we have shot all of their country. So they can use take pieces of that and incorporate it into new films that they want to make. I am not saying that anyone could use it, because all this material is copyrighted back to the original owners. Permission needs to be sought if anyone wants to use it.

QUESTION: It sounds like a pretty scary thing to try to get that kind of permission. Thank you.

QUESTION: It was a most marvellous show - to come in at the beginning and see the film in the vestibule where the Aboriginal women are taking the earth and throwing it into the river as a gesture of finding their way in a new territory made me think how we are also finding our way. Then we are coming into a space where with those tables we are given animations, which are obviously wonderful fun, plus also very serious information. I wondered with the flora and fauna that is so important to the Aboriginal people, did you have a botanist or any scientific input with the 14 people that you selected?

NICOLE MA: No, unfortunately, we would have loved to have a botanist. One thing I didn’t use was all the film of flowers that we filmed over the stock route. There are a huge number of flowers and plants out there that we didn’t have the time to research and put into the piece. We did think about it. Flora and fauna was on the bottom of the list. We had a lot of things that we couldn’t include because of lack of manpower and the amount of time it would take to research. In the end it came down to running out of time as well. There were so many more things we would have liked to have put into it.

QUESTION: There seems to be a wonderful opportunity in the future with those tables as well.

MICHAEL HILL: Yes, look out for the sequel.

NICOLE MA: That is true.

QUESTION: Alison from the National Museum. Maybe this is an appropriate time to ask the elephant in the room question: how much did it cost? And is it the case where, while a lot of technology is getting cheaper and cheaper, this is becoming more sophisticated technology so it is actually becoming more expensive?

MICHAEL HILL: I can talk about the screens where I think the Museum paid $20,000 a screen. But they are cheaper than that now - even just in six months - so they will continue to get cheaper. Do you want to talk about how much you paid on the software?

TIKKA WILSON: No.

NICOLE MA: I don’t think you can -

TIKKA WILSON: Development costs. First, I don’t actually know what all of it cost; but, second, it’s the people that are expensive. It’s doing the research, it’s doing the work, it’s bringing it all together; and then what we pay different people to produce things at the end of it is really just the tip. But yes, the screens cost about that much, and the development was part of the whole exhibition contract. I don’t know what the total cost of that was, Alison.

CAROL CARTWRIGHT: That was a good question to end on, wasn’t it? Maybe we would like a final comment from each of the panel members, and then we will start winding up. Tikka, do you have a final one minute for us?

TIKKA WILSON: I think this has been excellent. Thank you all for coming. I really appreciate your coming and looking at the exhibition and playing with the interactive. It’s been an amazing partnership and I have to say it has been absolutely wonderful working with Nicky and Michael. They’re wonderful in their creative thinking and energy that they brought to the project. I can’t value them enough, despite not having put a price on their heads.

I think the future in terms of partnerships between government organisations and a range of different kinds of organisations, including individuals and particularly including creative people, is really going to unfold before us in new and interesting ways. This project is one of those where we were pushing not only the cutting edge of technology and all the issues that that brings, because we never really knew exactly how it was going to work because none of us had done something like that before, and I think that will continue to happen as well.

NICOLE MA: I would like to thank you for coming too. It’s very interesting for me to get feedback on the exhibition and the media within the exhibition because we really weren’t sure of how it would be received because it’s such a big, unwieldy project and there was never in the beginning is a brief. What you see now is three years of sculpting something. You get to the end and you think: what have we done here? What I have learnt from the media and in particular the signature piece is that it’s a wonderful way of people of different genders and different ages being able to come together and interact with something where that hasn’t as yet happened with anything. It’s new in that one can show each other different ways of doing things. Because there are so many different types of content within the interactive it appealed to a wide range of ages, interests with researchers, with people who just want to play and who people who really want to get some real content. While we were doing it I never really thought about that but I actually think it works on that level on different levels.

MICHAEL HILL: As I said before, just to get some feedback is brilliant and it was a brilliant working process on the project as well. It sounds really mundane but you said it, Nicky, there was no brief. Sometimes we get engaged to do museum work and there is a brief that’s tightly written - this is what you do, this is the money we have allowed for it, tender away and if you are lucky you get the tender, and if you’re not, you don’t. The whole process of this particular project was a lot more art-based: here is a lump of money and this is the idea we are all working on. It was a kind of working process where it was like sculpting or like modelling because we were sticking bits of Lego together, and that was fantastically refreshing. I think it liberated everybody, all the way down to the people who were making the ants. The programmer decided just to make them squashable on a whim, and I said, ‘Oh, no, nobody is going to like that, don’t put that in.’ Luckily he ignored me, which gives you some measure of the control I have over my employees. But it’s that sort of thing where everyone contributes and makes their little bit of the cathedral and it’s fantastic. Whereas if it’s a strictly briefed and controlled process often it’s a bit different. That is probably my soap box moment. It was a terrific process, and we would love to be doing more of these sorts of things, especially over such a long period of time.

CAROL CARTWRIGHT: I would like to wind up by saying thank you all for coming this afternoon. We have had an enjoyable conversation. I would particularly like to thank the National Museum that magnificent exhibition out there, and the paintings are definitely the jewels but there is no doubt that this interactive table is something quite special. I think the word is getting around. We love to see different types of people accessing information, enjoying each other’s company and engaging in a subject matter that they may not have expected along the way. We seem to have touched on a whole lot of things in our conversation this afternoon.

I would like to thank Rachael and her events team for hosting and putting this on. Of course I am here as the President of Museums Australia – and I know you are all members. If you are not, come and see me. We can always join you up. It’s great to have these professional development discussions. We are happy to be a partner with the National Museum today. We are having afternoon tea down there and some of us can continue this conversation.

There are always things to talk about. We are always looking to enhances visitor experience prolong their stay extend. There is no doubt in my mind that multimedia and the potential of the technologies that are available to us today, and who knows where the future will lead us. Who would have ever thought 15 years, or whenever it was, when we ‘www’ed the first time how the world-wide web was just going to take over our lives. What a wonderful tool we have out there to access information and these technologies that are available to us. The world and the sky is the limit, I think. We don’t know where it is going to take us, but having an open mind and being ready to embrace it is all a part of just developing and extending that museum experience. Thank you very much for being here today. Lovely to see you. [applause]

Date published: 18 April 2011