Dr Ian Coates has made a profound contribution to the life of the National Museum of Australia since he joined in 1999 to work on the initial development of the Tangled Destinies gallery. As a curator and researcher, Ian was responsible for helping to develop the organising principle for the gallery, as a ‘landscape of ideas’ about our relationship to the Australian continent – a theme that permeates the Museum’s work today.
Ian’s intellectual and conceptual strength has been critical to the success of a series of major exhibition programs over many years. He has played a key role in some of the Museum’s most notable achievements, such as Cook’s Pacific Encounters, Papunya: Out of the Desert, and Yiwarra Kuju: The Canning Stock Route.
As head of the Collections Development Team, he has also made a series of notable acquisitions for the Museum and has responsibility for coordinating the collections work of the Curatorial and Research section.
From 2007, Ian has been responsible for fostering and developing the substantial relationship between the National Museum of Australia and the British Museum, which culminated in the twin exhibition programs Enduring Civilisations: Indigenous Australia and Encounters: Revealing stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander objects from the British Museum. His initial work researching the Indigenous Australian collections at the British Museum inspired this relationship, and led to the establishment of enduring contacts between communities of origin in this country and the British Museum. Moreover, his research uncovered artefacts previously unknown to Australians, such as the illustrations of Torres Strait Islander life made by the artist Tom Roberts in the 19th century.
Ian has made a substantial contribution to research about museums and collections, not least in his role in the two Australian Research Council funded research programs between the National Museum, the British Museum and the Australian National University. More broadly, he has been a key voice in developing the thinking culture of the Museum, and he brings a great sense of clarity and thought to his advocacy. Ian has also been a great encourager and mentor to staff and colleagues, and his calm, unflappable approach is greatly valued by all.
The Director’s Award for Excellence recognises the quality of professional practice and achievement of a Museum staff member. Dr Ian Coates’s work has been an important element in the Museum’s successes since opening its doors, and he continues to search for ways to bring the stories of this country alive, to engage, inform and entertain audiences. This award celebrates his exemplary contribution to the life of the National Museum of Australia.