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Making the new museology work Hise, Beth 1994

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MAKING THE NEW MUSEOLOGY WORK:A Critical Review of Exhibition Developmentat the Australian Museum, SydneybyBETH HISEB.A., Yale University, 1989A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OFTHE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OFMASTERS OF ARTSinTHE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIESDepartment of Anthropology and SociologyWe accept this thesis as conformingto the required standardTHE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIAJune 1994Beth HiseIn presenting this thesis in partial fulfilment of the requirements for an advanceddegree at the University of British Columbia, I agree that the Library shall make itfreely available for reference and study. I further agree that permission for extensivecopying of this thesis for scholarly purposes may be granted by the head of mydepartment or by his or her representatives. It is understood that copying orpublication of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my writtenpermission.(SignDepartment of+The University of Bntish ColumbiaVancouver, CanadaDate 21 J,tv It4DE-6 (2/88)ABSTRACTAustralian museums, encouraged to promote the value of culturaldiversity by Australian government mulitculturalism policies andthe many critics calling for change in museums, are reevaluating many of their cultural programs and introducing newinitiatives. They are implementing community participationschemes, improving access to their collections and programs andbecoming more responsive to the needs, demands and desires oftheir constituencies. But are these new programs and changes inmuseums really meeting the lofty objectives of fosteringequality and promoting the benefits of diversity? This thesiswill analyse the impact and potential long-term effects ofcommunity-oriented museum programs and access strategies byfocusing on the interaction between policy and practice inexhibition development at the Australian Museum, a large museumin Sydney devoted to the natural environment and culturalheritage of Australia. A case study of two cultural exhibitionsand their development reveals the problematic nature of museumand “community” relationships and the wide gulf that existsbetween exhibition objectives and their final outcome.iiTable of ContentsAbstract1]Table of ContentsillAcknowledgementlvIntroduction 1A Brief History of the Australian Museum 5Australian Cultural Diversity 9Government Policies to Manage Cultural Diversity 12New Museology and Multiculturalism at the AustralianMuseum 14Museum Missions 16Visitors’ Experiences 17Communication 19The Identity of Museum Constituents 21Case Study: Two Exhibitions 24Our Place: Australian People, Australian Identity 24Art of the Himalayas:Treasures from Nepal and Tibet 31Discussion 36Conclusion 39Endnotes 43Bibliography 47iiiACKNOWLEDGEMENTI wish to thank many people who made the completion of thisthesis possible: Dr. Julie Cruikshank, my supervisor at theUniversity of British Columbia; Dr. Des Griffin, director of theAustralian Museum and the Board of Trustees at the AustralianMuseum for allowing me to carry out this research; Zoe WakelinKing at the Australian Museum for all of her help; and all thestaff members at the Australian Museum whom I interviewed (JoeBugden, Miriam Chapman, Ross Clenndining, Karen Coote, MikeGray, Anna Gregg, Nan Goodsell, David Horton-James, CarolineMacLulich, Prue May, Belinda Pulvertaft, Adrian Richards, LulaSaunders, Anne Skates, Helen Slarke, Jim Specht, Paul Tacon andZoe Wakelin-King). Thank you all.ivIntroductionMuseums are increasingly seen as institutions able tocommunicate powerful social and political messages’. With equalopportunities an over-arching issue in many countries (Pearce1993:25), museums as public institutions are encouraged to helpeliminate social, economic and political injustices in thesocieties that they represent and serve (Garfield 1989).Theorists of what has been labelled The New Museology (Stam1993) have been particularly vocal in challenging traditionalmuseum practices they feel entrench the status quo of unequalsocial relations2. The New Museology literature calls for changein museums, wanting them to be less elitist and more accessibleand relevant to the general public. Emphasizing the“extraordinary power of the museum experience to frame and shapethinking on the major concerns of the day” (Bloom 1993:48),these critics want museums to abandon their “privilegedinterpretation of knowledge” (Shelton 1992:25), and share theirpower with marginalised, under-represented and disadvantagedpeople (Weil 1990:55).According to New Museology theorists, information is thebasic museum resource to be shared with the public (Stam1993:280). Museums apply this concept using a framework of“access” to make information more available. Access--tocollections, knowledge, archives, programs, interpretations,exhibition-making, exhibition presentation and so forth--is, atpresent, the most popular strategy chosen by museums to promote1diversity and meet the demands of empowerment. In Australia,calls for public institutions to promote cultural diversity, andgovernment initiatives to better understand and manageAustralia’s diverse population3 have echoed and reinforced theNew Museology critiques and demands for access. As a result,many Australian museums are implementing community participationschemes, improving access to their collections and programs andbecoming more responsive to the needs, demands and desires oftheir constituencies4.But are these new programs and changes in museums reallymeeting the lofty objectives of fostering equality and promotingthe benefits of diversity? Many Australian museums have thrownthemselves enthusiastically--if often uncritically--into newprograms, exhibitions and events which appear to answer to themany and varied criticisms of museum values, meanings,interpretations, representations and presentations. Neither thegovernment, instructing museums to reflect Australia’s totalcultural diversity (DASETT 1990:5), nor the New Museologists,urging museums to concentrate on issues of meaning and purpose(Vergo 1989:3; Weil 1990:46), offer any direction for change orpractical advice on how to meet their criticisms.Theorists can afford to be critical and demand overnightchange, but museums run the risk of putting all their resourcesinto short-term programs which may not stand up to criticalanalysis or public review. There has been very little analysisof the concept of access in museums (Anderson 1992:6): to whom2is access granted, for what reasons, with what conditionsattached and with what results. Another disturbing trend is theseemingly ubiquitous tendency to attempt to make supposedlypassive museum audiences active by redefining them as“communities”5 (see Karp 1992:12). Many Australian museums nowsee their constituencies not as individuals but as members ofgroups, usually defined by ethnicity, gender or sexualpreference. Often, their attempts to cater to these groups areas much motivated by economic factors as by political and socialideals. With some exceptions, these “communities” do not demandor even request access to museums or exhibition development,although many are happy to become involved once invited.6.This thesis will analyse the impact and potential long-termeffects of community-oriented museum programs and accessstrategies by focusing on the interaction between policy andpractice at the Australian Museum, a large museum in Sydneydevoted to the natural environment and cultural heritage ofAustralia. Bolstered by a good background knowledge of theMuseum and it’s programs from the three and a half years Iworked in the anthropology division, I began research on thisthesis in July 1993. For 11 months, I have interviewed numerousstaff members7, volunteered on two exhibition project teams andobserved, from the “inside”, the recent cultural initiatives ofthe Museum. This thesis will explore as a “case study” thedevelopment of two cultural exhibitions: a semi-permanentgallery Our Place: Australian People, Australian Identity3featuring computer interactives, audio-visuals, performances anda community exhibition area; and Art of the Himalayas: Treasuresfrom Nepal and Tibet an international touring “art” exhibition.Although very different in content and style, theseexhibitions both involved members of the general public in theirdevelopment and implementation. With its Community AccessProgram, Our Place is an attempt to create a new and innovative,more collaborative approach to exhibitions. Art of theHimalayas, following a series of similar temporary exhibitions,represents a more conventional and tested approach to “communityinvolvement” in exhibition development. These exhibitions, bothopened in 1994, are worth considering in some detail as theyillustrate two very different “community access” strategies ofthe Australian Museum. Together they reflect the Museum’sgeneral response to New Museology critics and governmentmulticultural directives.This thesis will look at how the Australian Museum arrivedat these exhibitions by considering it’s history, the Australianmulticulturalism debate, the general criticisms of museums inthe New Museology literature and how the Museum has responded tothese pressures. I will detail the process of exhibitiondevelopment for Our Place and Art of the Himalayas as theyhappened inside the Museum, and evaluate the end products as an“outsider” visiting each exhibition.These exhibitions represent a fundamental problem faced bymany museums that museum exhibitions rarely completely meet the4(often) idealistic objectives set for them at their inception.In the case of these two exhibitions, the communityparticipation programs and access strategies used in theirdevelopment only partially work towards the empowerment ofdisadvantaged and marginalised peoples and foster tolerance andthe benefits of diversity. While it may seem self-apparent to amuseum “insider” that exhibitions combine what is desired withwhat is practical, the general museum-going public, andespecially “outsiders” involved in exhibition development, areunaware of this compromise. A critical review of exhibitiondevelopment, looking at both the process and product, isessential to understanding why this gap between policy andpractice is so wide in museums and what can be done to narrowit.A brief history of the Australian MuseumThe Australian Museum was established by the British colonyof New South Wales in 1827 as a depot for newly discoveredscientific specimens just as the real inland exploration of theAustralian continent was beginning. It enjoys the distinction ofbeing one of the oldest museums in Australia, as well as anearly scholarly meeting place “in a land which possessed nouniversity, no scientific academy and no valuable public libraryof scientific works” (Blainey 1979:i)8. The Australian Museumwas officially named in 1836 and placed under the management ofTrustees (Strahan 1979:15). The first permanent building, built5in 1846 on its present site, opened it’s public galleries in1852 (ibid:20). By mid-century, the Australian Museum haddeveloped into a professional institution devoted to zoology,geology and anthropology with some international reputation forresearch in these areas (Strahan 1979:37). By 1920, what beganas a colonial scientific depot had become a respected naturalhistory museum specializing in the acquisition, research andpublic presentation of the natural world and of anthropologicalartifacts from Australia and the Pacific.Over the next thirty years from the 1920s until the mid1950s, the Museum “became caught in an eddy of popularization”(Strahan 1979:63), concerned with the views of the generalpublic. Museum personnel remained in quarrelsome limbo overwhether the Museum should be a popular ‘show’ place, ie.“Americanised”, or a serious institution for scientificresearch. In July, 1926, this inner turmoil was summed up in theDaily Telegraph, which noted:The modernists have won a partial victory. But theyhave won it at a cost. Some complain that theinstitution has been ‘Americanised’. Others arecertain that it has not been Americanised enough(quoted in Strahan 1979:68).During this period, however, the early foundations wereestablished for many future public programs that are now asignificant part of the Museum’s activities and services. Forexample, the publication which would eventually become thepopular Australian Natural History Magazine was established andpublic lectures increased in number and frequency.6Another important development was a Public Service Boardinspection of the Museum in 1929, after which Museum staffbecame members of the government public service for the firsttime (Strahan 1979:68-70). As museums are radically differentfrom government departments this has, at times, been a difficultalliance. Indeed, in this first Public Service inspection,Strahan notes that “the inspectors displayed a less thanadequate understanding of the nature and function of theactivities of the Museum” (1979:70). Inclusion in the publicservice has, however, had far reaching implications in staffing,funding and the Museum’s response to government policies andprograms. Equally, the popular public programs introduced duringthis “stagnant” time, have become integral to the internalstructuring of the Museum and its staff.The twenty years from 1954 to 1975 saw the AustralianMuseum concentrating on upgrading the quality of its scientificinformation, the qualifications of its curatorial personnel, andits role as a scientific institution. With a new wing, a dynamicexhibitions policy and a considerable staff increase, the Museum“became a significant scientific institution of undeniableprofessional standard” (Strahan 1979:75). Through the 1970s, thecuratorial staff became estranged from public activities,spending more time on research, grant applications andenvironmental impact projects. Staff growth from 45 in 1954 to150 in 1976 was largely in exhibitions, attendants, security andcleaning, education, scientific support, administrative and7office staff (Strahan 1979:94).By 1975, the Australian Museum was an establishedscientific body concerned with communicating its expertise onvarious levels to the public. Several significant initiativesduring this period continue to affect the Museum today: theemphasis on changing and updating exhibitions and theintroduction of quality temporary exhibitions; the separation ofresearch activities from public programs; and increasedpersonnel in non-scientific sections responsible for publicprograms.The Museum’s current director, Dr. Des Griffin, wasappointed in 1976 and three years later wrote:Even in bad times, an entrepreneurial director withthe support of the trust achieves results: a directorprepared to accept the status quo does not, whateverthe quality of the trust (1979:102).He displayed an overriding concern for public support of theMuseum and the Museum’s image in the wider community (ibid).Even then, Griffin felt the Museum needed more diverse programsto cater to people with different attitudes, ethnic backgroundsand ages. “Attempts to meet these various requirements”, hewrote, “will be a principle concern of the Australian Museumover the next few years” (Griffin 1979:104).Beginning with the 1976 ten year Corporate Plan, andcontinuing until the present, the Museum’s focus has been on thepublic. As stated in the Corporate Plan’s 1979 review:If the Museum is to succeed in the next ten yearseveryone associated with it will need to devotethemselves to the task. . .community support must be in8the forefront of the mind and actions of everyoneevery day (Annual Report 1979/80:8).“Community support” has given way, in more recent years, tocommunity participation and access strategies. The nature ofmost programs which attempt to elicit this cultural involvementhas posed a number of different challenges for the Museum9. Andas Sydney has continued to grow and develop into a metropolitanregion of great size and diversity, the Australian Museum’saudience is now almost undefinable in it’s diversity, and thecomplexity of its so-called “communities”. How to gain thesupport of such a diverse constituency--as audiences,participants and equal partners--is a major on-going concern andchallenge facing the Museum today.Australian Cultural DiversityAfter displacing much of the Aboriginal population, theAustralian colonies developed during the 19th century as whitesettler societies. Following Federation in 1901, the ImmigrationRestriction Act of 1901 and the 1925 Immigration Act,unofficially unknown as the “White Australia Policy”, enforcedthe government’s desire to keep Australia a British nation. Inthe post-war period from 1945, a ‘populate or perish’ mentality(Castles 1992:8; Grimes 1992:114) brought, ratherunintentionally, great ethnic diversity to Australia (Castles1992:12). With the United Kingdom only able to supply around 30%of Australia’s labor needs (Grimes 1992:115), the majority of“New Australians” in the 1950s and 1960s came from Mediterranean9countries, especially Italy, Greece, Malta, Egypt andYugoslavia. These migrants, largely from rural peasantbackgrounds, created a new unskilled working class inmetropolitan areas (ibid.). They were generally treated assecond class citizens and expected to assimilate into Anglo-Australian culture.By the 1970s, it was apparent that new immigrants were notnecessarily entering into mainstream society. Racially-baseddiscriminatory immigration policies were abolished in 1972,opening the country to immigrants from the Middle East, SouthEast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and South and CentralAmerica (Collins and Henry 1993:10). Following the Canadianlead, a points system was also introduced to link immigration tothe increasing need in Australia for skilled and professionallabour (Collins and Henry 1993:10; Castles 1992:9).However, the unintentional shift from a monocultural Anglo-Australia to one of great diversity following post-warimmigration meant that Australia was not only unprepared for thespecial needs of immigrants, but also that Australiansthemselves were not prepared to accept many of the differencesnewcomers brought with them. After decades of exclusion, thesenew migrants and those to follow “entered a society with a clearand persistent history of racism and xenophobia” (ibid. )‘°.The 1991 National Inquiry into Racist Violence in Australiareported that racist violence and harassment was a fact of lifefor many Aboriginal and immigrant people”. The 1992 ABC10television documentary Cop It Sweet, for example, documentedappalling police racism and violence toward Aboriginal people inthe inner-Sydney suburb of Redfern (Collins 1993:3). A 1981opinion poli reported that 45% of Australians felt immigrationlevels were too high, while 48% of Australians thought Asianimmigration levels specifically were too high (Grimes 1992:118).Subsequently an acrimonious debate in the media over thesupposedly negative effects of Asian immigration soon becamedestructive with widespread fear of “Asianisation” and “AsiansOut!” and “Stop the Asian Invasion!” slogans sprayed aroundSydney’2. Most Asian immigrants now live in concentrated areasof high unemployment, especially in Sydney’s west and inner-western suburbs (Grimes 1992:120), preferring to stay closetogether to provide support in an atmosphere of prejudice andxenophobia (Collins 1993:12). Ironically, the 1991 NationalInquiry stressed that this racism co-existed with tolerance andcompassion, was not as severe as in most other countries, anddid not have widespread popular or public support (Collins andHenry 1993:16).Today, Australia is often described as a classic immigrantsociety because it’s planned program of mass immigration since1945 has brought an estimated 5 million settlers from almost 200countries (Castles 1992:8). Second only to Israel as adestination for international migrants (Grimes 1992:123),Australia is one of only five countries of large-scale permanentimmigration in the western world’3 (Collins and Henry 1993:1).11In 1980, for example, 21.6% of Australians were first generationimmigrants’4 (Collins 1993:1), and in the first six months of1990, Australia granted citizenship to 130,312 persons of 180different nationalities (Nedeljkovic 1992:30).Government Policies to Manage Cultural DiversityBy the 1970s, migrant groups and their activities werebeginning to be “an integral part of the texture of contemporaryAustralian life” (Zubrzycki 1984:41). Yet, the legacy ofassimilation policies meant that many of these groups had becomesocially and economically disadvantaged. In an attempt toaddress this problem, Australia adopted a multiculturalismpolicy modeled on the Canadian multiculturalism counterpart in1973 (Collins 1993:13). Over 20 years and 4 governments, themodel of multiculturalism has emerged as a way of shaping socialpolicy and national identity in an increasingly diverse society(Castles 1992:7). Despite remaining a bi-partisan politicalissue in Australian federal politics (Collins 1993:9)’, thedefinition and implementation of multiculturalism policies haschanged radically over that time.In 1973, Al Grassby, then Minister for Immigration,officially recognized the importance of immigrants’ culturalheritage and traditions for the first time (Collins 1993:13).The conservative Liberal Party government (1975-1983) thenadopted a multiculturalism policy in an attempt to win thesupport of ethnic leaders and introduced a number of special12services (Castles 1992:13). Their definition of multiculturalismemphasized cultural pluralism and the role of ethnicorganizations, removing immigrant welfare from the mainstreamsocial system (Castles 1992:14). During the Asian immigrationdebates of the mid-1980s, the Hawke and Keating Labor government(1983-1992) briefly abolished several of these special services,although they were soon reinstated (Castles 1992:14; Collins1993:14).In July 1989, the same government again redefined themulticulturalism policy. The major policy document, NationalAgenda for a Multicultural Australia.. . Sharing our Future,represented a shift away from the earlier Liberal government’semphasis on ethnic organizations, and expressed:...the goals, priorities and strategies that theGovernment considers necessary in order to promoterespect for individual identity, to ensure socialcohesion and to enhance social justice (OMA 1989).Building on eight goals of equity and access for all Australians(OMA 1989:1), the National Agenda emphasized the cultural,social and economic rights of all citizens in a democratic staterather than cultural pluralism and minority rights (Castles1992:15). It hoped to achieve this by attempting to “modifyAustralia’s institutional structures” to serve the community asa whole (OMA 1989:1).The National Agenda defines multiculturalism policies asthose “which will help to better manage diversity in theinterests of social cohesion and justice and harness the skills,education and entrepreneurial ability of all Australians for the13national good” (OMA 198g:l). It also defines multiculturalism asa description of a culturally diverse society. Its currentimplementation is, therefore, ambiguous and contradictory’6 Theword “multicultural”, describing programs and events celebratingcultural diversity or signifying membership in an “ethnic”community, implies a promotion of cultural pluralism. This isoften confused with “multiculturalism” which describes agovernment policy dealing with equity and access for allcitizens. Most of the Museum staff interviewed did notunderstand this distinction in meaning between the two terms.This contradiction of meaning is further muddied by a governmentwhich supports “multicultural” programs while backing its“multiculturalism” policy. Museums and other public culturalinstitutions, urged to become more “multicultural” by thegovernment’s “multiculturalism” policy, may soon find themselvescaught in the cross-fire of debates over this tension betweennational unity and cultural diversity.New Museology and Multiculturalism at the Australian MuseumThe Federal government’s A Plan for Cultural Institutionsto Reflect Australia’s Cultural Diversity issued in 1991 chargedthat museums, galleries and libraries, while “constituting anform of national consciousness”, did not “represent theexplosion of cultural diversity in the Australian population”(DASETT 1991:5). This was further reinforced on a local level by14the New South Wales Charter for a Culturally Diverse Society inFebruary 1993, which held that “all NSW public institutionsshould recognize the linguistic and cultural assets in the NSWpopulation as a valuable resource and utilize and promote thisresource”. Traditionally very much a part of the Anglo culturalestablishment, the Australian Museum has responded with a reviewof its policies and practices regarding multicultural issues.These directives have been accompanied by severe PublicService funding cuts caused by government recession policies.Increased self-funding, cost recovery and commercialisationprojects (eg. admission charges introduced in February 1992,scientific consulting, corporate sponsorship and venue rental)have therefore become necessary. These new financial pressures,forcing the Museum to compete on the consumer market, runcontrary to its traditional “public” functions, still mandatedby the minimal government funding it receives. This“commodification” bind also appears in the New Museologyliterature. The push for museums to be “more accountable to andreflexive of a broader segment of the public” (Gaither 1992:57)is often as much a search for “relevant”, popular programs, as aresponsibility to taxpayers. The Australian Museum’s need toexpand its visitor profile is given definition by governmentmulticulturalism policies which specifically target underrepresented groups. This simplistic ‘if you represent them, theywill come’ attitude is accompanied by a genuine staff enthusiasmfor collaborative projects inviting public participation. Recent15cultural initiatives seem, therefore, motivated by goodwill andeconomic necessity, by the desire to improve the Museum’sservices and the need to follow government orders.After reading Deidre Stam’s (1993) review of New Museologyliterature, it appears that, by accident or by design, most ofthe more dramatic changes on the policy level at the AustralianMuseum parallel recommendations of these writers. I havetherefore organized my review of these developments under fourgeneral concepts of New Museology as defined by Stam (1993:269-275): museum missions, visitors’ experiences, communication andthe identity of museum constituents.1. Museum MissionsMany current museum theorists strongly advocate a museummission which serves “society by helping to provide theknowledge its members need to survive and progress” (MacDonaldand Aisford 1991:305). This approach emphasizes how museums,through the information they present, can influence the socialbehaviour of individuals in the wider community. This is not anew idea. The American Museum of Natural History in New York,for example, was founded in part to “uplift and educate” thelower classes and poor immigrants who, without such socializingeducation, could become disruptive (Jonaitis 1988:59). Currenttheorists want museums to recognize the impact of the socialideas that they articulate (Karp 1992:6), and to use this to seta positive rolemodel for society (Fernandez 1991:94). The ideathat museums can and should have a lasting impact on the16subsequent social behaviour of its visitors remains a pervasive,if somewhat naive, ideal for museum missions.The Australian Museum’s mission up to 1989 had been “toincrease and communicate knowledge and encourage understandingof the Australian natural environment and cultural heritage”(Annual Report 1988/89). Amended to reflect a more pro-activeapproach as the Museum sought to become “first and foremost aneducational institution” (Annual Report 1989/1990:8), theMuseum’s mission is now:to increase understanding of our naturalenvironment and cultural heritage and to be a catalystin changing public attitudes and actions [emphasismine] (Annual Report 1992/93).This accompanied a concentration on issues of popular concernsuch as the environment and the multicultural nature ofAustralian society. As stated in the 1989/90 Annual ReportThe Australian Museum sees its future in being moreconcerned with the community, with its visitors andwith the future of Australian cultural life and itsnatural and social environment (p.8).A member of the Education division at the Australian Museum feltthese policy changes are among the most important made by theMuseum in recent years, because they lead to programs in whichvisitors “have to move forward, they have to take things intotheir experience and hopefully think differently”.2. Visitors’ ExperiencesA mission to change public attitudes and actionsnecessitates an awareness of visitors’ experiences. Visitor17reactions are often surveyed to increase the educationalpotential of exhibitions (Screven 1993:12). Some museums takethis further and attempt to establish a dialogue with theirpublics when interpreting exhibitions (Bott 1990:28). StevenLevine and Ivan Karp go so far as to suggest that “few seriousmuseum practitioners would claim that a museum could be anythingbut a forum” for visitor participation (1990:3). Most criticsagree that the nature and quality of visitors’ experience shouldbe of central concern, and many suggest that visitors and otherclients should be more important to museums than theircollections (Stam 1993:273; Weil 1990:56).The Australian Museum has certainly become increasinglyconcerned with the services it provides for its visitors, with aspecial Visitor Services section created within its Educationdivision and increased attention paid to front-of-house staffand activities in the galleries. According to Carolyn MacLulich,now acting Head of the Education division, the expansion andsupport of this section reflects the Museum’s commitment topublic programs and to providing “a context to facilitate publicaccess and interpretation” (1990:202-203). The Educationdivision, employing 9% of the total Museum staff, providestraining for volunteer guides, security attendants and otherstaff dealing with the public. The Museum has becomeincreasingly ‘client-oriented’, an approach advocated by manyNew Museology theorists to deliver improved ‘product quality’(Stam 1993:279). As stated in the Australian Museum’s Statement18of Philosophy: “We intend to be market responsive withoutcompromising the integrity of our mission”.3. CommunicationFocusing on visitors’ experiences incorporates a concernabout the messages and information visitors receive during theirtime in the museum. On one level, improved communication canlead to more effective education, as museums attend to “bothmaking information readily available and ensuring that its usershave the ability to comprehend it” (MacDonald and Aisford1991:307). This not only makes museums more accountable formessages received (Bott 1990:28), but also requires that theyhave a good understanding of, and are responsive to, the needs,interests, tastes and learning styles of their audiences(MacDonald and Aisford 1991:307). As a result, a whole new fieldof “Audience Advocacy” has arisen in the museum world to ensureaudience input through market research and exhibition evaluation(Duffy 1991:31). The Australian Museum has introduced a wide-ranging and thorough program of market research and evaluationthough the Community Relations and Education divisions.Exhibition subjects are often decided by public survey;exhibition concepts and display techniques are tested on focusgroups; and visitors are interviewed about the success orfailure of the final product. The Director has also encouragedthe research staff “to be visible in the community, addressingissues of importance and interest, not just talking to theirprofessional journals” (Griffin 1992:38).19A successful museum-audience relationship, however,requires more than popular programs and staff who are in touchwith their constituency. Drawing on mass communications studies,Hooper-Greenhill suggests that museums are still largelyignorant of how their messages are interpreted (1993). Pennagrees and argues that traditional exhibition formats break downthe museum-audience “communication circle” (1992:183). Visitorreaction surveys only superficially address the issue of howpeople decode museum messages. New Museology encourages museumsto allow people to decode exhibitions actively according totheir personal experience and particular history (HooperGreenhill 1993; Stam 1993:273) by abandoning the hierarchy ofwestern intellectual and aesthetic values present inconventional exhibition formats (Pearce 1993:25). A relativisticapproach, “in which all things are seen as equal and no firmfooting of value or understanding can be established” (ibid.),dismantles museums’ monopoly over the exhibited knowledge byremoving the “pedagogic authority that establishes an impeccableand unquestionable expertise” (Shelton 1990:98). Ideally, thiswould result in an information flow between the museum and itsaudience.The Australian Museum has, to some extent, adopted thisapproach. The decision in the 1989/1990 Annual Report to be“concerned with ideas rather than things” (p.8) somewhatsimplistically implies an emphasis on information and its publicdissemination over old-fashioned taxonomy. More importantly, Our20Place, the experimental new gallery on Contemporary Australia,relies heavily on a two-way communication flow between theMuseum and its visitors.4. The Identity of Museum ConstituentsWriters concerned with communication issues suggest thatmuseums should consider “representation and reception ascultural processes” (Penn 1992:183), which vary according topersonal experience and history--namely race, ethnicity, genderand cultural background (Hooper-Greenhill 1993). Understandinghow an audience will react to an exhibition requires anunderstanding of the cultural make-up of that audience. This hasseen the museum audience redefined in terms of group identity.There is a growing understanding that people from differentcultural backgrounds take different messages away fromexhibitions and want to see different things in exhibitions.In Australia, a profusion of culturally-specific “blockbuster” exhibitions has resulted’7. Museums seem to have specialexpectations of the “communities” represented in theseexhibitions: not only will community members be more interestedin coming to (and paying for) exhibitions relevant tothemselves, their direct involvement as performers, guides,speakers and demonstrators will also lend a certain authenticityto the exhibition. Through this participation museums presumably(i) portray positive images of culture to the larger public,(ii) implicitly champion specific cultural interpretations asvalid, and (iii) endorse the value of diversity within the wider21community (see Garfield 1989). Museums appear “open” and“accessible”, providing opportunities for communityparticipation and self-expression, and even, some would suggest,fostering social justice (Stam 1993:275).The New Museology literature, interwoven as it is withother social and political trends in Australia, has clearlyinfluenced programs, staffing and exhibitions at the AustralianMuseum. There has been a string of cultural exhibitions from1989 involving people from various local communities. The Museumincluded “multicultural representation” as a Corporate StrategicPlan objective and appointed a Cultural Diversity Coordinator in199118.“Sydney’s Kids”, the Museum’s first “big multiculturalevent” in January 1992, featured over 20 local culturalcommunities and attracted almost 70,000 people. This month-longevent was considered an “outstanding success” by the Museum(Annual Report 1991/1992:28), and encouraged further “community”oriented exhibitions, most notably the semi-permanent galleryOur Place: Australian People, Australian Identity.Aside from Public Programs, the Anthropology divisioncontinued its involvement with the peoples represented in theAustralian Museum’s collections (especially AboriginalAustralia, the Pacific and South East Asia) with increasingsupport and local community consultation. The Pacificcollections staff, for example, long associated with the VanuatuCultural Centre, have recently extended resources toward22establishing good relations with the Sydney Maori community.Likewise, a Balinese Gamelan orchestra has been commissioned bythe Museum in collaboration with, and for the use of, the SydneyBalinese community. An Aboriginal Cultural and Heritage Officerworks with two Aboriginal Collection Management Trainees toestablish links with Aboriginal cultural centres, museums andkeeping places throughout NSW via training programs, loans andrepatriations.While the Australian Museum’s cultural Public Programs andthe Anthropology division both tend to classify people in termsof “communities”, their practical focus differs. The PublicPrograms sector provides what could be called “communityparticipation schemes” through collaborative exhibitiondevelopment, while the Anthropology division offers what couldbe called “community access schemes” through collaborativecollection management. Obviously, these two can overlap, butoverall the Museum is focusing its resources on communityinvolvement in exhibitions and Public Programs. This means thatthe responsibility for establishing links between the Museum andcommunities is largely in the more “externally” focuseddivisions, such as Education, Community Relations andExhibitions. Anthropology staff are involved when exhibitionsinvolve the collections, or when a community member expresses aninterest in being involved in the collections from their area.Long-term “internal” collection-oriented opportunities forcommunity access to the Museum are passively accepted when they23occur, but are not actively encouraged (especially in terms ofresources). Resources are directed instead to short-term,visibly public programs which involve communities only for thelength of an exhibition and its development.Case Study: Two ExhibitionsBoth “New Museology” and Australian governmentmulticulturalism policies give museums enormous power (and greatresponsibility) to shape public opinion. Yet, how can any singleexhibition or public program effectively change the way peoplethink and act about social, political or economic issues? Mostmuseums do not evaluate the socio-political outcome of theirexhibits because change at this level is so difficult to assess.Many changes to the exhibition development process at theAustralian Museum in the last 3-5 years address idealisticobjectives promoting diversity, tolerance and culturalunderstanding as well as more pragmatic goals of popularity andincreased attendance. Multi-disciplinary exhibition projectteams, a move to visual media (computer interactives,performances, an interpretive theatre program) over traditionaltextual information, Aboriginal and multiculturalrepresentation, evaluation strategies and more aggressivepublicity and marketing all address these goals. Of these,community participation and access through Aboriginal andmulticultural representation has been the most applauded, yetmost ambiguous, new initiative. The following will analyse its24impact on the development of Our Place and Art of the Himalayas.Our Place: Australian People, Australian IdentityThis semi-permanent gallery celebrating Australia’scultural diversity opened on March 30, 1994. One of tengalleries in the Museum designed for a duration of eight to tenyears, it required a substantial commitment of resources. It isthe only gallery in the Museum with its own staff--a ProgramManager to run the community exhibition area and three part-timeExplainers. Our Place, replacing a more traditionalanthropological gallery on Papua New Guinea, also represents asignificant part of the Museum’s cultural Public Programs. Alongwith Aboriginal Australia, Our Place will soon be one of onlytwo cultural galleries in the Museum.Obj ectivesThe Museum set four main objectives for Our Place. Thefirst, “to provide a friendly, stimulating and interactive spaceand to challenge visitors to explore the cultural diversity ofAustralia through the use of appropriate interpretivestrategies” (Australian Museum 1993b:5), establishes a highlevel of visitor interaction. The second, “to attract visitorsfrom cultures at present under-represented in the Museum’svisitor profile by providing exciting relevant programs andinviting active contribution” (ibid.), targets potentialaudiences. The third objective focuses on active “communities”:25“to consult with a wide range of community groups. . . [and] tomaintain this participation at every stage of projectdevelopment and implementation”, especially non-English speakingand Aboriginal groups (ibid.). With the forth objective, theMuseum hopes to increase its public visibility by“participat[ing] in Sydney’s cultural and community events”(Australian Museum 1993b:5).ProcessesOur Place, an extremely labour-intensive exhibition todevelop, presents a subject--contemporary Australian culture andcommunities--outside the Museum’s traditional expertise. After along period of research and development of the concept behindthe gallery, an exhibition Project Team, responsible for itscomplete development and implementation, was formed more than ayear before the gallery opened. This included eight staffmembers: two from Exhibitions, two from Anthropology (includingthe Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Officer), and one each fromEducation, Community Relations (the Cultural DiversityCoordinator), Information Science and Corporate Services.A day-long Community Discussion meeting was held in 1993 alittle over a year before the gallery opened. Seventy people,the vast majority associated with ethnic communities orcommunity organizations, attended to learn about the proposedexhibition and contribute their own ideas, comments andreactions. Discussions and suggestions from this meeting were26recorded for future reference to ensure that the galleryreflected community issues and concerns (Australian Museum1993a). Few, in any, of these participants ever became directlyinvolved in the exhibition’s development.The Project Team incorporated two general suggestions fromthe Community Discussion meeting into the gallery’s design. Inresponse to the statement that:“diversity does not mean disunity. Within the unity of‘we are all Australians’ there is much diversity”(Australian Museum 1993a),a permanent exhibition focusing on shared Australian experiencestakes up half of the gallery space. In the absence of a curator,or indeed any staff specializing in Australian social identity,the Project Team relied heavily on two lecturers in socialhistory from a local university for this section. Three majorthemes--Land, Citizenship and Cultural Diversity--were developedusing a range of media: a slide show, quotes and photographs,computer interactives and reaction areas. Each presents a rangeof people’s experiences or feelings about the issues involved,rather than the more traditional explanatory text. Visitors areinvited to have their say by filling out Reaction Cards whichask people to give their opinions on issues raised in theexhibition. These will be compiled and exhibited so that futurevisitors can see what others thought.The rest of the gallery is devoted to the Community AccessProgram, following suggestions that the Museum should provide“access to space where communities can demonstrate and share27their own cultures and exhibit cultural treasures” (AustralianMuseum 1993a). A central stage, a dressing room, five textpanels and four showcases are all available for temporarycommunity programs. A Program Manager in the Education divisioncoordinates the programs and a three-member mini-project teamfrom Exhibitions, Conservation and Community Relations assistswith the exhibitions. The Community Access Program is designed“to allow the exploration of cultural pluralism by providing theopportunity for community groups to present their perspectiveson aspects of contemporary Australia” (Australian Museum1993b:43). Access was initially limited to “communities”,defined as “a group, recognized in the wider community, whichoperates with aim/objectives, constitution, affiliation,incorporation etc.” (ibid.). This strict definition wasconsiderably broadened by the Program Manager as soon as thegallery opened. Programs must focus on contemporary Australia,abide by libel and discrimination legislation, foster toleranceand not cause distress to another group’9. A Community AccessProgram Kit will be sent to community organisations invitingtheir participation. Opening with a temporary program on youthcalled “Youth Identikit”, future programs include a revisedexhibition previously displayed through an arts organization bythe Laotian community and an exhibition and performance programby the NSW African Communities Council.Evaluation28Our Place provides endless opportunities for people to beheard in the exhibition, and has the potential to givemarginalised and disadvantaged communities a powerful tool forself-expression and therefore work toward their own empowerment.Despite this, or perhaps because of this, it is difficult to sayexactly what impression visitors will take with them from thegallery. Designed to be flexible and respond to visitorreactions, the permanent section of the gallery seems hesitantand unwilling to commit to a central message or theme. Perhapsthis is because it implemented, uncritically, three basictenants of the New Museology literature: do not teach dominantvalues, use interpretive material to raise questions, and allowpeople to control presentation of themselves by exhibitingmultiple perspectives. While the quotes do represent peoplefrom a wide range of ages and cultural backgrounds (many of themMuseum staff), and certainly offer multiple perspectives, it isquestionable whether reading them will encourage the Museumvisitor to celebrate the benefits of diversity or think aboutmulticultural issues in a new way. If anything, the ReactionCards, combined with the quotes, seem to encourage a “whatever Ithink is okay” attitude.In attempting to forge ties across the full spectrum ofSydney’s diversity for Our Place, the Australian Museum alsowent beyond its own information resources. Even if a shift tocommunity focus justifies abandoning objects (which isdoubtful), cultural knowledge and understanding is still29essential for meaningful exhibition content (Galla 1993:7). OurPlace suffered from a lack of information sources about thedeeper and more fundamental issues of multiculturalism, culturaldiversity and national unity, and therefore failed tocommunicate what was really needed to understand the socialcomplexities of contemporary Australia.The Community Access Program, although limited to“communities” who want to portray their life in “contemporary”Australia, is a unique space within the Museum. While othercultural exhibitions involve outside groups only peripherally--unless they have the “expertise” to become consultants--thisprogram allows communities direct access to what is displayed,how it is displayed, and, within limits, what is said in theexhibition. Museum staff felt that this was the most importantaspect of the gallery. Community members have the opportunity togain valuable skills in organising and implementing culturalprograms and exhibitions with the help of Museum staff. The NSWAfrican Communities Council’s temporary program, for example, isa trial-run for a future annual cultural festival. By using theMuseum’s African collections for their display, they are alsolearning about exhibition techniques. This process, however,makes the Community Access Program (with a budget of only $500per event) very resource intensive in terms of staff time,especially if the collections are used. I am uncertain that theMuseum, in its current financial situation, will continue tosupport such a demanding, if successful, program.30Community Access Program’s emphasis on “culturalpluralism”, however, seems out of step with the currentmulticulturalism debate. Despite positive benefits forcommunities, the final exhibition or program has the potentialto communicate messages of separatism and pluralism, negatingthe intended promotion of tolerance and diversity. Visitors maywalk through a temporary exhibit put on by the Sydney Laotiancommunity, for example, and feel positive about the diversitythat people from this culture bring to Australia. However, theycould equally feel resentful about special privileges given torefugees who then appear to separate themselves and promotetheir own distinctiveness. With one section focusing on theaspects that all Australians share and another on what theydon’t, Our Place is mirroring the government’s simplisticvisions of diversity within unity, without exploring the morefundamental issues of how a multicultural and multiracialsociety can function. The opening night promise by the NSWMinister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs’ of $50,000 ingrants for community exhibitions in the Access Program, furtherreinforced the government’s emphasis on cultural aspects whichfail to address pressing issues of economic inequality andracism.Theoretically at least, the Access Program has thepotential to successfully empower communities by giving them avoice in a mainstream museum. Whether these exhibitions willfoster tolerance and convince the viewing public of the benefits31of diversity is more difficult to judge.Art of the Himalayas: Treasures from Nepal and TibetThis exhibition, organised and circulated by the AmericanFederation of Arts (AFA), opened at the Australian Museum onApril 24, 1994 as the first temporary exhibition in the newtemporary exhibition space, one of two galleries devoted torapidly changing temporary exhibitions. The exhibition’s threevenue tour of Australia (National Gallery of Victoria, TheAustralian Museum and the Art Gallery of Western Australia) wasorganised by the Australian Museum, through its TouringExhibitions Manager in the Exhibitions division. The exhibitioncontains 115 works of sculpture, paintings, textiles anddrawings dating from the seventh to the nineteenth century, andwas originally curated by Dr. Patapaditya Pal, Senior Curator ofAsian Art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.Obj ectivesThe objectives set for Art of the Himalayas show theMuseum’s very high expectations for this exhibition. The Museumstated that the exhibition would “give visitors an opportunityto see the art of Tibet and Nepal from both Buddhist and Hindusources and through this to gain an awareness and understandingof other cultures” (Australian Museum 1994:4). At the same time,the Museum aimed to “make contact with Sydney’s Nepalese andTibetan communities and invite them to use the exhibition as a32forum to discuss issues relating to their countries’ currenthistory” (ibid). Another objective was to “forge new links withthe state art museum in Victoria and Western Australia bybringing the exhibition to Australia”, as well as “reinforce andbuild on the Australian Museum’s reputation as a presenter ofhigh quality exhibitions” (ibid.). Finally, it hoped to “recovercosts” through “increase[d] attendance to the Museum byattracting visitors from the adult audience segment” (ibid.).ProcessesThe Project Team, formed in January 1994 to work on thisincoming exhibition, consisted of six staff members fromAnthropology, Community Relations, Corporate Services,Education, and Exhibitions. As the accompanying AFA exhibitiontext was considered “highly academic, with the expectation thatthe visitor would have vast prior knowledge of the subject”(Australian Museum 1994:4), a special “Content Team”, (theAnthropology representative and an outside specialist) wasformed to rework all text labels and provide an “intermediatelevel of textual information to assist the viewer interpret thecomplex cultural content” of the exhibition (ibid.).A preliminary discussion meeting with interested members ofthe Tibetan Community Association representing the 28 Tibetanscurrently living in Sydney and several cultural, political andartistic societies concerned with Tibet was held in December1993. While those attending this meeting only marginally33influenced the presentation of the exhibition, a previouslyplanned lecture series was held at the Museum and featured aTibetan lunch. Members of the Nepalese and Tibetan communitieswere invited to become involved in the exhibition as performersand guides. A small group of Tibetans gave a performance ofsinging and dancing at the opening, and one Tibetan, DorjeDolma, spoke about the exhibition and the current situation inTibet. Beyond this, neither community felt they had the time forany further involvement.EvaluationArt of the Himalayas, a stunning collection of Buddhist andHindu art, makes a strong visual impression. Text, photographsand artifacts weave a story of artistic, social and religiouscomplexity and achievement, creating an environment of respectand appreciation for the peoples and cultures of Nepal andTibet. Visitors can leave the exhibition with a much greaterunderstanding and appreciation of these cultures, and byextension, for the peoples in Australia who come from thoseregions.Apart from performances by the Tibetan community at theopening, there is no visible community involvement in Art of theHimalayas. More community participation would have strengthenedthe overall exhibition and made it more relevant to the currentconcerns facing people from those countries. With the exceptionof a few minor references, information about the situation of34modern Tibet is completely absent from the exhibition. Theobjects displayed date from the 7th to the 19th century whenTibet was a sovereign nation. Without the “voice” of Nepaleseand Tibetan people living in Australia, visitors could easilyleave the exhibition believing that everything in thosecountries is as it was in the 19th century. If they are aware ofthe current political circumstances in Tibet, they may believethat the religious paintings and sculpture of previous centuriesare all that remain of Tibetan culture. The sadness soeloquently expressed by Dorje Dolma in her opening speech thatthese powerful mediational pieces, so much a part of Tibet’sspiritual history, should be on display in a foreign museuminstead of in a Tibetan temple is missing in the exhibitionitself.This case highlights a major problem with trying to make“community involvement” a major part of exhibitions, especiallylarge “block-busters” imported from overseas. These exhibitionsare often only marginally relevant to the larger Sydneypopulation. Drawing connections between the content of theseexhibitions and a local Sydney community through visiblecommunity participation seems the only strategy the Museum hasyet developed to increase their general appeal. Many communitiesdo not, however, have the time, numbers or inclination tovolunteer their services in this way. As “communityparticipation” schemes are implemented by Sydney’s other majormuseums, competition over people’s time and community’s35resources increases. During the development of this exhibition,the Tibetan community, with only 28 members, was approached bythree different institutions and invited to be heavily involvedin up-coming programs.The Australian Museum needed to find an alternative tointensive community involvement which would express the concernsand experiences of Himalayan peoples today, such as the Tibetanself-determination movement. Without this, Art of the Himalayas,while successfully communicating messages of interculturaltolerance and the benefits of diversity, does not provide aforum for current issues facing the people of Nepal and Tibet(as stated in the objectives for the exhibition).DiscussionUndeniably, the greatest benefit of the Australian Museum’s“community participation” schemes is giving members ofAboriginal, immigrant and other communities a public forumwithin a large and respected museum. Many people value thisopportunity to explore and/or publicly exhibit their culturalheritage and identity. “Communities”, Ivan Karp observes, “oftenfeel that they live or die to the degree that they are accordedor denied social space” (1992:14). While many community groupsin Sydney already have their own “social space”, whether throughlocal community museums, festivals or other events, theAustralian Museum can offer them a different kind of space. Herea much larger audience can learn about other cultural36communities living in Australia. Most of the staff interviewedagreed that this was the main contribution the Museum could maketoward fostering intercultural tolerance and understanding.Neither exhibition was completely successful in meeting theAustralian Museum’s overall exhibitions goals: firstly,addressing larger issues of intercultural tolerance,multicultural diversity and community empowerment, and secondlyincreased popularity and attendance. This is certainly partlydue to a naive, short-term and rather simplistic approach toimplementing new cultural programs. Two pervasive myths seemprevalent among senior Museum staff: that Aboriginal andmulticultural representation can be achieved quickly and easilywith few resources, and that when this representation is clearlyvisible, more people will want to come to the Museum and pay atthe door. In reality, Community involvement on any levelrequires complex negotiation and a lot of give and take on bothsides. The Australian Museum is not ready (although it is takingthe first steps) to really give much of anything to thecommunities it wants visible in its programs, such as acommitment to their cultural development through access to, andgeneration of, their material heritage. Complaints thatcommunity exhibitions are too time consuming, that they do notmeet the design standards of the Museum, and that performancesinterfere with “paying clients” hiring Museum space; theprogram-by-program approach to community involvement and thelack of resources for long-term services to those communities;37the attitude that just being allowed to be involved is rewardenough: all these indicate an incomplete commitment to theinterests of local communities and their own culturaldevelopment.In my opinion, the Australian Museum’s Access Program andother community—oriented cultural initiatives are caught in thesame dilemma as the government multiculturalism policy: how tocelebrate cultural diversity within a socially, and particularlyeconomically, divided nation when the ultimate goal is socialcohesion and national unity. While Steven Lavine wonders whethermuseums should “encourage the celebration and retention ofdifference” or work toward creating shared cultures (1992:143),I believe the issue is far more complex. In Australia atpresent, the whole issue of multiculturalism, cultural diversityand national identity is clouded and distorted bymisinformation, ignorance, emotion and short-term politicalobjectives. As Jock Collins observessmall budgets and a vision dominated by a celebrationof cultural diversity have limited the ability ofmulticulturalism to significantly reduce ethnicinequality and racism (1993:15).Adding community involvement to the list of ingredients thatmake up a successful museum program or exhibition does little toaddress these more fundamental issues.The Australian government’s multiculturalism policy directsmuseums to better represent those groups “whose history,traditions, contribution to Australia or experiences are underrepresented. . . this includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait38Islander people and people from non-English speakingbackgrounds” (DASETT 1991:6). The Australian Museum is theonly museum in Sydney with significant 1original and TorresStrait Island, Pacific Island and Southeast Asiancollections, and a history of involvement with communitiesfrom these areas. Following Macdonald and Aisford’s(1991:307) argument, the primary cultural “commodity” of theAustralian Museum, with which it could negotiate a new kindof communication with its public, is the information ithouses in its collections about these cultures. Thesecommunities in Sydney are also among those most needing thesupport which can achieved through institutional promotionof tolerance, diversity and empowerment.I suggest that the primary focus of the AustralianMuseum’s cultural programs and initiatives should be bettermanagement and communication of this information. Joiningin the general rivalry with other Sydney museums overcultural community allegiances may be in the museum’s shortterm self-interest, as it visibly fulfils the government’soverall multiculturalisin directives. However, it doeslittle to address the real needs of these communities. Thisdiffuse approach drains funds, energy and attention intoduplicate programs which are all necessarily simplistic andsuperficial. Meaningful, long-term, museum-communityrelationships are most effective, and have the most chanceof influencing public attitudes, when collections and staffexpertise combine with community interest and involvement to39create an environment of mutual exchange and benefit.ConclusionAustralia is an extremely diverse and (many feel)successful multicultural nation20. Yet, a general and pervasiveignorance about the nature of the government’s multiculturalismpolicy threatens to undermine this claim. Too many peoplebelieve that multiculturalism is about ethnic separatism andprivilege. Far more associate a promotion of multiculturalismwith an open-door immigration policy, which, in Australia’scase, couldn’t be further from the truth. All of this oftenleads to general resentment of newcomers and a reluctance, evenafter many generations, to call those from non-Anglo heritage“Australians”21.The Australian Museum’s major new multicultural/communityaccess initiative, Our Place, fails to truly foster toleranceand understanding because it does not address these issues. As Ipointed out earlier, this gallery experimented with many of theapproaches advocated by New Museology critics’ abandoning adidactic, authoritarian approach by attempting to be all-inclusive. In reality, including numerous perspectives ongeneral themes does nothing to combat the ignorance andmisinformation that leads to racist attitudes towards non-AngloAustralians. This aspect of the gallery demonstrates thatabrogating the museum’s “pedagogic authority” (Shelton 1990:98)can go so far as to completely neutralize the museum’s message.40The result is a passive exhibition that does not engage theaudience beyond reflecting whatever the viewer wants to see. OurPlace deals with an issue that is so important, so timely and sofundamental to Australia’s future, that the Museum needed tofollow Neil Postman’s advise and engage in an argument with itspublic (1990:58). Art of the Himalayas displays a similarhesitation to confront the difficult and highly political issueof modern Tibet, compromising the effectiveness, even integrity,of the exhibition.This tendency to avoid difficult and contentious issuesruns contrary to the stated philosophy of the Australian Museumand, indeed, to the feelings of many of its staff.Interestingly, while attempting to address most if not allof New Museology’s criticisms, the Australian Museum generallydoes not succumb to its pervasive pessimism. Most New Museologycritics advocate a more positive and integrated social role formuseums, but seem to offer little hope that fundamental progressin human nature will make their vision a reality (Stam1993:275). By contrast, the almost exuberant enthusiasmdisplayed by most Museum staff for positive change isencouraged, at least rhetorically, by the upper management. Thissituation could lead to an environment where change is possibleand desirable. Recent cultural initiatives at the AustralianMuseum, while perhaps motivated as much by self-interest and thefuture viability of the institution as by idealistic socialobjectives do display an inclination towards change. These41changes, as displayed by Our Place and Art of the Himalayas,have not yet revolutionised the Museum, as the staff are all tooaware. Creeping into their enthusiasm for change, is a generalcynicism that nothing will change. The Australian Museum’shesitation to truly follow through with its own rhetoric, evenwhen the going gets rough, is partly to blame. Yet, even some ofits more radical experiments, like Our Place, have not entirelysucceeded. Many New Museology critics may be surprised to findthat their suggestions, when put into practice, are in some waysjust as problematic as the “old” museum ways.And the way forward? Perhaps in the end, the best approachis for museums to become even more flexible and self-critical,while carefully re-examining and retaining many of the “old”features that make them unique, credible and appealinginstitutions. Museums may need reminding that it is the objectsin their stores and their galleries, together with theinformation exchange that such things can stimulate, that makethem places of wonder and excitement. Community participationand access strategies are laudable initiatives, but ones thatrequire museums to work even harder at the difficult task ofnegotiating representation. The Australian Museum must not onlyencourage community involvement, but also address the moredifficult, critical and controversial issues that thesecommunities bring with them to the Museum. These issues are thebridges that join artifacts, galleries and text panels to therealities and experiences of every day life.42ENDNOTES1. See, for example, Karp and Lavine (1991), Karp, Kreamer andLavine (1992), Vergo (1989) and Weil (1990).2. While there is no established school of New Museology literature,many current writers advocating change in museums advanceremarkably similar ideas. I have, therefore, followed Stam (1993)in grouping a wide range of authors under this label, includingmany Australian writers.3.In particular the National Agenda for a Multicultural Australia(1989) and A Plan for Cultural Heritage Institutions to ReflectAustralia’s Cultural Diversity (1991).4.A few community access programs include: The Migration Museum’sForum: A Community Access Gallery and Old Parliament House’sSpeaker’s Corner both in South Australia, the Access Gallery at theNational Gallery of Victoria, Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum’sAustralian Communities: Community Focus Displays and DemonstrationArea, and the Australian Museum’s Our Place: Australian People,Australian Identity Community Access Program.5.Throughout I often refer to the “community” or “communities”.While the most staff I interviewed defined a community as a groupof people who held something--residence, language, heritage,interests, gender etc--in common, the Museum’s use of “community”generally refers to groups of people identified by their ethnicity.6. Aboriginal and Pacific Islander requests for repatriation ofartifacts and reburial of human remains, however, are another issuealtogether. These requests and the subsequent actions taken on themconstitute entirely different museum-community relationships.7.1 interviewed a total of 18 staff members, 6 in the Anthropologydivision, 4 in the Education division, 3 in Exhibitions, 2 inCommunity Relations, 2 in Materials Conservation and 1 scientist.8.Many thought the establishment of such a museum would enhanceAustralia’s international reputation (Kohlstedt 1983:2). Others,like the editor of the Sydney Monitor in 1833, questioned theappropriateness of “an infantile people being taxed to promote” thesciences (quoted in Strahan 1979:13).9. The Museum addresses both the natural world and the culturalheritage of Australia. While informal discussions by Museum staffhave raised possibilities of combining the cultural and scientificprograms, at present they remain quite separate. This is a timelyand important issue as the Museum struggles to maintain itstraditional emphasis on scientific research while also implementing43new community-oriented public programs. The politics of culturalrepresentation in natural history museums is also a contentiousissue in Australia (see Chance and Zeplin 1993; Craig 1993).10. As a current example, The Australians Against FurtherImmigration (AAFI) political party barely tries to hide its ownextreme racism. One of their candidates is on record saying “Mypolicy on refugees and illegals is to reopen the. . .Meatworks,creating up to 500 local jobs, and convert them into blood andbone” (The Sydney Morning Herald, 15/4/94).11.tn the outer Sydney suburb of Campbelltown, the Inquiry foundthat 47% of adult migrants had experienced racist abuse and 9%racist violence, while 36% of student migrants had experiencedracist abuse and 14% racist violence (in Collins and Henry1993:15).12.Even though official estimates say that Asian-Australians willcomprise only 7% of the total population by 2025 (Nedeljkovic1992:26).13.The other four are Canada, the USA, New Zealand and Israel(Collins and Henry 1993:1).14.This is compared to New Zealand 16.6%, Canada 15.2%, Switzerland14.2%, Great Britain 8.5%, France 7.7%, West Germany 7.2%, Sweden5.1%, and the USA 4.7%, all in 1980 (Collins 1993:1).l5Few politicians have adopted an anti-multiculturalism stand. In1988, the then leader of the Opposition, Mr. John Howard, droppedthe multiculturalism policy from his platform and was soon himselfdropped by the Liberal Party.16.it is a common misconception that the multiculturalism policy isa promotion of massive immigration intakes. In August 1993, forexample, the Leader of the National Party, Tim Fisher, called forcuts to immigration intakes combined with a review of themulticulturalism policy (The Sun-Herald, 8/8/93). Since the mid1980s, as the Australian government promoted and defined itsmulticulturalism policy, immigration level have been consistentlycut. The 1993-94 intake is set at 76,000 down from 110,000 in 1991-92 (The Sun-Herald, 8/8/93).17.Some examples at the Australian Museum include “Treasures ofAncient Macedonia” (1989), “Taonga Maori: Treasures of the NewZealand Maori People” (1989), “Beyond the Java Sea: Art ofIndonesia’s Outer Islands” (1993), and “Rediscovering Pompeii”(September 1994).4418. This position’s responsibilities include “to attract a greaterdiversity of people from different backgrounds, and to give Museumvisitors a greater appreciation of our multicultural Australia”(Annual Report 1991/1992:28). The Cultural Diversity Coordinatorposition was made redundant in May 1994. These responsibilities nowbelong to the Program Manager for the semi-permanent gallery OurPlace: Australian People, Australian Identity.19. To this end, the Museum reserves the right to censure all textproduced for exhibitions in this space.20. Sydney’s multicultural make-up featured heavily in thesuccessful Olympic Games 2000 bid. Prime Minister Paul Keatingproclaimed “Australia’s unique experience in creating amulticultural society of remarkable tolerance and harmony, togetherwith the warm relations we enjoy with other countries, will go along way in ensuring that all Olympic nations will enjoy, insafety, both the games and one of the most beautiful and excitingcities in the New World” (The Daily Telegraph Mirror, 24/9/93).21. It is only recently that words like Greek-Australian or AsianAustralian have come into common usage. Colloquially, most peopleare still referred to (and often refer to themselves) as “Greek” or“Chinese” etc., even if they, their parents, or even theirgrandparents, were born in Australia. 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