By Judith Taylor, South Island Museum Development Adviser | Kaiwhanake Whare Taonga, National Services Te Paerangi
In the aftermath of the shocking attacks on the Christchurch mosques and Muslim community on 15 March, we who work in museums are increasingly aware that it is essential to do much more to transform museums into places of inclusion and diversity.
Many museums around the world are already more inclusive and work with migrants and refugee communities in innovative ways. There are some great examples of co-created programmes in museums large and small that share the stories of new comers from all over the world and their adjustment to life in Aotearoa.
Te Papa has a multi-media exhibition The Mixing Room where the stories of over 70 young refugees are shared. The exhibition content was developed through a series of workshops held throughout New Zealand with refugees. Participants decided if and what they wanted to share and how their stories would be told.
Museums in the South Island have incorporated and welcomed immigrant communities with co-created exhibitions and programmes. Over the past decade or more, Selwyn and Ashburton Districts have become an increasingly diverse multicultural centre.
In 2016, the team at Ashburton Museum began a long term project, documenting newcomers to the district. At the centre of the museum is a portrait wall with photos and stories of people new to the district. Some arrived several decades ago, others were working in the region for a shorter time, had arrived alone, with family, or were displaced from homes following the Canterbury earthquakes.
Dr Tanya Robinson, Director Ashburton Museum, reflects on their exhibition New Faces, New Lives:
“We cast the net wide to capture images and stories that show the diversity of people in Ashburton district. The area also shows compelling video detailing newcomers’ experiences in Ashburton. The space is used constantly for curriculum-linked school programs about migration, diversity and identity. Spin offs have included cultural workshops, public program content and community collaborations.”
“Since the shootings in Christchurch we have set up a new area where people can make a white flower or leave a message. Feedback has been that visitors have found this a special way to acknowledge those affected by the tragic events in Christchurch. Many comments signal hope, inclusion and positivity about being in a multicultural community.”
The Center for the Future of Museums blog provides some suggestions and tips for development of programmes around migration.
Workshops on collections rethink
In February staff and volunteers from around Aotearoa attended the South Island workshop series Rationalising your Collection led by Jane Leggett. Every museum was grappling with the same issues: irrelevant and duplicate collection items from the collecting past with little relevance to vision, mission or collection policies.
At the West Coast’s Shantytown workshop we went through a number of interesting scenarios and discussed the reasons for deciding if items should have been collected in the first place, whether to keep those items and how to safely deaccession and dispose of them.
The upside is that the record checking, documentation and research that needs to be carried out may even uncover apparently humble items that have deep historical significance and that could become new centre pieces for your museum’s unique stories.
There are a number of helpful guidelines for this process
Deaccessioning is not a project that can be safely rushed through and the documentation needs to be signed off by the governing body. At Founders Heritage Park in Nelson, NSTP is providing support for a rationalisation project for the collection through our Expert Knowledge Exchange programme.
Recent activity in the South Island
Myself and other staff from Hokitika Museum attended the Waitangi Day celebration at the beautiful and welcoming Arahura Marae near Hokitika, where the day included a pōwhiri, demonstrations, kai and history of Ngāti Waewae and Makāawhio shared in a fascinating talk by historian Paul Madgwick.
Left Bank Art Gallery in Greymouth has reopened after earthquake strengthening and on exhibition is Prospects Fearful by artists Caroline McQuarrie and Shaun Matthews that retells the story of Surveyor Thomas Brunner’s punishing 18 month long exploration journey from Nelson to the South Island’s West Coast and back in 1846 – 1848.
Further up the Coast, in Westport, the Coaltown Museum board is planning the second stage of their rebuild project; storage facility and more exhibition space.
Across the Coast there is a plan to meld a coherent interpretation theme of pounamu to enhance the visitor cultural experience and tell stories from the iwi perspective. Pounamu is a taonga only found on the West Coast of Aotearoa and is centred on the Hokitika area.
A trail up the coast will include content from the Ngai Tahu cultural mapping project to sign places of significance to iwi. The development of a new Westland museum and pounamu centre is also proposed along with other cultural developments on the coast.
Meanwhile at Hokitika Museum earthquake strengthening for the Carnegie Building is planned for later in 2019 as the first stage of a redevelopment. Following the Wildfoods Festival and developing a temporary Wildfoods exhibition, the museum team is refocusing on the museum redevelopment project preparation.