In Museums We Trust
As always, I find myself incredibly busy and often overwhelmed when I sit down to write these blogs for our website, but I also have a great sense of accomplishment as I write this particular blog.
In the last few months, we have continued to kick a number of goals, from creating new exhibits and engaging with new audiences, to presenting new events and ways for us to promote the Museum to a wider community.
One major event that took place at the Museum last month was Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) Open Day on 15 May 2021. While the Museum usually takes part in the day with a pop-up shop and heritage vehicles on display at the Emergency Services Academy (ESA) in Orchard Hills, this was the first time that the Museum acted as a host venue.
On the day, nine different stations showcasing a large variety of FRNSW capabilities were on display and we were blown away with the number of people who came to visit. This day saw the highest ever number of visitors pass through the Museum (excluding major show days when entry is free) and we couldn’t be happier.
Our team also attended the ESA like normal and Blayney Fire Station to take part in the centenary celebrations of the brigade. For more on this see our Blayney blog - https://www.museumoffire.net/single-post/station-focus-no-227-blayney-1921-2021
Following straight on from this event the Museum also hosted two car shows: National Motor Heritage Day (16 May) and General Motors Day (20 June). Both days showcased some of Australia’s finest motoring heritage and exhibited many vehicles held in private collections. We look forward to holding many more days like this across the coming months.
Picture one: Motor Heritage Day, 2021. Picture Two: GM Day, 2021
In amongst all these activities I attended the Australian Museum and Galleries (AMAGA) 2021 conference with our Curator Laura Anderson. Over one chilly week in Canberra we were able to meet with our museum colleagues from other organizations all around Australia and we were able to do this in person, which was something we have missed being able to do over the last year.
Many ideas over culture, climate change and museum leadership were discussed that caused me to pause and consider my position as the head of a cultural institution. One year ago, I had to transition from heritage and curatorial professional to a businesswoman. I think I was naïve to think the two were mutually applicable as over the last year I have had to take my heritage hat off and put on a business one. Having said that I have kept my heritage hat firmly in hand as I try to not lose sight of where I have come from.
Many Museums are run by administrators, not heritage practitioners so quite often this juxtaposition of heritage v. business is not seen as an issue. In my case though, I feel the roll of my heritage teams’ eyes or collective sigh as I make decisions that could be considered more business than heritage.
As someone who has been the one sighing or rolling their eyes, I feel like I’ve crossed that metaphorical bridge into the business realm as my days now consist mainly of meetings with stakeholders, financial decisions, ensure our budget (or lack thereof) is being managed correctly and trying to come up with ways to get more people into the Museum.
One of the constant themes of the conference was “leadership fatigue”. This is something I know all too well. As the leader of a small organization, it is all hands to the pump so for the last year (specifically the last four very busy months) I have not had more than one day away from the Museum at a time as we engage with new events and possibilities to increase visitation.
I am tired, but as we achieve greater results I continue to jump into more activities and to their credit my team comes with me. I think it was beneficial to hear that the entire sector is experiencing this “fatigue”. The global pandemic has seen a greater focus on local audiences, and this is an opportunity many of us, especially smaller Museums, do not want to miss.
In one year, our team have enacted great change but there is still an incredible way to go. Our chairman is constantly saying “It is a marathon, not a race” and despite his words of wisdom we continue to race.
Pictured Above: Some of the activities undertaken in the last year by the Museum's team from launching a new gallery space and children's art competition to claiming a square on Penrith Monopoly and attending the Easter Show and Hawkesbury Show. What a busy 12 months!
It is now time to slow down, take stock of where we are and focus our energy on maintaining this development and success. Our strategic plan for 2022 is very exciting and includes several new events as well as the return of some existing ones. We will continue to change and mould the visitor experience but some of our new exhibits may not be what the public was expecting. As a cultural organsiation it is our job to ensure history is presented in a way that makes the Museum welcoming and applicable to new audiences. I urge you to plan a visit to the Museum now so that as things change you have a point of reference to refer to.
My favourite quote and one I associate with the most from the AMAGA conference comes from the director of the Australian Museum Kim McKay; “[being director] is fun as you can make decisions as long as you have the support of a board who are backing you”. I am very lucky to have an incredibly supportive board that is for the most part more than happy to endorse all of the great ideas our team comes up with. They are prepared to be bold, so long as we can justify why we are doing what we are doing.
The week at AMAGA 2021 was incredibly fulfilling but it was also very overwhelming as the tasks that lay ahead were made exceedingly clear. Cultural organisations have a key role in developing the future despite being places that present what occurred in the past.
A friend said to me, as I described the two main topics discussed at the conference: “what is the point in having discussions about things such as cultural inclusion or climate change as you can’t do anything?”.
I asked back “where does change from come?”
They answered “schools.”
I asked, “and who brings the change into schools?”
They said “teachers.”
Me: “and where do teachers get the ideas and teachings?”
Me: “and where do the Government get it? Who campaigns to the government?”
It may seem that Museum’s just reflect what is current and what is popular, but it is up to Museum’s to pave the way for the future. Museums have public trust, and we need ensure it is not lost. To do this we need to combine the past with the present to ensure our survival into the future and that is a mammoth task to undertake.
Watch this space to see how the Museum continues to adapt and change.
-Story by Belinda McMartin, Museum of Fire CEO
*****Annual Donation Appeal - Make a tax deductible donation to the Museum of Fire Today *****
Thank you for your support throughout the last year!
This time last year the Museum had just re-opened our doors following the forced COVID closure and we were unsure of what the path ahead held for the future of the organisation.
Even with the evolving situation and uncertainty the Museum received amazing support from the public who continue to visit and spread the word about all the changes coming to the Museum. Indeed, it is our visitors who have kept us going over the past 12 months and given us the encouragement to keep bringing new ideas to the Museum with exciting events and activities.
Despite the support of visitors as a not for profit and registered charity we need your help!
Many costs associated with operating the Museum have risen over the previous year due to the pandemic and as we work to modernise the Museum, we need your assistance more now than ever before!
How can you help?
Visit - every paid visit to the Museum contributes directly to operating the Museum.
Become a member - for just $30 you can have unlimited annual access to the Museum! As a special offer use your Dine and Discover Voucher when you visit the Museum to become a member for just $25! (Offer only applies if using the dine and discover voucher and must be used in store only).
Donate - make a tax-deductible donation to support the Museum and our heritage works that preserve the noble history of firefighting. To do so visit our website https://www.museumoffire.net/donating-funds or simply call 02 4731 3000. There isn’t much time left in this financial year!
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