Financial reporting on public cultural and scientific heritage assets (government-held collections) has been a requirement of Australian state governments for several years now. As a result, collection valuations are becoming familiar tasks for many museums, art galleries and other holders of public collections. Accounting for these assets can be a complex task from two angles.
Cultural collecting institutions are not only the custodians of their collections, but also the guardians of the contextual information for those collections, without which their cultural value is compromised.
In late January 2012, an article appeared on the front page of the Melbourne newspaper, The Age. The article featured an image of an artwork by Richard Parkes Bonington, Low Tide at Boulogne, 1824 under the heading, ‘Have you seen this painting? Thieves have struck — but don’t panic.’ So what was the story behind the headline?
Two years ago I sat in the audience of the ARC Conference, which addressed issues of collection ownership, access and care, feeling very overwhelmed at the challenges I was about to face at my own institution.
The disaster outlined in this paper was a major fire event in one of two main data centres at The University of Queensland’s main campus at St Lucia, Brisbane, which occurred at 4.30am on Sunday 22 August 2010. The fire was caused by a UPS (uninterpretable power supply), located in the data centre, catching fire. The resulting power failure cut off the power supply to the banks of servers that host the University’s digital services with the fire releasing acrid smoke and particulates into this sensitive environment.
Since September 2010, Christchurch has experienced over 10,000 earthquakes. The earthquake that hit the city on the 22 February 2011 was by far, the most damaging of all events. And while I won’t go so far as to say the earthquakes have been a blessing in disguise, I do believe every cloud has a silver lining.
Over the last three years, as a member of the National Gallery of Australia Travelling Exhibitions team, I have travelled to major cities and regional towns around the country. In 2011 this included the management and installation of two very different travelling exhibitions: Australian portraits 1880–1960: paintings from the National Gallery of Australia collection and Space invaders: australian.street.stencils.posters.paste-ups.zines.stickers
My aim is to give an overview of the Newcastle Art Gallery’s collection audit that was piloted from March 2010. I will give you the nuts and bolts of what we did and how we did it. But I will also outline why we did it from a wider organisational, management and strategic perspective.
When I was asked to speak on the ‘duty of care’ owed by the museum employees to collection material I asked, ‘Why?’ The answer was interesting: ‘Often I think that the concept of ‘duty of care’ is just used as a nice reason for refusing a loan request. What does is it really mean and what are its implications for us.’
This paper draws on the Sharon Dell’s long experience working in research libraries and museums that look after documents and objects of particular significance to Maori. It discusses the effect that working alongside tangata whenua has had on collection management practices and, in the case of Whanganui Regional Museum, on the structure of the organisation itself.