Museums & Galleries Qld

Suzanne Gibson blogs from her volunteer internship at Redland Museum

Posted on: 15 April 2013

Ever feel like you brain might explode?

Welcome to my world after four days at the Redlands Museum, as part of a MAGSQ internship in the voluntary museum sector.

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After a few stops and starts my visit has coincided with the pointy end of Redlands moving their collection into a new, purpose-built, collections store.  The move is one stage in the museum’s $1.4 expansion.  When their new facilities open at the end of May, Redlands Museum will have additional exhibition, storage, training, childrens and workshop spaces, with provision for a café to be installed at a later stage.  In all 800 sqm of internal space and 200 sq m of veranda space has been added to the museum’s existing 1800 sq m facility.

In addition to a substantial move and reorganisation, there’s a Family Fun Day planned for coming weekend that involves non-stop entertainment, stalls and craft demonstrations for an expected turnout of around 1500 people.  And don’t forget the delivery of new office furniture, new working shed furniture and equipment, planning of a new textiles exhibition, the preparation of their regular temporary exhibition gallery of new space, the painting of the flooring in the new areas.

In their spare time they’re planning for the invitation only opening of their new facilities, with special guest her Excellency Ms Penelope Wensley AO, Governor of Queensland. The guest list will be over 300.

Who wouldn’t want to dive in and work out the strategies and operations of this dynamic, thriving organisation?  They have quite a story to tell.  They have an active volunteer-base of over 80; they raised most of the $1.4 million for their new works from private sources; they open six temporary exhibitions per year and they run a suite of craft-based “special interest groups” that extend the social capital of the museum beyond volunteers interested in the care and exhibition of a collection.  Their large collection of some 15,000 items contains some very significant objects and is, for the most part, in good to excellent condition.  Their museum is clean and welcoming and obviously a source of great pride.

They run painting teams, electrical teams, steam engine teams, textile teams and catering teams. Apart from the strong social capital involved in engaging all these active and enthusiastic retirees, they get an enormous amount of stuff done!

My key ambition for the placement was to see the management structures in place at Redlands.  Strategic planning and volunteer management were a particular focus.  In Cairns we are about to commence a move and a construction project, so the planning and funding of Redland’s expansion was also of interest.

The week has been invaluable.  As well as participating in formal management and operational meetings, I have participated in informal discussions regarding collections management, textiles storage and conservation, events planning, volunteer recruitment and management, exhibitions development and installation, display interpretation and collections research and record keeping.  Some of these have been practical discussions but many have also been exploring the deeper tensions and philosophies that we all wrestle with in seeking to sustainably manage volunteer-run museums and collections.

Along the way I have collected a Strategic Plan; a Collection Record Sheet; an Accessioning/Deaccessioning Sheet; a Movement Record Sheet, a Volunteer Induction Manual and contacts for specialist dry cleaners, name tag embroiderers and records management systems.

Yes we have all of these in Cairns, but the chance to see how someone else collects and collates records, cares for textiles, organises their storage, fundraises and plans for the short, medium and long-term is incredibly helpful.  As a volunteer organisation planning and packing for a big move, seeing how someone else has managed it has been enormously heartening.  Systems we have struggled to develop to pack, track and stack our collection are pretty similar.  I can tell that to Bill Browning, the man who has spent a lot of time and energy to think through our particular challenge.

No two museums are the same but observing how another museum is responding to its collection, its community and its volunteers can provoke ideas that have not been considered ‘at home’.  Of particular interest to me was Redland’s development of Special Interest Groups.  These craft-based groups are extending the reach and purpose of the museum in new ways. In doing so they are extending the community of the museum.  While we don’t have the same collection or space in Cairns, the concept could be developed within the ambit of the space and ‘special interests’ that we do have.  It is also a concept to think through in the planning of new spaces in the Cairns Museum.  I simply would not have considered the idea had I not had the chance to see it in action and discuss the nitty gritty of their operations with Operations Manager Hein Olivier.

Ross Bower has been incredibly generous and open with his time and expertise, despite the enormous pressures of the final stages of a large construction project.  He is a great thinker and provoker, who can chart a course through the sometimes labyrinthine processes of a long standing, volunteer-managed museum.  His Operations Manager is another great thinker who has been generous with his time and expertise.  All the volunteers have been incredibly generous and welcoming, including Doug and Annabelle Alexander who actually billeted me for the week – cooked breakfast and all.

If you haven’t been on an internship and you work in the voluntary sector, apply for one.  The solutions to your problems and issues may be found in another museum.

M&GSQ’s 2012 Mentorship, Exchange and Fellowship Program is funded by Arts Queensland through the Regional Arts Development Fund (RADF). RADF is a joint Queensland Government and Local Government partnership to support local arts and culture.

See M&GSQ’s website, for more information about the Mentorship, Exchange and Fellowship Program.


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Museums & Galleries Queensland

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Museums & Galleries Queensland is the peak professional body for the public museum and gallery sector in Queensland.

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