Why Museums Matter

Why Museums Matter

CAMD believes museums matter to the community because:

  • museum COLLECTIONS hold our cultural memories and help us face the future creatively;
  • museums provide different, but no less important, sites for EDUCATION and life-long learning,  complementing schools and other educational institutions in exciting and inspirational ways;
  • museums help us share and understand our diverse NATIONAL STORIES.  They also interpret and showcase these stories to a world audience, and
  • museums are sites of social and scientific RESEARCH and engagement.  They not only generate new knowledge, but they also help bridge the gap between science and the community and provide inspirational moments which can drive innovation.

The pages in this section provide further information about how museums work with and contribute to the community in the ways listed above.


Collections are our cultural memory and creative future

CAMD museum collections include well over 56 million objects which range from early animal specimens through to the latest tablet computer. 

These collections encapsulate a nation’s past knowledge, its changing attitudes, advancing technologies and its interactions with the world.

Collections encompass and protect our ‘cultural memory’, which can be understood as the wisdom and understandings of past cultures transmitted from one generation to the next.

The objects within collections can also provide us with reference points from the past and springboards for new ideas and new forms of cultural expression and innovation.

National Treasures/National Collections

Museums hold their collections in trust for the nation.  These collections are highly valuable and contain many irreplaceable specimens and objects.

The larger part of Australia and New Zealand’s national cultural and natural science collections, are in State/Territory or regional museums, many of which were established in the 19th or earlier 20th centuries.  More recently, exemplary national museums have also been established.  Together these organisations represent the distributed national collections of each country.


Museums and Schools

Museums today are an integral part of the education system.  They work side by side with governments, schools and communities to complement formal education classes and the informal learning done outside the schoolroom.

Over the last decade, 23 million students and their teachers have sought to deepen the learning process through a school group visit to a CAMD museum.

Museums appeal as sites of learning because they:

  • offer unique learning experiences;
  • are trusted, authoritative sources;
  • utilise ‘real’ objects from collections – their genuine character ever more valued in an increasingly ‘virtual’ age;
  • allow visitors to experience great ‘hands-on’ learning experiences that excite all five senses; and
  • are also exciting spaces, incorporating cutting-edge design and the use of multi-media technologies.

Museums are still places that can invoke excitement and wonder amongst young and old alike.

International Engagement

When relationships with an international power are important, often it is through an exchange of ‘stories’ that connection and mutual understanding is explored.

Foreign dignitaries visiting Australia or New Zealand, are invariably taken by their hosts to one or more leading museum. Museums play a significant role in this type of public diplomacy as they provide a site of great symbolism where a nation’s history, environment and culture can be shared and ‘national stories’ exchanged.

Museums often build up special relationships with other countries over many years as has been the case, for example, with the Australian National Maritime Museum and the USA; Questacon – the National Science and Technology Centre and Japan; and the Western Australian Museum and the Dutch Government, amongst many others.

National Stories

Museums are amongst the most democratic of cultural institutions.  They tell our national stories, memorialize our triumphs and tragedies, preserve our traditions, encourage a thirst for knowledge about others and knit together different generations and cultures.

The major museums within CAMD work with and celebrate the diverse cultural groups which make up 21st-century Australia.  This partnership contributes to building vibrant and cohesive communities.

Celebrating Indigenous Culture

CAMD museums work closely with Indigenous groups to protect and promote understanding at home and abroad of the rich cultural practices, beliefs and aspirations of Indigenous people in the Australasian region.

The major museums have worked for some time with local Indigenous communities to develop policies for the display and care of Indigenous cultural materials.  In some cases, Australian museums incorporate Keeping Places and New Zealand institutions have Maori Marae within their walls.

Research And Innovation


Museums and their collections provide a critical research resource that generates ground-breaking in-house research projects and collaborations with other research agencies and academies.

These interactions occur across the sciences and humanities and in nationally and globally significant areas such as climate change, bio-security, biodiversity, cultural identity and resource management.

In 2013-14, CAMD museums participated in and generated new knowledge through over 266 grant-funded research projects worth more than $18m (AUD).

In the same period, museum scientists and researchers made close to 785 presentations and released more than 1,000 scholarly publications.


Innovation and Design

Museums provide inspirational sources and nurture the development and application of innovative ideas.  This occurs not only in scientific research but in the cultural sphere.

The lines along which creativity and innovation proceed are anything but linear; they involve immersion in ideas and research across institutions and disciplines, opportunities to sample information and objects from a wide spectrum and the freedom to use and adapt the knowledge gained.

Museums provide a hugely important resource for the artists, designers, inventors and craftspeople working in traditional mediums and the digital arts.  This reflects their role as sources of ‘cultural memory’.  They offer exhibitions that generate and celebrate new work. A number of CAMD museums also offer themselves as sites for further education, training and networking in the creative arena.

The attraction of such programs, particularly for the young, can be seen, for example, in the thousands attending talks, markets, workshops and exhibitions staged by the Powerhouse Museum during the Sydney Design Festival each year.