AM prepares for $50M exhibition space

The Australian Museum’s Pacific collections are moving and the King Tut exhibition is moving in. Photo: MCT

Linda Morris, New exhibition space sends Australian Museum collection packing, The Canberra Times, 28 August 2018

Thousands of scientific and culturally significant objects gathered from the Pacific Islands will be relocated to make way for new exhibition space under a $50 million redevelopment of Australia’s oldest museum.

Australian Museum‘s world-renowned Pacific Collection will be temporarily stored off-site from next year until permanent facilities at the Museum’s Discovery Centre in Castle Hill can be built – extra museum storage capacity that will also cater for the Powerhouse Museum’s collection when that museum relocates from Ultimo to Parramatta.

The Australian Museum has promised no change to access arrangements for researchers and members of the Pacific Islander community when the collection is rehoused from mid-2019.

Museum director and chief executive officer Kim McKay said: “The intention is that access remains the same. So as of today if you wandered in as a member of the public and said to me, ‘Kim, I want to see your Pacific collection’, I would point you to the gallery because the collection itself is not open to the public.

“It is open to members of the Pacific community to make appointments to see different parts of the collection relevant to where they come from and objects that are sacred and have spiritual meaning to them. Nothing changes.”

Established in 1827, the Australian Museum is the custodian of 18 million objects and yet claims to have the smallest public floor space of any major Australian museum.

The NSW government announced in June it would spend $50 million to add additional exhibition space of 1800 square metres, enabling the museum to host the “most significant” Tutankhamun exhibition ever to leave Egypt.

The blockbuster Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh will spend six months in Sydney, opening in 2021.

Phase one of the museum master plan will necessitate a reconfiguration of existing basement storage space to become public galleries.

The museum’s Pacific Spirit gallery would remain open throughout phase one of construction, and the plan for phase two is that it would be significantly expanded, Ms McKay said. Objects from the Pacific collection would also remain on display in the Westpac Long Gallery.

The Pacific Collection, comprising more than 60,000 objects drawn from Melanesian cultures, with representative collections from Polynesia and Micronesia, is among the finest in the world.

The purpose of the phase one museum extension is to start to turn the museum “inside out” and put more of the collection on display than before, Ms McKay said.

“We’ll be able to do this with increased floor space.

“Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh is a temporary exhibition that will be here for six months so we are not moving the Pacific collection off-site to put King Tut in here. What we are doing is moving the Pacific collection off-site to liberate the floor space so we can have many more exhibitions in the future. It will be just the first.

“The goal is to have as much as 20 per cent of the collections on public display by the end of phase two – we’ll achieve this through both digital and physical display. Typically in museums less than 1 per cent of the collection is on display.