A national taskforce is going over the standards that museums and galleries adopt, ensuring best practice in our changing world. So what do they consider relevant?
While a National Standards document hardly sounds like a sexy read, it is the kind of handbook document that is a ‘go to’ for museum and gallery professionals to ensure they are aligned in sector best practice.
Established in 2008, and last updated in 2015, the National Standards for Australian Museums and Galleries is again on the table for review, and comes at a time ‘when what we do and how we do it’ has rapidly changed.
In part that has been escalated by the pandemic of the past 18-months, but it is also in sync with a global rethink about museum ethics, conversations around sustainability, creating safe spaces, and engaging First Nations voices in a respectful way.
The review process is headed up by the National Standards Taskforce – a group of peak organisations that have come together voluntarily. They include: Arts Tasmania, Australian Museums and Galleries Association Victoria, History Trust of South Australia, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Museums & Galleries of New South Wales and Museums & Galleries Queensland.
ArtsHub spoke with Rebekah Butler, Executive Director M&G QLD, and the organisation’s Professional Development Manager, Tara Callaghan, who has been charged with administering the process.
‘It is about best practice, and providing those links and resources for those less resourced organisations to aspire to, and to educate what they can achieve in their capacity,’ explained Butler.
‘In terms of the professionalism of the sector or even capacity, there is a big range.’
There are close to 1,500 galleries and museums in Australia.
EMBEDDING FIRST NATIONS IN THE NATIONAL STANDARDS
One of the areas that needed greater consideration in the National Standards were the protocols and expectations working with Indigenous material and consulting with community.
Callaghan told ArtsHub: ‘We recognised that there was a gap, and it is coming up in our work all the time in the sector. By looking at those fantastic things, like the First Nations Roadmap by Terri Janke and its high level benchmark, and [structuring] what can flow on from there.
She continued: ‘It is about creating the reference [points] for people to look at, and link to, to get answers to their questions.’
The review has been funded by The Ian Potter Foundation, which has allowed the Taskforce to engage a First Nations consultant to lead the integration of AMaGA’s First Peoples: A Roadmap for Enhancing Indigenous Engagement in Museums and Galleries into the National Standards.
Callaghan continued: ‘It’s about how we can get those documents all to talk together and be better connected, so the Standards become a key place that the sector can turn.’
Lead consultant is Donna Biles Fernando, an Aboriginal woman of Muruwari and Ngemba People, is working with Debbie Abraham, dovetailing their vast experience in arts management and strategy, alongside sector consultation.
‘They have worked a lot together and doing some important work to bring the National Standards up to par, and to properly engage with First Nations people in the process,’ said Butler.
WHY DO WE NEED A NATIONAL STANDARD DOCUMENT?
The document provides museums, galleries, historical societies and heritage sites – be they funded or volunteer-run – with a holistic framework for achieving organisational objectives.
Callaghan said the updates have a currency and are generally timed as needed, like the new standards that have emerged around the digital space and copyright.
New content addressed in the Standards review include: Diversity, environmental sustainability, social media, digitisation, digital engagement and copyright.
‘It is also about ensuring that the existing content and benchmarks are current, and all those links in the existing document work,’ added Butler.
How different are the National Standards to say a Code of Ethics or the Code of Practice (which is currently being re-written by NAVA)?
‘It has a different function. They are all about best practice, and while ethics are things you have to adhere to, standards are about professional practice,’ said Butler.
WHAT IT MEANS AT GRASS ROOTS LEVEL
In tandem each of the Taskforce organsiations run their own Standards Review Programs stemming out from the document – a kind of creditation program to build and enable professional practice.
Butler explained: ‘How we use the Standards Review Program – it’s a 12-month program where we work with organisations, museums and galleries to assess their practice against the Standards. We also work with peer assessors to go through an intensive self-review survey to identify areas of need, as well as on-site visit.
Butler added it was about building a rapport and professional confidence over that 12-months, which concludes with an action plan and what they want to achieve, be it sustainabiliy, better connection with their communities, or better collection management practices.
‘The uptake of this program is huge,’ says Butler, ‘especially by smaller spaces, historical societies and volunteer run museums.’ M&G QLD has have had over 8,000 participants and 100 organisations take part in their Standards Review Program since 2005.
Callaghan added that the standard is also a ‘fantastic document for advocacy, or when you want to have that conversation with local government to plan an upgrade.’
The revised National Standards document will be released mid 2022.
To learn more about the National Standards for Australian Museums and Galleries or to contribute to this sector review, contact M&G QLD.