Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Convincing Governments to Invest

Artist’s conception of new museum space. Source: WA Museum

Deborah Stone ‘How to persuade government to give you $438 million’, ArtsHub, 12 November 2014

Demonstrating worth, not need, was the key to convincing the WA Government to invest in a new museum.

Western Australia has needed a new museum for a long time but complaining that the displays were dated, the history gallery ‘sad’ and the conditions dismal, did nothing to convince the WA Government to find the money for a new museum.

Instead of relying on a barrage of complaints, the approach that has delivered a $438 million commitment to build a new museum was much more optimistic and capacity-driven, said WA Museum (WAM) CEO Alec Coles.

‘We were in a victim culture that said the Government had to provide us with a new museum. That has changed. Instead of an argument based on entitlement and need, we created an argument based on worth,’ he said. Coles explained how the transformation occurred to a workshop of museum professionals at the Communicating the Museum Conference in Sydney last week.

As soon as Coles took up his appointment in 2010 the Museum embarked on a process to demonstrate its capability and showcase itself as a social investment for the State. The strategy was to leverage from every opportunity to show how much value WAM could offer the State.

The first opportunity came when Perth was offered the exhibition A Day in Pompeii at short notice. It was the kind of blockbuster exhibition that often goes to Melbourne or Sydney but traditionally bypassed Perth. ‘It required 1000 sq m, we had 438. Our board didn’t believe we could do it. Half the management team didn’t believe we could do it,’ recalled Coles.

Acknowledging that he perhaps came with the naive optimism of a new broom, Coles was convinced WAM could do it. The result was round the block queues and a changed attitude to the Museum.

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Council of Australasian Museum Directors, c/o Ms Daryl Karp, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House PO Box 3934 Manuka, Australian Capital Territory 2603 Australia, © CAMD 2020
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