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Making Change in a Volunteer Run
           Museum




  Suzanne Gibson: Manager Cairns Historical Society Museum
DISCLAIMER
Outline

• Background to myself and the Cairns
  Historical Society Museum.
• Overview of the planning work we’ve
  been doing and where we are at.
• Snapshot of a few community
  engagement activities we’ve tried.
• Reflections .. lessons; the good the
  bad and the ugly of change … ;)
Me
Cairns Historical Society Museum

  • Part of the Cairns Historical Society, the
    earliest Historical Society in NQ
  • Society has four operations: research
    archive/library; imaging department; shop;
    and a museum.
  • Society as a whole has an active volunteer
    base of 50, of which 20 are active in the
    museum
  • Museum established in 1980, and
    extensively refurbished in 1983
Why change?


• Falling visitation
• Invisibility in the community
• The building was extremely run down
• The museum didn’t seem to reflect
  Cairns
The case for change


The museum didn’t really seem to
 reflect the Cairns that we could
  see, smell and hear around us
Strengths

• There is a great story to tell
• There was no other museum in town
• We have a huge international and
  national visitation to our city
• Great premises – potential!
• Great resources in terms of the CHS
  collection
• An organisational culture of public
  service
• Willingness to think about changing
• POTENTIAL
Making change


• A plan for renewing the museum
• Reach out to locals
• A better relationship with CRC
Irritating and unjust as it seems:
we had to demonstrate the value of
what we do and the potential of our
           organisation.
Short story

• Successful in obtaining two years of
  funding from CRC to rethink the
  museum.
• New strategic plan, new collection
  policy, thematic survey of the
  collection, strategic collecting priorities.
• The process got us out talking to people
  outside our organisation.
The surprises

• Most volunteers understood that the
  museum had stagnated
• Many also recognised that the museum
  needed to be modernised
• Most volunteers were enthused at the
  potential for change
The Vision


 A museum that reveals the past
and connects with the present of
     Cairns as a tropical city.
Our Mission


      The Cairns Museum
collects, conserves, researches
         and exhibits the
history, heritage, people, places
 and changing environment of
              Cairns.
Our Values
• A sustainable museum and collection as an
  endowment for the future
• Fostering community connections and social
  inclusion
• Integrity in the presentation of stories and
  displays
• An advocate for the importance of our
  place, and its history and heritage
Our Purpose
• Interpret the history of Cairns through stories
  about life in the tropics and
  people, places, objects and the environment
• Orient visitors and the community to the
  history, heritage, places and cultures shaping
  the development of Cairns
• Engage the community and visitors, sharing
  stories about life in the tropics
• Provide education opportunities to people of
  all ages
• Care for a significant collection for present and
  future generations
Reasons to be cheerful …
• CRC has set aside $3.75 million to renovate the
  School of Arts building
• Included is dedicated space for the CHC and its
  collection, as well as dedicated space for the
  museum … ie we’re not being evicted
• Wheelchair accessible and new street entry
• Talking with CRC about an MOU that will provide
  some financial support to the CHS
• Funding to re-imagine our display and interpretation
  of Aboriginal cultures
• Funding for replanning the museum
Reasons to tear out your hair …

• There is no money for a fit out (plan to
  win that one)
• They won’t put the museum on the
  ground floor (won’t win that one)
• Still don’t really see the potential of
  the museum as a CBD drawcard (can
  change that)
Outreach
History on the Move trailer
Reflections: the internal community

• Change needs leadership.
• Just because people don’t want to lead a change
  process doesn’t mean they don’t want change.
• Ask your internal community what they would
  like to see in the museum. Insightful and
  positive.
• Keep talking – even when people don’t like what
  you are saying, keep saying it – tactfully.
• Know when you have said enough.
Reflections: volunteers

• If you recruit volunteers from different
  cultural backgrounds, more will come
• Volunteers like project – something with
  a beginning, a middle and an end
• Keep talking
• Take their advice
Reflections: external stakeholders

 • Tell people what you are doing
 • Especially tell local Councillors and key
   Council officers
 • Building relationships takes time
 • Find good partners to work with
Has the been change?

     Yes there has been change - renewed
             enthusiasm, forward
 thinking, inclusiveness, defined direction for
future of museum and collection policy more
       business-like, changed community
      involvement, development of school
programs, deaccessioning progress, clean up.
Yes, a more friendly feeling and a cooperation
     with everyone. It seems much more
      organized, and more business like.
appearance of the museum entrances, good
  quality exhibition WHICH WE DID OURSELVES
AND DIDN'T HAVE TO GET CONSULTANTS IN FOR
   (yay), better relationship with CRC and other
      organisations partly because a museum
  professional is now fronting the organisation
         (and because of your pre-existing
         networks), important documents
        updated, significance statements for
     objects, better accessioning process, shed
 situation more under control, new and creative
types of outreach activities as well as the trailer.
I would have like to see more stuff being culled
 more quickly however I appreciate the delicacy
of the matter. Having taken the de-accessioning
more slowly seems to have worked wonders. It’s
amazing that XX has even agreed to the printing
    press being relocated (even if it isn’t to the
                      dump)
The Cairns in 1942 display has clean features full
    of interesting information and contrasts
  markedly with the rest of the displays in the
    Museum. I can’t wait for them all to be
                    revamped.
What could we have done
     better/differently with hindsight?


Still nervous about shed clean-up and what has
     been discarded/is being discarded given
accession for those objects was so minimal - are
we throwing out stuff which we don't know the
                 significance of?
Importance of respecting the past contributions
   of section leaders & various volunteers
I would have liked to see something done about
 the shop. Our love for XX made it hard to make
 hard decisions. I don’t think we should feel bad
       about caring about our members …
Are we doing the right thing?

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Suzanne Gibson 'Making Change in a Volunteer Run Museum'

  • 1. Making Change in a Volunteer Run Museum Suzanne Gibson: Manager Cairns Historical Society Museum
  • 3. Outline • Background to myself and the Cairns Historical Society Museum. • Overview of the planning work we’ve been doing and where we are at. • Snapshot of a few community engagement activities we’ve tried. • Reflections .. lessons; the good the bad and the ugly of change … ;)
  • 4. Me
  • 5. Cairns Historical Society Museum • Part of the Cairns Historical Society, the earliest Historical Society in NQ • Society has four operations: research archive/library; imaging department; shop; and a museum. • Society as a whole has an active volunteer base of 50, of which 20 are active in the museum • Museum established in 1980, and extensively refurbished in 1983
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  • 10. Why change? • Falling visitation • Invisibility in the community • The building was extremely run down • The museum didn’t seem to reflect Cairns
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  • 16. The case for change The museum didn’t really seem to reflect the Cairns that we could see, smell and hear around us
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  • 22. Strengths • There is a great story to tell • There was no other museum in town • We have a huge international and national visitation to our city • Great premises – potential!
  • 23. • Great resources in terms of the CHS collection • An organisational culture of public service • Willingness to think about changing • POTENTIAL
  • 24. Making change • A plan for renewing the museum • Reach out to locals • A better relationship with CRC
  • 25. Irritating and unjust as it seems: we had to demonstrate the value of what we do and the potential of our organisation.
  • 26. Short story • Successful in obtaining two years of funding from CRC to rethink the museum. • New strategic plan, new collection policy, thematic survey of the collection, strategic collecting priorities. • The process got us out talking to people outside our organisation.
  • 27. The surprises • Most volunteers understood that the museum had stagnated • Many also recognised that the museum needed to be modernised • Most volunteers were enthused at the potential for change
  • 28. The Vision A museum that reveals the past and connects with the present of Cairns as a tropical city.
  • 29. Our Mission The Cairns Museum collects, conserves, researches and exhibits the history, heritage, people, places and changing environment of Cairns.
  • 30. Our Values • A sustainable museum and collection as an endowment for the future • Fostering community connections and social inclusion • Integrity in the presentation of stories and displays • An advocate for the importance of our place, and its history and heritage
  • 31. Our Purpose • Interpret the history of Cairns through stories about life in the tropics and people, places, objects and the environment • Orient visitors and the community to the history, heritage, places and cultures shaping the development of Cairns • Engage the community and visitors, sharing stories about life in the tropics • Provide education opportunities to people of all ages • Care for a significant collection for present and future generations
  • 32. Reasons to be cheerful … • CRC has set aside $3.75 million to renovate the School of Arts building • Included is dedicated space for the CHC and its collection, as well as dedicated space for the museum … ie we’re not being evicted • Wheelchair accessible and new street entry • Talking with CRC about an MOU that will provide some financial support to the CHS • Funding to re-imagine our display and interpretation of Aboriginal cultures • Funding for replanning the museum
  • 33. Reasons to tear out your hair … • There is no money for a fit out (plan to win that one) • They won’t put the museum on the ground floor (won’t win that one) • Still don’t really see the potential of the museum as a CBD drawcard (can change that)
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  • 44. History on the Move trailer
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  • 50. Reflections: the internal community • Change needs leadership. • Just because people don’t want to lead a change process doesn’t mean they don’t want change. • Ask your internal community what they would like to see in the museum. Insightful and positive. • Keep talking – even when people don’t like what you are saying, keep saying it – tactfully. • Know when you have said enough.
  • 51. Reflections: volunteers • If you recruit volunteers from different cultural backgrounds, more will come • Volunteers like project – something with a beginning, a middle and an end • Keep talking • Take their advice
  • 52. Reflections: external stakeholders • Tell people what you are doing • Especially tell local Councillors and key Council officers • Building relationships takes time • Find good partners to work with
  • 53. Has the been change? Yes there has been change - renewed enthusiasm, forward thinking, inclusiveness, defined direction for future of museum and collection policy more business-like, changed community involvement, development of school programs, deaccessioning progress, clean up.
  • 54. Yes, a more friendly feeling and a cooperation with everyone. It seems much more organized, and more business like.
  • 55. appearance of the museum entrances, good quality exhibition WHICH WE DID OURSELVES AND DIDN'T HAVE TO GET CONSULTANTS IN FOR (yay), better relationship with CRC and other organisations partly because a museum professional is now fronting the organisation (and because of your pre-existing networks), important documents updated, significance statements for objects, better accessioning process, shed situation more under control, new and creative types of outreach activities as well as the trailer.
  • 56. I would have like to see more stuff being culled more quickly however I appreciate the delicacy of the matter. Having taken the de-accessioning more slowly seems to have worked wonders. It’s amazing that XX has even agreed to the printing press being relocated (even if it isn’t to the dump)
  • 57. The Cairns in 1942 display has clean features full of interesting information and contrasts markedly with the rest of the displays in the Museum. I can’t wait for them all to be revamped.
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  • 62. What could we have done better/differently with hindsight? Still nervous about shed clean-up and what has been discarded/is being discarded given accession for those objects was so minimal - are we throwing out stuff which we don't know the significance of?
  • 63. Importance of respecting the past contributions of section leaders & various volunteers
  • 64. I would have liked to see something done about the shop. Our love for XX made it hard to make hard decisions. I don’t think we should feel bad about caring about our members …
  • 65. Are we doing the right thing?

Editor's Notes

  1. Timber cutting; health and medicine