Thursday, September 19, 2013

What is the role of the community gallery in museums today? - Guest post by Dr Nina Parish & Dr Chiara O'Reilly

Part of the Greek community display at Hurstville Museum & Gallery

We recently hosted a workshop at the Australian National Maritime Museum to present some of our research on telling migrant stories in Australian museums.One of our research areas considers the community gallery and here we discussed the Spotlight space at Hurstville, which is currently showing an exhibition on the Greek community, as a strong example of this type of gallery in Australian museums. 

The exhibits in this space are community-led and reflect a collaboration between the local community of the St George region and staff at the Museum and Gallery. Although it’s just a small space – with three dedicated cases - it plays an important role in crafting particular stories of identity, belonging and in showcasing diversity. At Hurstville, as elsewhere, the community gallery is also vital to the generation of community events – as Gemma Beswick, the Historical & Cultural Services Coordinator at Hurstville, explained in an interview with us, the openings of exhibitions in the community gallery often turn into a festival, a party. And it doesn’t take much to understand why a celebration of your community, a chance for you to see yourself in a museum, to have some sort of input into this type of institution, this type of representation, would be so popular.

This type of dedicated community-led space is essential to modern museums – not only does it celebrate specific communities but it also has the potential to increase participation. Our research is interested in how this space is able to include new voices in the museum and open the museum up to the community. We are particularly focused on how museums today can best balance the tensions between telling local history, celebrating achievements and reflecting critically on sometimes difficult stories of diversity and its significance. Spotlight spaces like that at Hurstville are key to understanding the role of museums in twenty-first century life and we will keep you up-to-date about our research project as it develops.

Dr Nina Parish (University of Bath)
Dr Chiara O’Reilly (University of Sydney)

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