Jon’s Antipodean adventure

Recently, Shift’s US Director Jon headed over to Australia and New Zealand for a tour of library, museum and community organisations to share our experiences in the field and learn from others about recent efforts and developments in issues of social equity and impact. Here are some of his highlights… (*not to scale, or even true to route)

📍 Brisbane

The tour kicked off in Brisbane at the State Library of Queensland, where I spoke at the Heritage Leaders Workshop, which gathered cultural heritage professionals from across Queensland for the last in a series of symposia focused on the commemoration of the First World War. It also included several international guests like Jenny Waldman, director of 14-18 Now in the United Kingdom, and Adrian Kingston, Digital Channels Manager at Te Papa, the National Museum of New Zealand. We all shared reflections on WWI commemoration activities as well as new ways of exploring equity and impact in cultural heritage projects.

Image: State Library of Queensland

📍 Sydney, Aus

Adrian Kingston and I made our way down to Sydney where Paula Bray, DX Lab Leader at the State Library of New South Wales, hosted us for a conversation with local cultural heritage professionals and the general public. We enjoyed getting a behind-the-scenes look at the work of the DX Lab, including their recently launched Unstacked Microfiche Experience.

Whilst in Sydney, I also got to meet with the inspiring Old Ways New team, an Indigenous led social enterprise creating a new digital world informed by Indigenous Culture and Lore.

📍 Melbourne, Aus

In Melbourne, Adrian and I met with teams from Museums Victoria and ACMI to share learnings from the US and New Zealand in regards to social equity and impact, and learn more about how these institutions are looking at these issues through exhibits, programming and design. Special thanks to Ely Wallis for organizing this event.

📍 South Island, NZ

While mostly a holiday, I had the opportunity to tour Christchurch, the Banks Peninsula and some of the nearby mountain region with a particular focus on Maori history, community and collections, thanks to Helen Brown, Senior Researcher – Archives, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, and artist Grant Wylie. They really helped me to get a much fuller picture of Christchurch post the 2010-11 earthquakes and the white supremacist terrorist attack earlier this year.

📍 Wellington, NZ

In the New Zealand capital, I had the opportunity to facilitate a conversation at the National Library of New Zealand about social, cultural & resource equity in cultural organisations and designing for change. I also had the opportunity to take in the He Tohu exhibit at the National Library, a gold standard for equity in narrative. Special thanks to National Services Te Paerangi for supporting my talks and workshops in New Zealand.


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#Juneteenth is a good day to reflect on the #HeTohu exhibit at Te Puna Matauranga O Aotearoa (National Library of New Zealand), which completely blew me away and shows how exhibits can change our future through understanding our shared history. It starts with the seldom seen 1835 Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand, and then the deeply flawed 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, and also the 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition. I still have so much to unpack about this exhibit but to me it is a gold standard in equity in narrative. Just imagine if in the US we started our creation story with who was here first and how and when people came to be here. Imagine if we recognized and acknowledged genocide and slavery at our worst, officially and genuinely apologized, and started some small attempt, however feeble and inadequate, to make financial reparations and began to design better, more equitable and more just systems of governance, education, and culture. All of that starts with telling the whole story, and the many brilliant people behind this exhibition, several of whom I had the privilege of meeting with, show us the way forward.

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📍 Auckland, NZ

Finally, I was able to spend a morning with staff at The Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira, visit their newest exhibit, Carried Away, and learn about their massive digitisation, access, and collaborative cataloging efforts. We also talked about social, cultural and resource equity and how they are approaching these questions in programs and exhibits. Before leaving, I also got the chance to visit the very lively Central City branch of the Auckland Library, including their maker space, zine collection, and historical photo exhibit.

It’s been several years since I’ve been out on a speaking tour, and it was great to be able to share some of the key reports we’ve recently released and share what we’ve learned from the work we’ve been doing around equity and cultural heritage. I’m also very grateful to have been able to connect with and learn so much from colleagues around the world doing similar work. Huge thanks to the State Library of Queensland for the invitation, and to the many other people who helped make this trip possible.

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