The National Museum of Australia’s Cultural Connections Initiative received funding from the Australian Government as part of a package of initiatives to mark the 250th anniversary of James Cook’s historic voyage charting the east coast of Australia.
The initiative is grounded in multiple partnerships with community organisations and national and international cultural institutions. It comprises two complementary community outreach programs — the Cultural Connections program and the Encounters Fellowships program. Both programs are designed to support the professional skills and capabilities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural practitioners and to support the development of community-led cultural work.
Cultural Connections program
As part of the Endeavour 250 commemorations, the Museum’s Cultural Connections program has partnered with local land councils, shires, arts and cultural organisations in locations along the east coast of Australia.
Each location chosen was a key site of encounter during the HMB Endeavour’s voyage.
Ten partnerships were created to support community-led projects that strengthen local cultural practices and knowledge transmission. There is an emphasis on professional development and employment. Eight cultural workers have been employed through the program, which is designed to support and empower them to develop and deliver important cultural work in their communities.
As well as creating a platform for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural practitioners and communities to practice their culture in a way that is meaningful to them, the Cultural Connections program aims to create pathways that strengthen relationships with the National Museum of Australia.
All partnerships and projects have been developed collaboratively between the Museum and partner organisations, creating a two-way flow of learning that strengthens and enriches Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural values in the life and work of the Museum.
You can read more about the individual Cultural Connections partner organisations, cultural practitioners and projects at www.nma.gov.au/about/cultural-connections-program/partners.
Encounters Fellowships program
The Encounters Fellowships program was run by the Museum for the first time in 2016 with the support of various partners including the Australian Government. In 2019, the Government provided funding support as part of the Endeavour 250 activities.
The program provides six Indigenous cultural practitioners with the opportunity to take part in a ‘hands-on’ 12-week program delivered across an eight month period.
Selected from a highly competitive field of applicants, the chosen practitioners work alongside world-class museum, gallery and cultural sector specialists.
The fellows gain behind-the-scenes experience in a range of areas including collections research and preservation, exhibition planning, digital storytelling, educational programming, Indigenous design thinking, and project management.
The intensive program includes a placement at the National Museum in Canberra and study tours at other cultural institutions including the National Gallery of Australia, National Library of Australia, National Film and Sound Archive and Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.
It also includes experience at partner cultural institutions overseas including the British Museum, Royal Museums Greenwich, Buckingham Palace’s Royal Collections Trust, Horniman Museum, the Princes Foundation School of Traditional Arts (all in London), the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (Cambridge), Pitt Rivers Museum (Oxford) and the Musee du qui Branly (Paris).
As part of the application process, each practitioner is required to submit an idea for a community project. Chosen practitioners then research, design and develop a comprehensive proposal for their project as part of the fellowship journey. The fellowship program and individual placements at cultural institutions are customised to suit their project idea and aspirations. After completing the fellowship, the practitioners return home to share their experience and connections with colleagues, lead their communities in museum best practice and deliver their chosen project.
The 2019 Encounters Fellows were: Naomi Appleby, Sherika Nulgit Duckhole, Harold Ludwick, Kyra Kum-Sing, John Morseu and Kyra Edwards. They had the benefit of connecting with the 2016 fellows and a mentor to assist them in realising their chosen community project.
The community projects delivered by the 2019 fellows were wide ranging including:
- development of the Gwarinman memorial area within Broome cemetery to repatriate Aboriginal people taken from Yawuru country
- a research project exploring Western and Aboriginal approaches to caring for repatriated and donated cultural objects in a regional museum
- the archiving and preservation of stories, cultural knowledge and language for access by communities in the Cape York area into the future
- a travelling exhibition of art works and artefacts called Women’s Lore — Malera Bandjalan
- creation of professional partnerships to enable the digital transfer of archival collection material to Torres Strait Islander communities, and
- development of a digital platform for the stories and histories of the Mooro Nyoongar community that can be shared locally and around the world.
The relationship between the fellows and the Museum extends far beyond the program itself. The Museum expects to engage with this growing network of Indigenous cultural practitioners over the course of their careers in the industry.
Find out more about the 2019 projects and fellows here.
Find out more about the Cultural Connections Initiative