During lockdown, Sydney Living Museums (SLM) and NSW State Archives had a unique opportunity to reflect, reassess and reimagine the purpose of our partnership and our engagement with audiences, existing and potential. The result is a new, thematic approach to creating public events, programs and exhibitions.

Introducing our first metanarrative

Community, connection and impact is the thematic vision that will inform the creative and curatorial process for SLM and NSW State Archives over the coming months. We have reflected on what inspires us as individuals and as an organisation and how we can translate that inspiration into meaningful experiences for our visitors. 

Community, connection and impact emerged as the most important concepts in these times for our teams, our organisations, and to many of us on a personal level – and it is this vision that underpins our events and exhibitions for the rest of 2020.

This is the first in a series of annual themes that will inform what we bring to audiences through our events and exhibitions. These themes represent what inspires us: they enlighten us creatively and help us to engage the public with information, stories and history. 

As responsible and responsive cultural institutions, it is current events married with our creative approach and our collections and stories that will drive what we present to our audiences across our properties, digital platforms and partnerships. Building our program around a theme that inspires us helps to harness our diverse range of expertise and generate ideas for presenting new and impactful content to our visitors.

It all starts with reopening

Inspired by community, and our place within it, we are delighted to reopen more of our museums and houses. From 1 July, Elizabeth Farm, Meroogal, Rose Seidler House, Vaucluse House and the Museum of Sydney will reopen, offering visitors new experiences drawing from the overarching theme of community, connection and impact. The geographic spread of these properties is deliberately inclusive with SLM houses and museums opening in Sydney CBD, western suburbs and eastern suburbs, and on the upper north shore and the south coast. The Museum of Sydney, Elizabeth Farm and Vaucluse House will open exclusively for SLM members on 1 July as a thankyou for their loyalty and support.
 
A Thousand Words, a new exhibition opening at the Museum of Sydney comprises some of the most compelling photographs from the SLM and NSW State Archives collections. The onsite exhibition follows hot on the heels of the highly successful digital exhibition of the same name that has received more than 75 thousand page views since it opened, and more than half a million visits across our social media platforms.

The exhibition also showcases creative commissions that celebrate diverse voices and perspectives, featuring new works by established artists and writers such as Blak Douglas, Dr Naomi Malone, Sunil Badami, Mark Tedeschi AM QC as well as young, emerging creatives.  A key partner in the commissioning process is WestWords, a centre dedicated to championing stories of the people, places and cultures of Western Sydney, making it a perfect partner for us and for A Thousand Words.

In addition, SLM and NSW State Archives have launched a Student Historical Fiction Writing Competition to engage young people in our significant collections, as well as our history.

New content at other properties explores impact in a considered and contemporary way. A new display at Elizabeth Farm explores the impact of John Macarthur’s declining mental health, ultimately leading to his committal for lunacy. A additional interpretation at Vaucluse House explores the impact of a broken engagement on the life of Sarah Cox before her marriage to William Charles Wentworth that examines the breach of promise case that brought both Sarah and William together. Drawing on significant original records from the State Archives Collection, these displays enrich the visitor experience at two of SLM’s most significant sites, exploring the lives of the people who once lived there, with their stories that are still relevant today.

A new suite of exhibitions and programs – onsite and online! 

A major part of SLM’s 2020 program is the Paradise on Earth? exhibition, opening at the Museum of Sydney in November. This exhibition celebrates the impact of Marion Mahony Griffin - her lifelong connection to community, nature and the environment along with her inspired ideas for utopian residential living realised in the suburb of Castlecrag. Paradise on Earth? will be presented through dramatic installations and a selection of Marion’s drawings and writings, as well as objects, photos and a newly commissioned film project.

Looking at new ways to connect with audiences, SLM and NSW State Archives will continue to engage strongly with the public online, and we have added an imaginative digital layer to all events and exhibitions. A highlight of the Paradise on Earth? exhibition is a large-scale, immersive digital experience that will change the way visitors look at suburban community spaces, flora and fauna.

Connecting our properties with community, SLM brings back favourites delivered in new formats: Family Fair, Spring Harvest and Christmas Fare will all feature a combination of carefully managed, safe events and an additional digital offer of fun, creative activities and engaging stories. Darug language workshops featuring Indigenous storytellers will deepen connection with local communities, language, stories and cultural practice.

The winter school holidays in July will feature digital illustration workshops with James Gulliver Hancock – live and pre-recorded drawing demonstrations linked to the On the Move exhibition. Spring school holiday activities in September will profile Artisan Encounters, featuring a new breed of contemporary artisans embracing traditional crafts in innovative ways. Age-old techniques meet new technologies and approaches through creative activities, talks and tours.

The ever popular Meroogal Women’s Art Prize supports NSW artists and the local Nowra community through works and artist workshops inspired by the historic south coast property of Meroogal and the generations of women who lived there. This year, we waived the usual entry fee in recognition of the impact that COVID-19 has had on artistic practice across the state.

Our leading architectural event, the hugely popular Sydney Open, will be reimagined with self-guided digital tours of significant Sydney buildings, live events and special activations of outdoor spaces. 

Our partner NSW State Archives continues its popular series of Webinars, examining a wide range of topics that explore parts of the State Archives Collection and help people become better at finding things in a collection of more than 14 million items. Inspired by our theme of community, connection and impact, in the coming months we invite you to join sessions about a range of topics including children in care, women in the archives, hotel plans and using indexes for local history research.

A focus on impact

Added to our program of activities, we want to shine a light on the impact, positive and negative, that our properties and the people connected to them have had on the broader community. To achieve this, we are developing statements acknowledging the impact each SLM property has had on Indigenous people, history and the landscape. These will become a part of each property’s display over the coming months.

In the same spirit, we are also digitising much more of the State Archives Collection so it is preserved and made accessible for future generations, and introducing service improvements at the State Archives Reading Room in Western Sydney to make it easier for visitors to view parts of the Collection. 

Continuing to care for our properties, a number of upgrades are planned for The Mint, Elizabeth Bay House, Rouse Hill Estate, Vaucluse House and Rose Seidler House, preserving their authentic condition for the enjoyment of more than a million people who visit our sites every year.

The team at SLM and NSW State Archives are dedicated professionals who are very excited to bring you all of the above and much more during the second half of 2020.

Adam Lindsay
Executive Director
Sydney Living Museums & State Archives and Records Authority of NSW
 

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SLM and SARA Vision Statement Media Release.pdf

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Media release

A fresh vision for Sydney Living MuseumsTuesday 16 June 2020

During lockdown, Sydney Living Museums (SLM) and NSW State Archives had a unique opportunity to reflect, reassess and reimagine the purpose of our partnership and our engagement with audiences, existing and potential.