Naseema Sparks AM

Chair, SLM Trustees & SLM Foundation Director

In this profile from our members magazine Unlocked, Naseema offers her personal insights into her ambitions for the organisation

As a child, I didn’t realise how creative I was. At university I studied sciences and pharmacology, but found myself gradually drawn to the strategic, marketing and creative dimensions of the organisations I worked with. It was then that I understood I had a rather strong creative instinct; I enjoyed being in innovative environments. In the structured and corporate world I now work in, the arts act as my balance. Art and creativity provide counterpoints to the strategic and financial focus that dominates my responsibilities on public and private sector boards.

I’m also a passionate collector of objets; I’m fascinated by glass, and have a variety of special pieces, from large old works of Murano glass to pieces by contemporary Australian designers. My objets collection extends to ceramics, friezes, an old prow from a Portuguese merchant ship and sculpture. I, like my house, am a maximalist.

Evoking place through storytelling

What interests me most in SLM’s collection of 12 special places are the stories they tell – the stories of the people who lived and worked in them, whose influence was on family or on our wider community; the stories of the formation of a new culture shaped by displacement and the re-establishment of community. This is a key element to the DNA of Sydney.

So I think of SLM much more broadly than as a collection of properties. These are places that restore the stories of our past. I’m attracted to the dimension of storytelling that the New York-based museum interpretation team Local Projects has highlighted in their approach to the renewal underway at the Hyde Park Barracks Museum – the emotional and sentient dimensions of storytelling are integral in communicating life at the time. This is beautifully captured in a quote from a Spanish neuroscientist, Francisco Mora –‘Without emotion there is no curiosity, no attention, no learning, no memory’.

This emotional dimension makes me particularly fond of Susannah Place Museum, in Sydney’s Rocks area. It speaks of the everyday rhythm of the lives of people we might regard as the makers of the colony. I think of how the people who lived in this row of four 19th-century terrace houses might have watched from their windows for the sails of trading ships to come through the Heads into Sydney Harbour, knowing that this offered work at the port for the day

Reaching new audiences

I’m committed to communicating our message to a broader public. The marketing and media landscape has become more complex, with the rise of digital technologies and social platforms, and we need to think boldly about how we reach new audiences and unlock our stories and secrets. From street level some of our properties can appear to be not very accessible – they’re set back from the street, beyond a gate or a wall. We need to encourage visitors to wander into the properties, to encourage the curiosity, learning and memory at the core of our purpose.

I’ve always rolled up my sleeves and done things outside my executive career, particularly in the arts and sciences, or for the furtherance or betterment of other people. I am a great believer in giving back and paying forward.

My other commitment is to support our fundraising and philanthropy. This is a challenge and expectation for all cultural and heritage organisations. I’m particularly fortunate to be taking on this role at the time of the Hyde Park Barracks Museum renewal. This should be the first of our reinventions that bring together our archives and our scholarship to tell the stories of the lives that have shaped the texture and diversity of contemporary Australia. The project is an exciting opportunity to connect with new friends, donors and partners. My fellow trustees are equally committed to SLM and our huge potential in the cultural ecosystem. Their passion for SLM, along with the commitment and dedication of its staff and volunteers, promises to make my term as Chair an exciting and rewarding one.

Naseema Sparks is an experienced company director and serves on a number of ASX-listed, advisory boards as well as government regulatory bodies. Naseema is a ‘top line growth’ director: she has a deep understanding of consumers and hands-on management and operational experience in organisations where the main driver of growth and differentiation is innovation and human capital.

Her expertise includes retail, online commerce, media & marketing, technology services and manufacturing. Naseema’s executive career was as Managing Director of global communications company M&C Saatchi and she holds an MBA from Melbourne Business School. Naseema was appointed a trustee in April 2014 and Chair of the SLM Board of Trustees in January 2019. Naseema has also taken up a position as an SLM Foundation Director. Naseema brings a wealth of expertise in the philanthropic space and is passionate about sharing the vision and mission of SLM to supporters.

Portrait of woman standing in front of sandstone wall.

Sydney Living Museums Trustee, Naseema Sparks. Photo © James Horan for Sydney Living Museums

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Sydney Living Museums Trustee, Naseema Sparks


New SLM Chair and TrusteesTuesday 22 January 2019