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  • Writer's pictureMUSEUM STUDIES

Research Seminar: Beyond Culture: The Role of Museums in Contemporary Society.

2 PAPERS BY Chiara O'Reilly and Anna Lawrenson, Museum and Heritage Studies

Art History Research Seminar Programme Semester 1, 2023 Thursdays 3.00 – 4.30pm Zoom or join us in the Schaeffer Seminar Room, RC Mills, University of Sydney.

SACE Calendar Link:

Wagga Wagga Art Gallery

PAPER 1. Dr Chiara O'Reilly, University of Sydney. Cultural institutions and Social Value: mapping the benefits of an artist-in-residency program

Cultural precincts in regional centres have positive impacts on residents and tourists alike providing entertainment and enrichment. These benefits are usually tracked in terms of visitor satisfaction and the economic contribution that follows. Wagga Wagga Art Gallery is a site that is moving beyond this visitor oriented model of benefit by positioning itself as a hub for professional development focused on building the capacity of the local creative industry.

In 2022, WWAG launched a collaborative artist in residency pilot, designed with a developmental focus. The Gallery invited renowned Australian practitioners – curator and writer, Julie Ewington and artist, filmmaker, Helen Grace – to act as catalytic agents. They used their practice, knowledge and experience to connect with, and mentor, Riverina creatives. The residency took place across six months, in three discrete iterations. Each produced ‘artefacts’ – an exhibition, a film forum and site-specific installation – that were a means to showcase their critical practice and provide points of collective encounter. Reciprocity and opportunity are at the heart of this program; local artists benefit from the mentorship of senior practitioners and verso, new works have been created by Ewington and Grace inspired by their new context. This paper tracks the implementation of the residency program identifying the professional networks that have been established positioning WWAG as a leader; decentring artistic hierarchies and geographic borders in support of a regional creative practice.

PAPER 2. Dr Anna Lawrenson, University of Sydney. Cultural institutions as site of healing: responding to climate disasters

In Australia environmental catastrophes are part of the social experience – our country has been shaped by droughts, floods and fires – and collecting institutions have worked to document, describe and catalogue these events. The bushfires of 2019-2020 were unprecedented and occurred in close succession to devastating floods, sustained droughts and the ongoing impacts of Covid. This paper examines the pivotal role that regional museums took on to support communities during these times. The research is based on a unique dataset, gathered via a 2021 survey and subsequent interviews. By presenting innovative examples of inclusion and engagement and shifting ideas around the use of cultural spaces this paper argues that cultural institutions are radically reinventing the role to become sites of social cohesion and healing;helping communities to rebuild in the aftermath of unprecedented natural disasters. As natural disasters continue to wreak havoc on regional communities, who are often lacking in other essential services, this examination provides models for how cultural organisations can continue to evolve and support.


Dr Chiara O’Reilly and Dr Anna Lawrenson are located in Museum and Heritage Studies at the University of Sydney. They co-authored The rise of the must-see exhibition: Blockbusters in Australian Museums and Galleries (Routledge 2019) and are Associate editors for Exhibition Reviews for Curator: The Museum Journal.

O’Reilly researches cultural institutions (Galleries, Science Museums and Social History Museums) to examine their history, contemporary role and how their function changes over time with a particular emphasis on exhibitions and audiences. She has published journals including: Journal of the History of Collections, Museum Management and Curatorship, Museum History and co-authored a chapter in Places of Traumatic Memories in a Global Context (Palgrave Memory Studies).

Lawrenson’s career has spanned critical museology and applied practice, having worked in academia and the arts sector. Her research considers how the history, funding and administration of museums and galleries shapes their public engagement. She publishes in academic journals and has been commissioned to conduct research within the museum sector resulting in a range of industry-based reports.

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