Our second Cultural Conversation was held during NAIDOC week. The take-home message was that we need to move beyond acknowledging that our institutions should engage in meaningful ways with Indigenous people. To enact change we all need to ‘Stand Up! Show Up!’. A baseline for the possibility of reconciliation is representation, which necessitates increasing the critical mass of Indigenous people in our workplaces. Reconciliation and the challenge to re-shape national identity to itself be more representative, fair, and accountable for historical injustices requires institutional representation, and disciplinary expertise in how to talk across differences. However, it also happens in ways that we can all work toward. For the ANU, AMAGA, and NMA, as the primary institutions and organisations represented in this event, the message is about resourcing and reframing mission statements. For the individuals present on a cold Wednesday morning, the message is about personal values and making choices about contributing to ethical communities of practice.
We realised how special this Cultural Conversation was going to be when it had sold out less than an hour after tickets were released. A scramble to change venue, create new places, and record the session ensued. The initial popularity of the event transpired to be an accurate reflection of the calibre of our esteemed panel members who spoke, along with our equally engaging audience members, with expertise, deep knowledge, innovation, and heart. The topic of the conversation, ‘Museums of the Future?’, invited contemporary reflection on a benchmark volume twenty years after its publication. While many issues and agendas – Indigenous participation and progression, climate change, political recognition, distributed collections and connections to producers, and the role of research and collaboration across museums, universities, and our often shared communities and publics – are no less urgent today than two decades ago, what was evident from this event was how far we, as collaborating sectors have moved beyond identifying the need for change to ethically and collaboratively directing, platforming and progressing cultural and political change.
Even more striking in the range of examples discussed by speakers and the provocations, questions, and methods addressed in questions, was the sophistication and innovation of our colleagues who work with and across different agents and collaborators, both individually and collectively, to create new ways of responding to issues that are, as one of speakers identified, ‘perennially new’. Yes, there is more to do. But the commitment and energy evident at this event was a stark reminder of the power we hold as educated and socially privileged individuals and as a collective to inform and educate, and to work with cultural leaders across multiple fields. Let’s not forget that at the heart of everything we do in museums and universities is people (persons and the people around them); what we say and make as humans, and how we engage with each other and express value.
In summary, I hope that in 20 years’ time our discussions are different. I hope that the deficit model and hand-wringing of 2022 has been fully discharged so that we can, according to Yuwaalaraay woman, Dr Jilda Andrews, move from the position that we've got reconciliation right to then think from there about the work that needs to happen from that point, where we're in a different dynamic with each other. That work is so exciting, and liberating.
Report by Professor Kylie Message
Our next breakfast will be held Wed 7 September. Venue tba.
For information, registration, and confirmation of the discussion topic, please visit