Ask an Expert: Museum Curation
Hours of work go into curating a museum display. The Howard Library at Old Parliament House houses a collection of official papers, personal papers and memorabilia from John Howard’s time as Prime Minister (March 1996-December 2007). The personal papers and official records total 150 metres of shelf space from Mr Howard’s political career, while the exhibition includes the Prime Minister’s desk, APEC costumes, advertising from both sides of politics and gifts from world leaders.
We wanted to know more about the work that goes into curating such a display and spoke to Annette Carter, Exhibitions Coordinator, Public Leadership Research Group - Howard Library to find out more.
How long have you been working at the Howard Library? How did you come to work there?
I have been working at the Howard Library since February 2018. I have a background in museums and had just moved back to Australia from England where I had worked on a new furniture gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum, on a project to protect war memorials at the Imperial War Museum and as the Curator of a 17th Town Hall. The establishment of a new archive and exhibition looked to be an interesting project to be involved with so I applied.
What does your job involve?
As the Exhibitions Coordinator I do appraisals, acquisitions, cataloguing, gallery work and cleaning, curating exhibitions and administration work. Much of the exhibition work is choosing collection items and then collaborating with designers, builders and object preparators and coordinating everyone for the installation.
How do you find and source pieces for the library?
The Director jokes that I spend too long on eBay! Some of the more quirky items come from there or other sale and auctions sites but the majority of our collection come from donations.
Do you have a favourite piece?
I have two favourite pieces in the exhibition. One of them is a small tray of hot towels. These were offered to flyers by Ansett Airlines. Of interest is that they were manufactured in 2001; the year that Ansett went under. It’s a reminder of the human face of the corporate collapses.
The other is from the Phillip Ruddock collection; it’s an A2 size piece of cardboard with the mock-up of a 1973 election poster. Complete with pencil markings about which colours were to be used and how it was to be reproduced. It provides a snap shot of that election campaign and also of how the design work was done for these election posters.
What is your favourite part of the job?
I enjoy tracking down unique items. I have a list of out-of-print books or other objects that I want to get for the collection. In exhibition work, I enjoy the challenge to telling the stories of objects; trying to give them a voice that will interest the visitor.
What is next for the Howard Library?
While the gallery is closed for COVID-19, we are doing remedial work in the exhibition to help fix up a few places and doing some planning and design work towards some interesting temporary exhibitions.