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Chief Executive Officer's report

Jan Müller, Chief Executive Officer of the NFSA
Jan Müller, Chief Executive Officer

This year has shown us to be a resilient and flexible organisation, as we’ve restructured to prepare for the NFSA of the future. Through the difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic we’ve embraced online engagement like never before.

Historically, the NFSA has been organised around the preservation of a largely analogue collection. Curatorial and back-office functions were grouped according to collection format such as film, audio, video, documents and artefacts. Our work environment has changed considerably in recent years and while preserving analogue items will always be an important part of our role, we now have a significant focus on digitising collection items and sharing digital content.

With no change in our annual government appropriation, in 2019 we reoriented the organisation to position the NFSA as:

  • Digital by design
  • Supportive of digitisation and engagement
  • Customer-focused
  • A collaborative and project-based workforce
  • Efficient and sustainable.

A new organisational structure came into effect on 1 November 2019 and included a change to the make-up and numbers of our staff. During this period of change there was minimal disruption for our stakeholders, and we remained productive – in fact we delivered more than ever before.

Our commitment to sharing the national audiovisual collection has been highlighted by our exceptional and varied program of online and physical exhibitions, events and screenings throughout the year. We are always excited to share our collection items with the public and see the positive responses that they generate. This year, the only colour footage of Sir Don Bradman AC playing cricket caught the attention of the world when it was unearthed by our curators, as did the last known footage of the now-extinct Tasmanian Tiger, which was discovered in our collection by Australian researchers.

Screenings of several NFSA Restores titles took place internationally at far-flung locations including Saint‑Tropez and New York, while premieres of the newly restored 1919 silent classic The Sentimental Bloke and Bruce Beresford’s 1991 film Black Robe occurred in Australia. NFSA Restores: The Sentimental Bloke premiered in February 2020 at the Westpac Open Air Cinema in Sydney with a new score composed and performed live by Paul Mac. The rain did nothing to dampen the crowd’s spirits that night and the experience of seeing this 100-year-old film come to life against the stunning backdrop of Sydney Harbour was a truly memorable one.

Nearly 17,000 visitors enjoyed ‘The Dressmaker Costume Exhibition’ and related events during the four months in which the exhibition was open at the NFSA headquarters in Canberra. It wrapped up in August 2019 and from the moment the exhibition closed, our staff were busy behind the scenes packing it up and preparing for the next show. I am full of admiration for the hard work and dedication shown by all those involved.

From September 2019 to March 2020 we hosted ‘Game Masters: The Exhibition’ at the NFSA in Canberra and welcomed almost 25,000 people to the experience. This interactive journey through five decades of video game history, created and curated by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, had previously been on display in Melbourne in 2012 and had subsequently been touring around the world. Having it back in Australia with additional content proved a real hit among both the young and the young-at-heart – and I include myself in the latter category as I can’t deny it was a real joy to play Pacman on a genuine arcade console once again.

In January 2020 we closed to the public for two days when the smoke from the surrounding NSW bushfires meant that Canberra experienced the world’s highest air pollution levels. It was with some disbelief later that month that we witnessed damage to the NFSA building and grounds in Acton from a thunderstorm with severe hail. Fortunately, our staff, visitors, collection and the building’s heritage platypus skylight were unharmed. The damage sustained is in the process of being repaired while the pre-existing task of refurbishing the building’s heritage sandstone was completed in June 2020.

In March 2020, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we decided to temporarily close our doors to the public. We launched our NFSA is Always Open Online campaign and moved our public programs online, allowing audiences to participate in a series of free live-streamed events including Virtual Vinyl Lounge, film screenings featuring filmmaker Q&As and our Deep Dive series. I am extremely proud of our ability to swiftly and effectively shift our engagement focus online. Our ICT team worked tirelessly to ensure that our staff transitioned rapidly to a working from home environment, keeping the majority of our staff fully operational during the COVID-19 crisis.

This year the NFSA, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image and the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences commenced a partnership to jointly develop a national agenda for the preservation of Australian video games. This agenda will set the framework for cultural institutions to build the capacity to collect, preserve and share the output of the Australian video games industry, for the benefit of present and future generations.

Given that one of our strategic priorities is to be the national leader in collecting, preserving and sharing multimedia and new media content, we announced in September 2019 that we would begin the process of collecting and preserving Australian video games. We have also initiated an Australian first: the encoding and preservation of audiovisual material on synthetic DNA. The NFSA is constantly innovating and looking at solutions and technologies that might revolutionise the way we preserve our collection.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to share the NFSA’s vision of digital transformation at a number of international platforms over the past 12 months, including the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives, the International Federation of Television Archives and the Association of Moving Image Archivists. I am also pleased to advise that this year the NFSA became a founding member of the Australian Media Literacy Alliance, which aims to champion media literacy education for all Australians.

We have continued to focus on the NFSA’s property strategy and in January 2020 we started work on an initial business case for a new Canberra facility. We have undertaken workshops and consulted with a range of stakeholders, including other national collecting institutions. The initial business case lays out our vision for a new public-facing facility which will also enhance and consolidate our collection storage facilities. We believe this future NFSA will provide a national hub for sharing audiovisual culture, increasing interpretation and care of our unique collection and deepening public engagement with Australia’s audiovisual heritage.

At the end of 2019–20, the NFSA was the extremely fortunate recipient of additional funding of $5.5 million over four years. This funding will enable us to digitise all our at-risk audio and video on magnetic tape, to the highest international archival standards, in time to meet Deadline 2025. This will be a major focus for us in 2020–21.

The past 12 months have been unforgettable for a number of different reasons and I look forward to the NFSA’s growth as we continue our digital transformation journey. I extend my sincere thanks to my colleagues and the members of the Board for their commitment and vision. I would also like to thank the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, the Hon PaulFletcher MP, and the Office for the Arts. To the NFSA’s friends, ambassadors, visitors and stakeholders, thank you for your ongoing interest, enthusiasm and collaboration.

Jan Müller

Chief Executive Officer