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Stategic priority 1: Shaping conversations, influencing outcomes

Our exhibitions, events, collections and education programs will provoke thoughtful engagement through stories and creative interpretations of past and current events informed by authoritative research and data analysis. We will advance national conversations about democracy, past, present and future.

In 2018–19, the museum delivered five exhibitions: three temporary exhibitions, Behind the Lines, Breaking Through: 75 years of women in parliament and #UDHRquilt Project; and two new permanent galleries, Democracy. Are You In? and DressUP: Change the World.

These were complemented by two pop-up exhibitions and 34 participatory events and public programs, which collectively offered multiple points of connection and engagement for diverse audiences.

Exhibitions and engagement events

Our exhibitions, events and engagement activities provide physical and digital experiences through which our audiences can explore and celebrate Australia’s democratic traditions through stories, enriched experiences and conversations. Our program for 2018–19 offered a suite of engaging experiences that took place onsite, offsite and online.

Democracy. Are You In? opened in August 2018. This new permanent exhibition highlights the importance of civic engagement, and sits alongside the key permanent galleries Designing Democracy and Prime Ministers of Australia. Acknowledging the challenges facing democracies around the world, the exhibition explores our democratic values, calls on visitors to understand the ways in which they can participate—from protesting and participating in parties, to voting and volunteering—and poses the question ‘Are you in?’

Breaking Through: 75 years of women in parliament showcased the journey of 11 trailblazing women who were the first to hold particular parliamentary positions. From Edith Lyons and Dorothy Tangney, the first women to enter federal parliament, to Julia Gillard, our first female Prime Minister, the exhibition recognised their significant contributions through exhibits, art, interviews and public presentations. The exhibition also included a customised website, which remains accessible to schools and visitors.

#UDHRquilt Project celebrated 70 years of the Universal Declaration of Human rights, and Australia’s role in its creation, through an exhibition drawing together 120 contributing ‘craftivists’ from 30 nations in an international response to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its role in the rules-based international order. The exhibition was launched at an event to commemorate United Nations Day on 24 October 2018, held by the museum in partnership with the United Nations Information Centre Canberra.

DressUP: Change the World, which opened in December 2018, is an immersive exhibition framed around eight people who went from ordinary to extraordinary in order to make a difference in the world. Visitors are able to listen to the stories and dress in replica costumes of Andrew Inglis Clark, Malala Yousafzai, Linda Burney, Frida Kahlo, Nancy Wake, Beyoncé, Adam Goodes and Karl Kruszelnicki, and understand the challenges those people have overcome in their lives. Visitors are also invited to consider how they themselves are able to contribute in positive ways to their communities.

Located within DressUP is the Zine Lounge, an interactive space designed as both a communal lounge and a workshop space, where visitors of all ages can meet, read and create their own media. DressUP and the Zine Lounge are designed with young adults in mind and appeal to a cross-generational audience.

Behind the Lines, our annual exhibition of the year’s political cartoons, opened on 16 November 2018 in conjunction with the Australian Cartoonists Association annual conference and Stanley Awards night. The museum’s Political Cartoonist of the Year, Matt Golding, provided the visual interpretation that framed the theme of Alice Through the Looking Glass: Curiouser and Curiouser, and 35 cartoonists provided a unique insight into the year that was.

33 Revolutions was the sixth in a series of cutting-edge collaborative art installations in King’s Hall created with, and by, museum visitors during the annual Enlighten festival. This large-scale installation celebrating songs of social protest and change was our most successful Enlighten project to date, with 17,925 visitors taking part over four nights during March 2019.

A number of pop-up exhibitions responded in a timely way to contemporary events. Julie Bishop’s Red Shoes was displayed in King’s Hall from 28 December 2018 until 5 February 2019, featuring the red shoes that Julie Bishop wore while announcing her resignation from cabinet in August 2018. A memorial to Bob Hawke was displayed in Kings Hall from 17 May to 20 June 2019, marking the death of the former prime minister in May 2019.

Election Festival 2019 was held during May 2019, drawing in a total of 12,234 visitors. Celebrating the role of voting as an integral part of Australian democracy, the museum provided immersive experiences for participants as well as facilities for early voting and an election day voting booth. From the Senate Draw, to mini elections in PlayUP, to the We the People interactive performance, the election festival was a playful and unexpected entry point to Old Parliament House’s history and connection to democratic processes.

Our annual The Great Easter Egg Trail event for families was successfully delivered for a fifth year, with over 4,000 people attending. The museum continued to use ticketing with a timed entry for this event and introduced pricing for adult tickets, to cover some of the costs of staging the event. We also provided more than 200 free tickets for charities to distribute to families in their care.

In 2018–19, more than 21,000 visitors participated in tours across our 11 different tour experiences, from free daily tours led by volunteers to premium, customised experiences.

Three new public tours were developed and delivered in 2018–19:

  • Tall Poppies and Poplars, offered during Floriade, visited green spaces in and around Old Parliament House, including the Senate and House of Representatives courtyards and the ‘secret gardens’ created by the building extensions in the 1960s
  • Down the Rabbit Hole, offered over summer, brought museum staff and visitors together to share additional stories and curatorial information about the Behind the Lines exhibition
  • One Small Step, a mystery tour offered during May 2019, was the museum’s contribution to the Canberra and Region Heritage Festival 2019 and explained the role of the Australian Parliament in the space exploration debates of the 1960s.

We focused on promoting the Indigenous Experiences of Democracy Tour to work teams which formulate policies and programs that impact Indigenous communities. This led to bookings from a range of government clients—including the Commonwealth Treasury, Department of Finance, Department of Employment, Department of Social Services, Department of the Environment and Energy and Australian Public Service Commission, and ACT Government agencies—as well as legal firms and professional associations.

Bespoke tours were delivered to 115 groups in 2018–19, including parliamentary delegations visiting from Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Timor-Leste, Morocco, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea; university student groups; community groups; military groups; and seniors groups.

The museum was shortlisted in the Museums Australasia Multimedia and Publication Design Awards (MAPDA) and the Museums and Galleries National Awards (MAGNA) for 2019. DressUP and 33 Revolutions were highly commended in the MAPDA Exhibition Branding Package Level B category. #UDHRquilt Project was shortlisted in the MAGNA Temporary/Travelling Exhibition category, and 33 Revolutions was shortlisted in the MAGNA Interpretation, Learning and Audience Engagement category.

Online presence

To reach and develop audiences during 2018–19, the museum trialled new online platforms and continued to capitalise on trends in the online landscape, including through social media, websites and interactive technologies.

For the first time, the museum’s websites attracted more than 1 million page views, marking a significant milestone in our digital engagement journey. The significant increase in page views was driven by capturing a broader spectrum of user statistics as well as ongoing social engagement, particularly for major events and exhibitions. The museum’s blog continued to be developed to include in-depth commentary related to a range of subjects, attracting web views from diverse audiences.

In March 2019, we became the first Australian museum to trial the use of the social application TikTok, using the application during our Enlighten event 33 Revolutions to connect with new and younger audiences. The trial was a success, with the number of younger followers (aged 9–15) on the museum’s Instagram channel increasing significantly. The museum also used the commercial audio-streaming platform Spotify to develop playlists related to the theme of the event. The playlists drove traffic to Spotify through the museum’s website, and encouraged more sustained interaction with the online content related to the event. Overall, the 2019 Enlighten event reached a combined total of 104,143 people across all social media platforms, an increase compared to the 2018 Enlighten event. Over the month of Enlighten, the museum’s website had more than 200,000 page views.

To complement the onsite exhibition Breaking Through: 75 years of women in parliament, several digital components were launched, celebrating the significant contributions that women have made to Australian politics over the past 75 years. The exhibition website www.breakingthrough.moadoph.gov.au encourages continued participation and reflection through interactive media, and invites audiences to submit their own stories of trailblazing women.

In December 2018, a customised website was developed and launched for the Democracy 2025 project. This online platform complements other Democracy 2025 activities by exploring the roles of trust and democratic values through articles, audio and video content. Links in audience-targeted electronic newsletters and social channels have been used to drive traffic to the site www.democracy2025.gov.au , which is updated regularly.

In addition to the focused efforts to build and retain audiences through digital channels, the museum made significant investments in developing systems to support audience engagement in the future. The Digital Infrastructure Program includes the development of several key systems, including a digital asset management system and a customer relationship management system, and redevelopment of the museum’s intranet. This work will build efficiencies into the day-to-day operations of the museum and improve outcomes for audiences over the long term. The first system releases are planned for the second half of 2019.