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National Archives of Australia

About National Archives of Australia

National Archives of Australia is a government administration. It specializes in archiving government policies and other information and documents. It provides preservation services, digital archiving of old documents, access to original records, and more. It was formerly known as Australian Archives and was rebranded in February 1998. It was founded in 1961 and is based in Canberra, Australian Capital Territory.

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Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, 2600,


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Latest National Archives of Australia News

Cash for culture: How our institutions will spend their funding boost

May 5, 2023

The directors of seven of Canberra's most important national cultural centres. Pictures Canberra Times It's been a constant refrain in our reporting over the past decade or so - our galleries and museums, and all the things they just haven't been able to do anymore. It's not through lack of will or ambition, but money. A simple lack of adequate funding has meant that organisations established to perform a particular function - collect, acquire, archive, display, explain - have been increasingly unable to do any of these things anywhere near as well as they should. But in the lead-up to next week's budget - much-loved autumnal Budget Tree not withstanding - spring is definitely in the air. The Prime Minister's announcement a month ago of an unprecedented funding injection of $535 million over four years for nine of Australia's national cultural institutions has lifted a weight off the shoulders of those tasked with running them. Joyful metaphors have abounded, along with that most elusive of sensations, optimism. More funding means our cultural institutions can have the freedom to think big, be optimistic about the future and share more Australian stories Here, the directors of seven of Canberra's most important national cultural centres explain what this funding means for their institution, from maintaining heritage buildings and retaining staff, to allowing more people than ever to access the resources we pay for. Patrick McIntyre, National Film and Sound Archive Patrick McIntyre, director of the National Film and Sound Archive. Picture by Sitthixay Ditthavong I think clustering the cultural organisations together really re-energises the sense of the capital being somewhere where you can come and have an experience of the nation. The first thing that we can do that we couldn't do before is actually make confident plans. The scarcity of resources has meant that you're planning for one thing but you're not totally sure you'll be able to afford it by the time you get there, particularly projects that might take three or five years to develop and deliver. Everything gets a bit functional when the resources get burned out of an institution. And so you do the things you need to do and it's more difficult to prioritise the things that you should be doing. We don't have buildings on quite the heroic scale of the National Gallery and the National Library, so our capital issues are much more modest, but we do have a heritage building and they're very expensive to work within and with. We have some of the boring stuff, like lift upgrades and air conditioning and cabling ... it's so uninteresting, but it has to happen. And so now we've got enough of a budget going forward to make sensible allocations to things that the business needs and to invest in things that will literally bring more value to the public. I think the Canberra narrative that came through the announcement was really striking. Nations have capitals and capitals are places of ceremony and gathering. Not everyone can get there all the time, some people might never come, some people might come frequently. But you just meet people so often from all over the country who say that their Year Six week in Canberra was the most significant moment in their life. And this is what capitals are for - you have to as a nation have some kind of metaphors and symbols, and I think that's one of the functions that a capital provides. But I think clustering the cultural organisations together really re-energises the sense of the capital being somewhere where you can come and have an experience of the nation, hear the stories of the nation, and meet other people from around the country. The other thing that we want to spend a lot more human hours on is actually just understanding the collection better, because it's quite an extensive collection. And as we digitise it, we will be using AI tools and various other tools to have a much more nuanced understanding of everything that's in there. It's over 4 million items now. But in particular we'd like to do more work around the First Nations collections we have. Understanding their provenance, trying to get those stories back to the communities that own them. It's possible that there are Indigenous communities around the country who are revitalising their language and cultural practices that don't even know that we might have old recordings of their communities performing songs or rituals that they might really need right now to help them in their own cultural practice, or for the inter-generational passing of knowledge to the next generation. Bree Pickering, National Portrait Gallery Bree Pickering, just one month into her new role as director of the National Portrait Gallery. Picture by Karleen Minney The best ideas - and outcomes - come when an organisation is able to think beyond the immediate moment and expand expectations of what might be possible. It is a privilege for me to commence as director of the National Portrait Gallery with budget certainty. The funding uplift allows the gallery to plan ahead, to be ambitious and forward thinking about how we care for and build the national collection of portraits and how we share Australian stories across the country. Operational certainty for the team means our focus can now be on what we want to achieve. We are working on a number of priorities: increasing our national presence, expanding access to the gallery's programs for school children across the country, delivering intergenerational programs that encourage civic participation through conversation, and further developing the collection to reflect our nation and be relevant to our time. As the current stewards of this important cultural institution, we're feeling invigorated and positive about the years ahead. The best ideas - and outcomes - come when an organisation is able to think beyond the immediate moment and expand expectations of what might be possible. We have a responsibility to bring art and culture into everyday life and this happens when we are funded to be reflective, responsive and bold. I'm sure that, from a creative point of view, the impact of this funding will be felt and enjoyed by all Australians, for many decades to come. Nick Mitzevich, National Gallery of Australia National Gallery of Australia director Nick Mitzevich can't wait to share the collection with regional Australia. Picture by Sitthixay Ditthavong I think it validates and elevates the role that culture has to play in the cultural life of Australians. It's been a long road, but we've finally got some certainty after three consecutive years of top-ups. This is a really welcome development, thank goodness. I think in a public collection in a public institution, one of the most important things is planning and working with people. This will allow us to put long-term plans in place. Even though we have continued to do that, in a restricted way, this announcement now gives us certainty, not just for the next four years, but certainty into the future, because after the four years of initial funding, we then revert to a new baseline which is indexed. That's a big positive in terms of the operational budget, and means that we can put ambitious projects into place. The 60 people that we've made redundant since 2017 won't be replaced - it's about continuing our existing levels of activity. This new base funding gives us confidence, and that's the most important ingredient in nurturing private giving. As you know, I love private giving, it opens the doors to ambition. I think it validates and elevates the role that culture has to play in the cultural life of Australians. Our operation is Canberra-based, but the impact of our programs is all over the country. The National Gallery has around 900 works on the road in any given year, and we have seven exhibitions around the country right now. So the influence and the ripple effect is actually not just in Canberra, it's across the country, and I think that's really important. Sharing the collection is very, very game changing, dozens and dozens of galleries across the country will have long-term loans from the national collection, and that's super exciting. So it doesn't matter where people live in Australia, they will get to see amazing masterpieces in their backyards. We've got such depth in the collection, the walls of the National Gallery will not suffer, but the regions will flourish because we're going to be able to share amazing things with them that they wouldn't have normally been able to get access to. So that's what I'm super excited about. And I think that's going to be really thrilling for regional remote communities across the country. [The funding] won't solve our leaking roof, but it's the first step in a long-term strategy to make sure that our buildings are fit for purpose, and make sure they embody the role that the government has for culture to play. Simon Froude, National Archives of Australia Simon Froude, director of the National Archives of Australia. Picture supplied The funding announcement actually goes beyond the dollar value - it's more about recognition. I've worked in archives now on and off for the last 25 years, and one thing that we find is that they are usually the sort of unsung heroes of the cultural sector. We don't necessarily get as much recognition as some of the other institutions like the National Library and the gallery and the museum, and they're all wonderful institutions in their own right. But when you look at the National Archives and other archival institutions around the country, we hold a wealth of information and really the reason I work in archives, and have done this for so many years, is that I believe that archives can be a real positive force for change in society. Whether that's through working with First Nations communities, or whether it's through working with migrant communities. One of the other things that really excites me is that we have a really wonderful, passionate and dedicated body of staff. And they go above and beyond to provide services to members of the community and it is difficult because we are stretched so thin. We have a number of mandated responsibilities through the legislation. And one of the things I think that many people forget is that our collection is continually growing. As the collection grows, the costs increase, and so does the need to increase resources to manage that collection, and to provide access to that collection and to preserve that collection. Because we are here to collect the memory of Australia, that collection will continue to grow forever. Because of the legislation and because we're bringing in material from across the Commonwealth, we don't have a say in what material comes in to us. Our job is to make sure it's transferred appropriately to provide the appropriate preservation and management of it and then to provide access to it. The funding announcement actually goes beyond the dollar value - it's more about a recognition. It's a recognition from the government that National Archives is a valued institution and it has a significant role to play, so that sense of relief and that sense of excitement in some senses goes beyond just the actual dollars that we've received. READ MORE: Marie-Louise Ayres, director of the National Library of Australia. Picture by Sitthixay Ditthavong The government has said it wants our base to be secure so we can be ambitious and come back with great ideas, and we will. We've had so many letters and emails from people right around the country, just really delighted that we're in a much more secure position. So it's not just how we feel, it's the fact that we have such a large number of users who realised, I guess, what was at stake. We're especially pleased that a good proportion of the funding is ongoing and indexed. This is really important because it allows us to plan for the future, rather than just in these kind of one- and two-year batches. When you're a cultural institution that's got really long-term needs - developing and storing your collection - that goes on forever. And your digital infrastructure needs to be planned well in advance. For Trove, the funding is for the underlying infrastructure. It's for the software and the servers, it's not for new content, [it's for] keeping the platform stable, and we will continue to work with our partners and pursue our philanthropy strategy which is focused on bringing more of our superb collection online for all to use. For us, collaboration is absolutely in our DNA. But it was quite difficult when you kept saying, well actually, we're just going to have to have our elbows out, getting what we can for our institution. So I think this is a really important moment. The fact that the government was willing to ... look at this holistically, I think, is very, very reassuring for the future. Because as the Prime Minister said, there is basically a critical mass of these national cultural institutions that really matter for the nation. And if all we're talking about is being on our knees or funding cliffs, it really does take away from our ability to say, what do we mean for the nation? What should we mean? As the minister and the PM said, this funding is intended to provide us with a firm base that means we can continue our current business. So it's not about us being able to do a whole lot of new things, it's that we were going to have to switch off a whole lot of things if we didn't have that funding. The funding that we've received is sufficient to continue our current business, not to restart things we've stopped or ramped down or to start exciting new things. On the other hand, the government has said it wants our base to be secure so we can be ambitious and come back with great ideas, and we will. So that's a good position. Mathew Trinca, National Museum of Australia Mat Trinca, director of the National Museum of Australia. Picture by Gary Ramage This is an extraordinary act of faith in what we do, and also ultimately for the Australian public. I can be quite clear and unequivocal: this is the single most important investment in the National Museum since it opened its doors in 2001, that's how significant this is. Make no mistake, if we hadn't received this funding, within a few months we would have been a wholly different sort of institution. The greater part of this funding really re-platforms the museum's financial position to ensure that we can continue to deliver value for the Australian public. As well as being able to make sure that we can retain our staff, open the doors, continue to serve people seven days a week, there are things now we can do that we've had to wait a considerable amount of time to get to. The first is, we can properly plan for the next four years, rather than just eke out an existence year by year, which is what we were doing before. And that is immeasurably important for institutions. This counts so much to be able to plan adequately. As a result, we're moving forward on a new permanent gallery space devoted to the Australian wars in early colonial history. We're moving forward on the early work to redevelop the gallery of First Nations or First Australians as it's presently called, over the course of the next four years. We're going to deal with the worst of our storage problems ... then we can adequately ensure that they are preserved for all time in a way where they were previously threatened. And that's a problem that has existed for the past 20 years. We can go forward with plans more broadly for improving our digital footprint, as an institution, and ensuring that we're reaching people wherever they are around the country. It is important not just for this institution, but indeed for all the cultural sector in Canberra. This is an extraordinary act of faith in what we do, and also ultimately for the Australian public, because these institutions are devoted to telling us our story, and setting it in a global context. When the national institutions are funded like this, it really allows them to do what they do best and that is to serve the Australian public. I do think there's another upside, and this could be perhaps more related to my departure from here. If there's one thing that I think the city needs to embrace ... [it's] just to understand how it is a peerless cultural destination for the nation. There is so much upside still for Canberra as a place, in confidently and assertively embracing this identity as a premier cultural destination within this country. Stephanie Bull, Museum of Australian Democracy Stephanie Bull, director of the Museum of Australian Democracy. Picture by Gary Ramage Many of our staff put their heart and soul into this work, and they do it not for themselves but for the public. We've got this beautiful building that's about to turn 100 in 2027, and we've got this contemporary role in telling the story about Australia's democracy, which is obviously of great importance in recent years around the world. As I arrived at MOAD before the funding was announced, it was evident that this organisation had really struggled from a lack of funding, and particularly that had an impact on the organisation's ability to protect and care for Old Parliament House, which is a heritage building. And we're only able to share some of those stories, those contemporary stories around democracy, and our social and economic history. So what this funding means is we're going to be able to immediately undertake some critical building works, which you can imagine with a building that's a century old, is quite challenging. We have about 1500 rooms at Old Parliament House, but a lot of them aren't open to the public. And so what we're going to be able to do is firstly, address some of those perhaps more boring but absolutely essential building infrastructure things like [air-conditioning] and addressing contaminated materials and things which the public don't see but which of course impact our ability to open up more of the building. Hopefully we can do some of that immediate stuff, and we'll be able to also update some of what we call interpreted spaces, like the prime minister's suite or the speaker's suite ... We try and enable audiences to understand what happened in the building and the people who worked there. Certainly for staff and people who've worked in the sector, they know this is valuable and they know it's important for Australians and now they see what we all know is valuable and important for the nation. They're recognised. Because many of our staff put their heart and soul into this work and they do it not for themselves but for the public. They're not organisations where people get paid a lot of money, or there's any fame. They do it because they just love our culture and they want to share it. Share

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