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Environment, Recreation, Communications and the Arts References Committee - 10/06/98 - DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNICATIONS AND THE ARTS - Program 1—Arts and heritage - Subprogram 1.8—National Museum of Australia

Senator LUNDY —Predictably, my questions will focus on the development of the new National Museum of Australia on Acton Peninsula. As we previously canvassed with Ms Casey, the project management is proceeding, but my questions will go more to the design integrity aspects—I am not quite sure of the terminology—of what is proposed for the museum as it relates to the original brief for the architects and the selection process. I understand that the elements of the design and the original specifications for the floor plan have been adjusted to try to fit within the parameters of the budget and of the time frames, et cetera. Can you provide information to the committee on the degree of flexibility that exists for the museum now, and how you, as the head of the National Museum, have a say in those decisions for change? I know it is a very longwinded, stilted question, but I think you understand what I am getting at.

Dr Jonas —I will take the second part first. We are in constant contact with the department—which, as you know, is actually the client which is actually building the museum—sometimes with the architects through the department, and sometimes directly with the architects. We set up a team which developed the functional brief that the architects designed to as part of the design competition. After the design competition there was, as there inevitably is, an iterative process where the larger spaces got tested: `Is it better to have the theatre on this side of the main hall or on that side of the main hall?', and so on. We have done that by dealing, as I have said, directly with the architects, directly with the department and through the department to the architects.

A series of workshops were held involving Dawn Casey, the consultants to the architects, who were in New York, the architects and myself. One of the things that came out of that—and this is leading on to the first part of your question—was the development of a mezzanine treatment which will run right throughout the permanent gallery spaces and into the gallery of Aboriginal Australia, which gives us an enormous amount of flexibility which we did not have before. That has slightly increased the square meterage of exhibition space, but it has greatly increased the exhibition volume. So we are probably now able, in design terms, to exhibit a lot more of our collections visibly than would have been the case before.

Senator LUNDY —If you are not extending your floor space, your meterage, how can you extend your exhibition space?

Dr Jonas —No, the exhibition volume has increased.

Senator LUNDY —As opposed to how many things you put on walls, or more walls?

Dr Jonas —As opposed to how many things you put on walls or in addition to what you can actually put on floors—which you can see looking at them, but now you will also be able to look down on them. For example, let us say we have a case with objects in it; you can see those at eye level, but now we can put things on top of those cases and you can also look down on them from the mezzanine level. So we have now actually increased the volume of visibility.

Senator LUNDY —Why have you gone to a mezzanine treatment solution? It is obviously to increase your exhibition volume. Is that an innovative way of addressing a shortfall in exhibition space?


Dr Jonas —No, it is an innovative way of providing the visitor with a more holistic experience and with more and different experiences.

Senator LUNDY —It sounds very interesting. Can you assist me here: I recollect, from deliberations of the Public Works Committee, some concern about a reduction in the overall exhibition space from that original functional brief to what is currently proposed. Am I right in that recollection?

Dr Jonas —I am a little bit uncertain about that. Can I provide you with that answer later? We are actually quite satisfied with the exhibition space that we have finished up with.

Senator LUNDY —I appreciate that. I am not really asking for your assessment; it is just a practical question in the sense of how much it differs from the original functional brief. Can you respond to that question on the basis of each individual gallery, rather than giving an overall figure?

Dr Jonas —Certainly.

Senator LUNDY —I have a couple of questions with respect to the children's gallery. Are there any proposals which provide for a change from the functional brief with respect to what is now proposed for the children's gallery?

Dr Jonas —Not at this stage. One of the things that we learned when we were overseas, and we have also had other advice on this, is that children's museums seem to function very well as stand[hyphen]alone museums, but as part of other museums they do not appear to function as well. I think what happens is that, rather than adults going with children into the children's museum, they take the children into the other type of museum which has got a children's museum in it, and that tends to function as a child minding facility rather than them getting the sort of total museum experience. What we have done is let a consultancy which will investigate children's facilities in the National Museum of Australia. The results of that consultancy are not to hand yet.

Senator LUNDY —Surely these issues were determined in the preparation of the functional brief. Why are you engaging in a reassessment at this point?

Dr Jonas —It is just part of the process. A certain number of assumptions are used to develop a functional brief, but as part of the ongoing process of getting the best museum that you can get you test those assumptions, and that is an ongoing process.

Senator LUNDY —Is it normal to test those assumptions in the context of the preparation of tender documentation for the construction of the museum though?

Dr Jonas —Sorry.

Senator LUNDY —I am questioning the time frame. Once you embark upon a construction phase—a tender process—my experience tells me that is not the time to be engaging consultants to test assumptions about the merits or otherwise of components of that functional brief. Do you know what I am saying?

Dr Jonas —I think I know what you are saying and I do not see anything wrong with that taking place. If you have got the time to be making things better, why not take advantage of the fact that you have got that time?

Senator LUNDY —In terms of this particular consultancy, what was the brief?

Dr Jonas —For the children's consultancy? To examine, in the context of Canberra and in the context of what direction the National Museum of Australia is taking, what might be the
best way to provide facilities for children in the National Museum of Australia. That is not the exact wording of the consultancy, but that is basically it.

Senator LUNDY —Can you provide the exact wording to the committee?

Dr Jonas —I certainly can.

Senator LUNDY —And when that consultancy is completed, provide that information to the committee?

Dr Jonas —I certainly can.

Senator LUNDY —Are there any other consultancies you have taken up to reassess elements of the functional brief?

Dr Jonas —No.

Senator LUNDY —As a result of the various budget pressures that inevitably come about with functional briefs and designs, putting aside the alliancing issue for the moment, are you finding the museum and the council are in a position of having to make compromises with respect to the integrity of the design to suit the government's budget and timetable?

Dr Jonas —No.

Mr Stevens —Senator, can I interrupt for one second? Ms Casey tells me that there may one or more consultancies that she is aware of that Dr Jonas may not be aware of. I might ask her to come up to the table if that is satisfactory.

Senator LUNDY —Yes, please.

Ms Casey —There a number of consultancies that are testing the assumptions of the brief. There is a consortium made up of CSIRO and museum experts in terms of testing the requirements for air conditioning. There is a library consultant brought in to look at the library areas in both the National Museum and AIATSIS. So it is not a matter of a cost cutting exercise but rather, `Here we have the opportunity to improve on areas, can we get expert advice?'

Senator LUNDY —What scope within the general budget is there for a proliferation of consultancies to improve the functional brief?

Ms Casey —There is scope for fees for various consultancies. A functional brief is just a guide and when people sit down with a functional brief it is like, `Here are the areas that we think we need.' You do need to get advice on it.

Senator LUNDY —But my experience—certainly with the National Museum it goes back some years—tells me that within the museum organisation they had developed their requirements to a very high degree of specificity, based on their existing collection, conceptually what they were looking for in the presentation of that collection, and issues going to the very heart of the whole thematic approach to the museum. To what degree are all those concepts that I am familiar with from the past relevant to what is going on currently in all these reassessments, consultants, changes, budget pressures, alleged reductions in floor space?

Ms Casey —Certainly, the museum has not changed its themes and, as far I know, people have thought about how you would exhibit those things. But air conditioning, for instance, is an ongoing area that is being tested nationally and internationally.

Senator LUNDY —Sure.


Ms Casey —You need to get the latest advice so that you make sure that you build in the latest, if we are going to get indemnified exhibitions, for instance, so that has been tested. They were saying, `Is this the right level of air conditioning for these levels of spaces currently?'

Senator LUNDY —My comments are more relevant with respect to what Dr Jonas said with respect to the children's museum. The prominence of the collections for those of the younger generation was a critical area, as I recall, for the museum in the way it presented its material generally.

Ms Casey —That is right, and that is what people are asked to look at. This is based on the advice that Dr Jonas, along with some members of the council, received overseas. It is asking, `Do you have a separate space allocation for children? How do you incorporate the children's experience in the rest of the museum, and not only in the exhibition areas? How best do you incorporate the experience for children in the retail areas, including the restaurant areas?' And it changes over years.

Senator LUNDY —Yes, I am sure. I have to say I cannot help being a tad cynical that what I am hearing is elaborate justification for the scrapping of the children's gallery. I hope I am wrong in that. I just wonder where it is going with these consultancies and the advice you are getting.

Ms Casey —There is a range of pieces of advice. We have got a certain allocation and, within that, one of the other areas that we looked at was the main hall. Originally, in the functional brief it was 1,500 square metres. When we looked at that we asked, `Is that the best use of 1,500 square metres?' No, it was not. But we have increased the exhibition areas.

Senator LUNDY —Okay, it is fluid. The children's gallery: are you going to keep it?

Ms Casey —It is up for discussion. The museum council are still discussing it, based on what sort of advice they receive and based on their own views.

Senator LUNDY —What else is up for discussion? Maybe you have core and non[hyphen]core elements?

Ms Casey —They will look at a range of areas. They have yet to work out the spatial requirements for functions—what sort of performance space is allocated.

Senator LUNDY —What about educational areas? Briefing rooms for students? Are they core or non[hyphen]core?

Dr Jonas —They are there.

Senator LUNDY —They are?

Dr Jonas —Yes.

Senator LUNDY —Are they being inquired into through a consultancy?

Dr Jonas —This particular children's consultancy?

Senator LUNDY —I am sorry. I am employing some sarcasm, and I apologise for that. But the point I am making is: how can we or how can the public be assured that those elements of the museum will remain in what appears to be a very fluid consideration of the features and aspects?

Dr Jonas —We are absolutely committed to children in that museum. We are absolutely committed to both the education of schoolchildren who come and the museum experience of everybody who comes, irrespective of their age. We are absolutely committed to that. What we are working out is: given that there is conflicting evidence—and evidence is mounting
overseas, as I have said—we are interested in finding out the best way of maximising that experience for children. That is what our aim is at the moment.

In terms of whether we are going to keep the children's gallery or not, the consultancy is being let now. I come from an academic background where I prefer not to answer the questions before I have actually asked them. We will have to wait and see what comes up there.

Senator LUNDY —Okay. That is all I have. Thank you.

Dr Jonas —Thank you.

CHAIR —I would like to thank the officers from the National Museum for their attendance. Mr Stevens, would you thank the staff for all their help today? I thank Hansard. I thank Senator Lundy for her cooperation in ensuring that we finished 2[half ] minutes over time, which has to be a record. I appreciate that, Senator Lundy. Thank you very much.

Committee adjourned at 7.18 p.m.