A call to justice at the National Museum of Australia

Adele Chynoweth

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    In 2011, at the opening of an exhibition about the institutionalisation of children, an adult survivor turned to me and asked, “Are you going to help us get justice?” It was the final day of my contracted employment as co-curator of that exhibition. My affirmative reply resulted in my work as a volunteer advocate, separate from the museum, for a group of former child inmates of an Australian adult psychiatric facility. This work resulted in my engagement with journalists, politicians and in supporting this group of survivors through formal government responses, including the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. In 2017, after years of campaigning, the Queensland Government finally announced it would award ex-gratia payments to former state wards who were sent to adult psychiatric facilities. In recent years there has been ongoing international dialogue and associated public case studies, concerning the importance of emotional exhibition content as well as the role that museums can play in campaigning for social justice. But what is the responsibility of an individual curator who feels at odds within the traditional, mainstream museum values of her employer? How can an activist curatorial approach be developed within those museums that construct an ‘objective and impartial’ research methodology? What unique attributes can social historians bring to advocacy work? This chapter analyses through both personal experience and published research, how the quest for social justice and the fight for access within our museums, demands a re-think of the conventional ‘professional’ boundaries of the curator.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationMuseums and Social Change: Challenging the Unhelpful Museum
    Editors Adele Chynoweth, Bernadette Lynch, Klaus Petersen, Sarah Smed
    Place of PublicationLondon and New York
    ISBN (Print)9780367228019
    Publication statusPublished - 2020

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