Future Museum Now

By Nikolas Brocklehurst, Exhibitions and Collection Technician

Here at Wellington Museum we have put together the Future Museum Group as part of the ongoing development. As the name suggests we are asking some big questions. Now this post does not have any startling revelations rather it just raises some of the questions, ideas and considerations about museums that the group have been discussing.

It has been argued that by providing opportunities to establish, build and to rebuild traditions, it is culture’s temporary and transitory nature that empowers it. Conversely for a culture that does not acknowledge and embrace this nature it becomes unable to be questioned or challenged and fatally unable to evolve.

Museums are no exception. Despite their ability to bring together objects from all periods of history, they are cultural products firmly anchored in the time that created them. So for museums not to consider their own nature is to be unchangeable.

Now if this were the case, I would not be writing this and there definitely would not be a Future Museum Group. Despite being firmly encased in their architectural statements, museums have had to address their histories, to build and to rebuild themselves, to shift their focus, their purpose and broaden their public appeal (more or less). This is a continual process and failure to do so leads to extinction.

Museum future photo 1
Early concept drawing of Wellington Museum: embracing diverse happenings is by no means isolated to museums, with libraries and zoos amongst others expanding their standard repertoire too.

So, how does a museum, a thing with less than humble beginnings (see The Same but Different for a little history) have relevancy in contemporary life awash with alternatives?

Shifts to edutainment, blockbuster exhibitions, spectacles and indeed diversifying what actually happens in and about museums (films, concerts, light displays etc.) can be seen as a response to this question. Equally, museums are faced with an increasing need for profitability against rising costs while being prepared for any future social, economic and environmental disruptions.

And yet, is anything at stake when museums position themselves as one-stop shops, with cafes, movies, retail spaces, kids areas, so on and so forth, evoking something very reminiscent to a mall?

Or is the move to more diverse undertakings and events an attempt to break free of the museum’s dry and stuffy persona? Does embracing singular, unique, one-off moments counter the typically static displays of singular, unique, one-off objects?  Further, can it be understood as a means to stand out from the immediacy, simultaneity and ubiquity offered by our increasingly digitally mediated world? A world where notions of originality are easily reproducible.

mona lisa
Through a glass darkly: capturing the Mona Lisa at the Louvre on a tablet-camera  Photo: Dennis MacDonald / Alamy. Telegraph

Is this a move to personal and personalised experiences as tools for re-securing museums within a cultural psyche? And yet fundamentally this shift is competing with the alternatives in their terms. So the question remains, what is it that 21st century museums can offer that is not offered elsewhere?

At one level they do have a role in telling contested stories but what tends to differentiate museums from other institutions are their collections – they are repositories and archives of culture. However, this is not as clear-cut as it appears.

Nik shot
Museums Wellington Collection Store. Photo: Nik Brocklehurst

Yes, museums are full of objects but there is a fundamental shift in the meaning and operation of those objects once they enter the museum’s doors. The very notion of being ‘worthy’ of collecting distinguishes the unique and the special from the common and the ordinary. Discarding their previous uses, they are no longer potato peelers or paintings but become embodiments of history, witnesses to events, and examples of genius. Is it this, the museum’s ability to make the ordinary extraordinary, to make an object worth looking at, the element that truly separates museums from other institutions, and by extension the one thing that museums alone can offer?

But not all objects can be given their own plinth, label and spotlight. Online collections can and do alleviate some of this, but it is not the same as being on public display within the institution itself. There is a certain prestige attached to those viewed in situ while an invisible majority remain confined to store houses indefinitely.

Objects on display in Nga Heke, Level 2, Wellington Museum. Photo: Nik Brocklehurst

Decisions must be made as to what can and cannot go on display. More so, not all objects are empowered by their ‘incarceration’ within museums and their mode of ‘exhibition’. This indeed is a practice museums have had difficulty with.

Image courtesy of Shelley Gardner

Bringing it back to the Future Museum Group, we have asked who better to take the lead on displaying culture than the culture or community itself. So we are pushing a community museum focus and Flux is an aspect of this. The Future Museum Group is utilising a range of engagement strategies aiming toward empowerment and the Museum offers the one thing it can – the full weight of its social and cultural capital for all to use.

As stated in the beginning, nothing is new here, there are no great revelations, just a few things that we have been considering.

‘Jumping the fence’ at Nairn Street Cottage

Guest blog by Hannah Zwartz, the Cottage’s gardener

Red valerian (Centranthus ruber, aka Spur valerian, Kiss-me-quick, Fox’s brush, Devil’s beard or Jupiter’s beard) grows all over the garden at Nairn Street Cottage. It pops up in dry corners where nothing else will grow, and in cracks in the paving and walls. It’s a common sight across Wellington over spring and summer; colonising dry clay banks and sunny, rotten-rock slopes, self-seeding freely and flowering in all shades of pink and red alongside tall grasses, yellow wild turnip and white daisy bushes.

Red Valerian Hannah Zwartz
Red Valerian. Photo: Hannah Zwartz

When does a garden flower become a wildflower? And when does a wildflower become a weed – or vice versa? In England – from where the Wallis family, who built the cottage, emigrated – Centranthus is a wildflower that is also grown as a garden plant. With conditions in New Zealand/Aotearoa slightly more favourable for this particular plant, it’s looked on more as a weed.

Many plants in the Nairn Street garden tell the same story – brought from other parts of the world for practical or sentimental reasons, then ‘jumping the fence’ on arrival, to become something of a pest. The most commonly known example is gorse, brought from the UK for hedging before escaping to colonise whole hillsides – but in the Nairn Street garden you can also find honeysuckle, foxgloves, elderflower, purple toadflax (Linaria), crocosmia, arum lilies, agapanthus and hydrangeas. All these have at some point, or in some part of the country, jumped the picket fences to escape the gardener’s control and taken off into the wilderness on their own colonisation mission.

Elder Flower Hannah Zwartz
Elder flower. Photo: Hannah Zwartz

There’s tradescantia, for instance, aka Spiderwort, Wandering Jew/dew/willie. Nobody knows exactly who first introduced this South American plant into Aotearoa, but it’s grown in the UK as an ornamental or house plant, and was freely planted by early European settlers; Sir Walter Buller, for instance, encouraged large areas of it on his Papaitonga (Horowhenua) estate. Heavy frosts kill tradescantia, so it doesn’t become such a pest in the UK, but in NZ it can smother large areas of the forest floor, preventing native seedlings from getting a foothold.

Tradescantia Nik Bullard
Tradescantia. Photo: Nik Bullard

There are times when you’d love to turn back the clock, and ask more questions – is it really such a great idea to introduce possums, rabbits or ferrets? The questions in the Cottage garden are simpler – should we dig out the honeysuckle and elder, so the birds don’t spread the seeds into bush areas? Or is it OK to keep them if we make sure they don’t set seed? Why do we grow ‘weeds’ like purple toadflax, arum and red valerian at the Cottage?

The answers are partly cultural; elder for instance, is a plant with strong herbal and cultural significance (though it also spreads into disturbed habitats, inhibiting regeneration of native species.) Sometimes the answer, to be honest, is partly practical – the reason these plants become ‘weeds’ is that they are very well suited to local conditions, and grow extremely easily. They germinate quicker than more ‘desirable’ garden plants and thrive in poorer soil, with less water. Whether you call them weeds or wildflowers, these plants bring colour to the garden, feed insects and butterflies and can be cut back for use as mulch or compost fodder.

But on another level, they also help the garden tell the history of New Zealand/Aotearoa. Why did settlers – both Māori and European – carry with them, on their months-long ocean crossings, carefully wrapped packages of seeds and cuttings, keeping them alive to plant and take root in the new land? Which plants did immigrants deem essential, for food and medicine but also for cultural reasons? Māori brought kumara, and hue (gourds), and other plants that didn’t take root in the new environment such as coconuts and aute (the paper mulberry used for tapa cloth). Māori gardeners were also quick to adopt potatoes, which grow more easily than kumara in colder areas.  European settlers to Wellington brought fruit trees, berry canes, and herbs such as sage and thyme useful for everyday first aid.  They also brought roses and other flowers – the first dahlia shows in Wellington were as early as the 1840s, a strange (to our eyes) transplant of British culture/horticulture to a Pacific environment.

People often comment that the Nairn Street Cottage garden looks ‘natural’. Actually, a lot of art goes into making it look that way. There are ongoing decisions on which self-sown beauties to leave and which to pull out. Lines, however arbitrary, have to be drawn – that’s what makes it horticulture, as opposed to wilderness.

Cottage Hannah Zwartz
Nairn St Cottage. Photo: Hannah Zwartz

The garden and its plants can tell stories of colonisation, invasion, migration, aggression, refuge, assimilation, naturalisation, attempts at control and/or restoration. Questions facing the gardener – like what to allow in and what to root out – are, on a different scale, the same questions facing wider New Zealand/ Aotearoa culture and society. What makes a ‘worthy’ immigrant – and who gets to decide? The story of colonisation is a living story, not fixed in time in the nineteenth century, because waves of botanical and human migration, and the forces of globalisation, are still here today.

Nairn Street Cottage is open everyday from 1st January to 18 March 2018.
Opening hours: 12 – 4pm   


Believe it or not, it’s time to start loving and living with technology in museums and galleries

By Moira Sun, recently a Visitor Services Host for Museums Wellington

2017 is my year for travel. I had the chance to explore quite a few museums and galleries when I traveled to Singapore and Melbourne. What appealed to me the most was the beautiful blend of the practice of technology.

In this blog, I would love to share some of the technologies that were used, and how these affected my museum/gallery experiences – not only those I visited but also those I work for.

Mobile App + Free-Wifi – great that you have it all!!

Nat Gallery Singapore
National Gallery, Singapore. Photo: Moira Sun

At National Gallery Singapore, I had unlimited time engaging with the mobile app to better understand how to self-explore a variety of exhibitions. This was something that I had heard about but never come across before. The free app National Gallery Singapore: Gallery Explorer made it easy to surf for exhibitions and art works with various options. For example, by choosing the category ‘Tours’, you can either go on a self-guided audio tour of selected key works of a specific exhibition you are interested in, or see the highlights of the building history. You are also able to tap on the artwork to see more information.

Self explore options app
Self-exploring options within the app.

For someone who likes to enjoy themselves alone in a gallery, having a pair of ear plugs with the free app downloaded onto your smart phone is perfect for taking your own time to learn all the new things. However, the museum or gallery should enable super speedy connection with free Wi-Fi so that audiences can actually download all the videos and pictures and navigate for themselves without requiring human interaction!

2D or 3D? Maybe 4D! – it’s kind of mind blowing…

ArtScience Museum, Singapore. Photo: Moira Sun

When we talk about technology, we often think of the future. At the Future World: Where Art Meets Science exhibition in ArtScience Museum Singapore, I experienced how some artists explore innovative ways to make art into a new form.

own drawing
Top: my own 2-D colour-in; Bottom: 3-D animated ‘artwork. Photo: Moira Sun

I had such a fun time at one of the projects called Sketch Town in the TOWN section. I became a player who was so fascinated by how I could transform my 2D colour-in into a 3D animated apartment building through a digital scanner! I still couldn’t believe I waited for almost half an hour in front of this ‘fictitious town’ (‘Sketch Town’) to see where my building would be dropped!

Crystal Uni
Crystal Universe created with TeamLab’s Interactive 4-D Vision technology. Photo: Moira Sun

At that point, I thought I had spent too much time just in the Town section, but when I walked into a space with more than 170,000 wonder stars (LED lights), I found myself lost at the centre of this ‘scintillating Crystal Universe’ where the contiguously changing lights in the universe responded to people’s movement. Created with TeamLab’s Interactive 4-D Vision technology, this spectacular artwork also allows you to interact with it by releasing stars, planets, and even galaxies on your fingertips (i.e. control the LED lights from a smart touch screen within the installation). By combining art, science and technology, Crystal Universe really gives you a hint of the power of 4-D.

VR (virtual reality) + AR (augmented reality) – you can go big, or you can start small

Augmeted reality graph

Working in small-medium sized museums doesn’t mean you stay away from trendy technology. In fact, you can start small and still put up something pretty cool, especially with VR and AR technology. You don’t really need very complex equipment, according to the picture above, this experience can be ‘generally achieved by holding your smart phone’… or ‘by wearing a helmet or goggles’.

Kura googles
Our Assistant Curator Māori Raukura Hoerara-Smith experiencing VR at the Far From Frozen exhibition at Space Place. Photo: Tom Etuata

For example, Being There from Otago Museum’s Far from Frozen exhibition (hosted at Space Place in the 2017 July school holidays) showcased the use of ‘the latest virtual and augmented reality combining holographic computing and animated projection mapping technology’ (Otago Museum); by simply wearing a helmet, audiences were actively engaged to explore Antarctica and the potential impact of climate change.


Large museums sometimes face difficulties around members of the public being able to access the exhibitions up close in large spaces. For example Wild at Melbourne Museum, which ‘features over 600 animals in a spectacular vertical array’ (from Amazing animals in a changing world) where Panoramic Navigators were used to allow audiences to ‘orientate themselves’ and effectively ‘access information’ about the selected animal specimen (J Shaw). These ‘interactive augmented-reality multi-media information terminals’ (J Shaw, 2010) presented a smart way to learn ‘which animals are thriving and which are merely surviving’ (Amazing animals in a changing world) via touch screens and computer generated visual displays.

Panoramic Navigator
Panoramic Navigator. Photo: Moira Sun

Audio + visual – it’s the ideas behind it that matter

Fancy technology can sometimes turn away your non tech-savvy visitors; plus not every museum is able to afford this. So, what’s the most important thing here? Well, I think it is the intriguing ideas behind the use of new technologies.

Immigration Museum
Immigration Museum, Melbourne. Photo: Moira Sun

The most outstanding exhibit when I was in Melbourne was the interactive Interview Room from the Getting In exhibition at the Immigration Museum. With a flat screen TV, a touchscreen monitor and a set of audio speakers, you get to travel back in time and role-play a government official in charge of interviewing people who applied to migrate to Australia in the 1920s, the 1950s, or the present day. Although they used a more common technology of audio and visual media in the Interview Room, the audiences were still very well engaged – neither losing interest, nor feeling the technology was distracting from the content.

Finding out why this Greek family wanted to immigrate to Australia and why they got rejected. Photo: Moira Sun

Social media (Instagram/Facebook/Twitter) – you can know more about who we are and what we do

Compared with some fun and smart technologies practiced in the museums and galleries, social media such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, etc. could possibly be considered as one of the best everyday life tools/icons that engage and connect with people. In fact, it’s probably one of the best networking tools.

Instagram used by Museums Wellington and City Gallery under Experience Wellington.

I was very inspired by seeing that many arts and cultural organisations have embraced social media, including the museums I work for. It is a great way to advertise products and events, to promote exhibitions and programmes, to socialise with each other, and to share information with audiences on a daily basis.

This isn’t the end.

My 2017 trips were great. I have seen some very interesting, interactive and educational shows and exhibitions, but, this isn’t the end. I’d love to see a wider diversity of technologies used in future museums and galleries, which can maximise the creativity and innovation which enables us to inspire more visitors, to make more of a difference, to create more multi-sensory experiences, to be more accessible, and to take on more challenges.



Sketch Town. (n.d.). In TOWN. Retrieved from

Crystal Universe. (n.d.). In SPACE. Retrieved from

Otago Museum. (n.d.). FAR FROM FROZEN: ANTARCTICA AND US [Pamphlet]. Retrieved from

Amazing animals in a changing world. (n.d.). In Wild. Retrieved from

Shaw, J. (n.d.). PANORAMIC NAVIGATOR. Retrieved from

Shaw, J. (2010). WILD Panoramic Navigator (2010). Retrieved from 


Human Rights: Lessons from the past

Guest blog by Steven Sedley, Holocaust Centre of New Zealand


The concept of ‘Human Rights’ didn’t exist for most of the history of mankind. It is a concept that evolved gradually during the Age of Enlightenment culminating in the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century. However, that all should have the equal rights of citizens (including Jews, slaves, Romanis, colonised indigenous people, women and children) took many decades to take hold.

In most of Europe Jews didn’t have the rights of citizenship until near the end of the 19th century, and when they did get such rights they had a price to pay. They had to give up their language and learn to speak, and ultimately think, in the vernacular of their host country, be it French, German, or Hungarian. They had to give up their distinctive garb, they had to buy into a national consciousness, national celebrations, local patriotism, at the expense of their long standing Jewish traditions. Jews became French, Germans, Poles, Hungarians, Romanians, Italians, of Jewish persuasion, Jews by religion, but by identity the nationality of whatever country they lived in. It was not their rights as individual human beings, but their rights as citizens that mattered.

Sargeant in the Palace Guards, Hungarian by nationality and Jew by religion.

It was not until Nazi Germany deprived Jews (and others) not only of their rights as citizens, but also of their rights as human beings that the question of ‘Human Rights’ came to be considered by the community of nations. They were demonised, made invisible, their properties expropriated, exiled, identified by number not by name, and ultimately, they were murdered.

German sign
The sign (in German) reads, “Keine Gesundung der Voelker vor der Ausscheidung des Judentums!” [There will be no health for the people until the removal of the Jews.]  US Holocaust Museum
 In 1948, the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that stated, among other provisions, that:

  • Everyone is entitled to all rights and freedom
  • Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person
  • No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
  • All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law
  • No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile

Human Rights - HOLOCAUST

Perpetrators of ‘attacks directed against any civilian or an identifiable part of a civilian population’[1]  genocide and atrocities against people were brought to account for ‘Crimes Against Humanity’. The first prosecution for such crimes took place from 1945-46 at the Nuremberg trials. These considered the formal punishment of leading members of the Nazi regime for war crimes during World War II. Since then the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court were set up to deal with those responsible for mass murder in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and others.

Nuremberg Trial
Nuremberg trials – Defendants in the dock at the Nuremberg trials. The main target of the prosecution was Hermann Göring (at the left edge on the first row of benches), Wikipedia

New Zealand as a country and New Zealanders as individuals had only a limited knowledge of the atrocities that were committed in Europe during the 1930s and 40s. When faced with refugees seeking a haven, New Zealand shut its doors. Of the thousands who were fleeing for their lives, New Zealand admitted a mere 1100 approximately[2]. There were indeed individuals who spoke up on behalf of the refugees and many refugees encountered kindness on a personal level, but there was also a good deal of opposition to admitting people who were not British, and Jews in particularly. There was a deeply ingrained anti-Semitic prejudice under the surface.

The Nazis and their allies went to extraordinary lengths to conceal their crimes. People taken to extermination camps to be murdered were told that they were to be resettled. When extermination camps were abandoned they were not only destroyed, but the lands on which they were sited were grassed over to conceal all the evidence. The stories of mass murder were so horrendous and unbelievable that many put them down to propaganda.  It was a New Zealand diplomat, Paddy Costello, who was the first to report, through reliable diplomatic channels, the evidence of mass murder in the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Maidanek.

New Zealand, like the rest of the world, failed to stand up for the victims, the persecuted. If there is anything to be learned from the Holocaust, it is that every individual must do their utmost to resist prejudice, fight injustice and to care for others.

The bottom line of the rights and obligations of every human being is summed up in the saying in the Talmud:

“Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”  Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:9; Yerushalmi Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 37a.

 1Crimes against humanity, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,
2Ann Beaglehole, 2007 (updated 2013), Government response to Jewish refugees,

Human Rights and Museums
from Nik Bullard, Social History Curator


Historically museums have tried to remain politically neutral. But to address the huge amount of human rights abuses and issues, historically and contemporarily, we need to bring these stories into our museum. To hear these stories, especially in people’s own words, is a valuable tool in creating an inclusive and participatory museum, one that isn’t afraid of telling difficult or hard stories.

I believe there is a social justice issue involved here – to tell the truth about what is happening on a local and global scale, thereby raising awareness and bringing about greater understanding, empathy and tolerance towards others. And just as importantly, to help prevent human rights abuses and atrocities of the past from ever happening again (eg, unbelievably fascism and slavery are on the rise!)

Holocaust Gallery Auckland
The Holocaust Gallery,  Auckland Museum

These museums and organisations address human rights:

  • The Holocaust Centre of New Zealand, Wellington
  • The Holocaust Gallery, Auckland Museum
  • Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Winnipeg (established in 2008) – dedicated to the evolution, celebration and future of human rights
  • International Slavery Museum, Liverpool (opened in 2007) –hear the untold stories of enslaved people and learn about historical and contemporary slavery
  • The War and Women’s Human Rights Museum, Seoul, South Korea
  • War Remnants Museum (formerly Museum of American War Crimes), Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
  • Osaka Human Rights Museum, Japan
  • EMSA Museum of Remembrance and for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • National Museum of Memory, Medellin, Colombia
  • FIHRM (Federation of International Human Rights Museums) – about sharing, working together, learning from each other, and encouraging each other; about being active – looking at the ways our museums can challenge contemporary racism, discrimination and other human rights abuses.

Museum campaign for human rights

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (Spanish-born philosopher George Santayana)

Wellington Museum Acknowledges Arts Access Aotearoa

By Rachel Ingram – Head of Learning and Programmes, Museums Wellington


This blog was originally delivered as part of the Arts Access Aotearoa Panel at the 2017
Museums Aotearoa Conference: He Waka Eke Noa, Museums of Inclusion.
The topic wasDiversity and Disability: Including who? Including how?’

Museums of Inclusion logo

In 2014 Wellington Museum was at the beginning of our accessibility journey, and at the same time our thinking around proposed exhibition – The Attic – was taking shape.  We were naively assuming that accessibility was something we would achieve, and hadn’t quite realised it was something we would always be working towards. Our approach, although well intentioned, largely involved doing it for the disabled community. Thankfully, and with perfect timing, it was at this stage our relationship with Arts Access  Aotearoa and the Arts For All Network began.

Arts Access

We were given a first edition printed out copy of Arts For All and seized on particular pages of the book Getting Started, First Steps, Ten Things You Can Do Now, What Words to Use, and Where to Go For Advice and Information. Our thinking began to change.

We attended an Arts For All Network hui and met members of the disability sector. Our thinking changed a little further.  We were chatting with the team from Arts Access Aotearoa about an Accessibility Policy for our Museums when the Attic came into the conversation. They suggested the Museum host a Network hui, share our plans and ask for input. Our practice began to change.

Our designer brought a tactile scale model of the floor and the display cabinets/furniture to the hui. He talked the Network through his designs and they fed back to him. The hui was constructive and collaborative. Network members with lived, familial or community experience, along with representative organisations, talked through all aspects of the design, answered questions, and gave information on guidelines and minimum requirements. They introduced us to Standard 4121, suggested contacts and readings, and told us about their experiences and how we could incorporate or learn from them. They were positive about the thinking to date, and encouraging about what we could aspire to – what would be the very best we could do at this time for this exhibition.

The Attic entrance
This shows the double glass doors into The Attic. They are open. They open automatically through a sensor, a loud click indicates the opening. The doors are labelled and partially frosted. The lift nearby (no image) has braille numbering and a voice that announces each level of the Museum and what can be found there.

Our designer acknowledges The Attic is what it is due to the conversations he had with the group. He credits these as making him both aware and mindful of accessible design aspects and has indicated that without the network’s input The Attic would have been vastly different. He notes that the feedback the network gave him has resulted in a more accessible/inclusive experience for all. These days Standard 4121 is embedded in his thinking and community consultation is a natural part of any planning process.

The Attic inside
The Attic – a long shot that shows pathways, cases and seating. The pathways are wide – a minimum of 1.2 metres. There are clear spaces between the display cases. Seating runs the length of the space providing places to sit and quiet areas.

The curatorial team speak from a content point of view. For them, thinking around interpretation and story selection were enhanced at the hui. It was here they realised the importance of engaging with the disability sector, planning with a person not for them.

This led them to collaborate with World Champion swimmer and Paralympian Mary Fisher on an exhibition in The Attic, and not only that, but after the opening, for them to work together again to make adjustments that would improve the experience for visitors who are blind or with low vision.

Mary Fisher
A close up from the Mary Fisher exhibit showing part of a display case housing a selection of objects: a swimming costume (shoulder to knee), a pair of darkened goggles, a poster in support of Mary and a towel. The display includes three medals: gold, silver and bronze, but they are not showing in this image.

What are our learnings from The Arts for All hui regarding The Attic development?

 1. Engage with the disability sector/Arts For All Network early in the process

2. Keep communicating throughout the process, and afterwards

Or more simply put: CONNECT, LISTEN, STAY IN TOUCH

To hammer it home the Network gave and continues to give us:

  • The opportunity to form and maintain relationships
  • The opportunity to listen
  • Support and learning
  • Connections and networks
  • The opportunity to participate in training
  • Next steps in our accessibility journey

Finally, and this is key, before the hui we had accessibility champions in the Museum – now we have relationships with disabled people and disability organisations, and a culture of accessibility and inclusion.

This shows an old Bakelite telephone with winding dial. Next to it is a label captioned ‘Will to Win’. The receiver is off the hook and lying next to the telephone. When a visitor lifts the phone to their ear they will hear an audio description of the ‘Will to Win’
story and objects, as well as Mary Fisher herself talking. We are collaborating to provide a transcript of this audio.

Intl Day of the disabled

The Same but Different: Musings on Museums

By Paul Thompson, Deputy Director and Head of Content

The modern museum often sees its ancestry as stretching back to mediaeval and renaissance Wunderkammer (cabinet of wonders). At times they actively use them as models or metaphor for how they present things.

Wunderkammer are those wonderfully eclectic collections of art, curiosities and natural history specimens that the wealthy created and used to show off their resources and their knowledge. But while museums have no trouble with the form or derivations from the Wunderkammer they can find the function a bit trickier. Times have changed.

Photo ref: Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand

The Colonial Museum was created when Wellington became the Capital in 1865. After morphing through the Dominion and then the National Museum, it was the precursor to Te Papa. Some things are exactly the same, such as the whale skeleton hanging from the roof, the glass cases, the waka in central place and the labels. The major difference to a modern museum is that now the birds would be in one section, Māori artefacts in another and the Kohorn mortar in a third, and there are probably no stuffed animals.

paul 2
The Attic in Wellington Museum. Photo: Mark Tantrum

A new display (a whole floor actually) at Wellington Museum has reverted to, or rather been informed by, the idiosyncratic jumble of the Wunderkammer. We used the idea of an attic as the design metaphor but the individual items and associated stories that we call ‘the dispersed model’ means stuffed animals, paintings, carved portraits, civic history, Māori taonga and colonial and modernist detritus sit happily side by side. The Attic is a giant Wunderkammer and of course the word ‘cabinet’ was traditionally applied to a room as well as a piece of furniture.

Paul 3
Cabinet at Jack’s Boathouse in Wellington Museum. Photo: Tom Etuata

In another display called Jack’s Boathouse, this time more like a traditional Wunderkammer, or curiosity cabinet, all the objects sit together in a case with no labels. They are based on the Collections acquired when Wellington Museum’s focus was maritime so they have a more restricted range of objects than a traditional Wunderkammer. But they certainly have variety within the overall theme.

Early Wunderkammer had an effective way of classifying the world that was stunningly straightforward – articifialia or human artefacts including art, musical instruments, exotic clothing and weapons and ‘objects of curious manufacture’.

Paul 4
Cabinet at Jack’s Boathouse in Wellington Museum. Photo: Tom Etuata

Or naturalia (natural objects). At times we get lovely combinations such as this painted shell.

Paul 5
Cabinet at Jack’s Boathouse in Wellington Museum. Photo: Tom Etuata
Paul 6
Cabinet at Jack’s Boathouse in Wellington Museum. Photo: Tom Etuata

But these binoculars, pieces of artificialia, can perhaps show us that while we have installations that look like Wunderkammer we may have the signs but not the spirit. When we look at or through these binoculars how many of us would read brass binoculars as metaphor or muse? This is how we have interpreted them:

‘Binoculars (brass). Binoculars replaced telescopes for long distance viewing because they are easier to hold steady, have a wider field of view and give brighter and sharper images’. Well it’s all true but rather prosaic.

In an earlier time their presence in a Wunderkammer may have turned our thoughts to higher matters. We may have regarded them as being symbolic of the all-seeing eye of God and then developing this up to encompass all the objects in the cabinet as confirmation of his (as God was conceived of then) wonderful works. Or as you looked through the bigger end and saw objects as diminished in size this could be a lesson in morals warning us of the dangers of hubris (pride). Humans may think and act ambitiously but in reality are specks in a material universe. Whether one is a believer or an atheist there is room for speculation. The Wunderkammer acts as a philosophical and speculative prompt.

This type of thinking is recognised by some museums by the phrase ‘visitors make their own meanings’. In this we know that the visitors may see meanings and ideas in objects that are not at all related to the reasons why we (the museum) have decided to put them on display. A good example at Wellington Museum would be the dozens of black and white portraits of Chairmen of the now-defunct Wellington Harbour Board that line the wall of the Boardroom. The other day I saw a couple of visitors slowly examining each one. “Looking for ancestors?” I asked. “No, comparing them to 1930s silent film stars”, was the reply.

Von Kohorn Boardroom in Wellington Museum. Photo: Tom Etuata

So in modern museums we may have the form and we occasionally have the function of the Wunderkammer. But in a post-Enlightenment world, with its focus on rationality and classification, are we in danger of losing the Wunderkammer’s poetry?

Predicting the future of Wellington’s heritage buildings through ‘Plimmer’s Ark’ at the Old Bank Arcade

By Nik Bullard, Curator Social History

The inaugural Wellington City Heritage Week kicks off this year and runs from 23-29 October. This is brought to us by Historic Places Wellington, Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga and Wellington City Council. It will be a week of community hosted events that will provide the public with the opportunity to experience the city’s social, built, and cultural heritage close-up.

Museums Wellington has three of its four sites based in heritage buildings – The Carter Observatory (Space Place) which opened in 1941, The Bond Store (now Wellington Museum) built in 1892 by renowned architect Frederick de Jersey Clere and Nairn Street Cottage built circa 1860 by early settlers Catherine and William Wallis. Our fourth site, the Cable Car Museum, contains the heritage-listed Cable Car Winding House.

4 Museums

We also look after another heritage site – the found remains of the Inconstant sailing ship (or ‘Plimmer’s Ark’) at the Old Bank Arcade on Lambton Quay (a Category 1 listed BNZ heritage building). Recently we refurbished this display to modernise it and simplify the interpretation. Here we tell the story of early settler and successful entrepreneur, John Plimmer, and his bonded warehouse ‘Ark’ (built in the wrecked Inconstant).

Plimmer’s Ark. Photo: Museums Wellington

As part of the refurb, we included a timeline of other notable Wellington buildings (the Ark is, after all, the story of an old building within an old building!). It was also a great way of celebrating the ethnic diversity of Wellington as seen through the various cultural sites, churches and halls.

A number of the sites we included are listed with Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga (HNZPT) – Te Aro pā, the de Luxe Cinema (now the Embassy Theatre, 1924), the first Labour government’s first state house in Miramar (1937) and Futuna Chapel in Karori (1961).

(1937) First state house in Miramar. Heritage New Zealand
The first Labour Government’s first State House. Photo: Heritage New Zealand


Futuna Chapel. Photo by Wills, Tony

HNZPT doesn’t have a minimum age requirement for buildings to be listed, as this would be “inconsistent with contemporary conservation philosophy and with the perception of the past and present as a continuum, particularly for iwi and hapū”.

(1974) Img 2 Tapu Te Ranga living marae, Museums Wellington
Tapu Te Ranga living marae. Photo: Museums Wellington
(1974) Img 1 Tapu Te Ranga living marae, Museums Wellington
Tapu Te Ranga living marae. Photo: Museums Wellington

With this in mind, it’s interesting to note the sites on our timeline that aren’t yet listed: Pipitea pā (marae), the Chinese Mission Hall on Frederick Street (1907), the Greek Orthodox Church on Hania Street (1950), Tapu Te Ranga living marae in Island Bay (1974) and the Congregational Christian Church in Newtown (1984). Perhaps it’s time for people involved in these organisations (or interested others) to look at protecting these significant buildings?

(1907) Img 1 St Peter's Chinese Mission Hall. Museums Wellington
Chinese Mission Hall Photo: Museums Wellington
(1950) Img 2 Greek Orthodox Church. Museums Wellington
Greek Orthodox Church. Photo: Museums Wellington
(1984) Img 1 Samoan Church. Museums Wellington
Congregational Christian Church. Photo: Museums Wellington

I can see that there may be perceived drawbacks to registering your building or site. However, entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero does not automatically equal protection or create regulatory obligations on the property owner. Nor does it create specific rights or control over the property. But it may lead to the property being protected under local government’s district plan heritage schedules.

So if registered buildings and sites aren’t assessed against an age criteria, how are they assessed? According to HNZPT, all proposed historic place entries on the List are assessed according to the following criteria: aesthetic, archaeological, architectural, cultural, historical, scientific, social, spiritual, technological and traditional, and must meet at least one criterion to be eligible for entry.

This implies that we can apply to register any building or site that we feel fits the criteria. Currently there are no Wellington buildings listed by renowned architects Ian Athfield  and Roger Walker. It would be a crime against architecture if some or all of these were lost (as Walker’s Wellington Club already has been).

I wonder what other buildings on our timeline will become listed in the future? The new Bharat Bhavan Indian Hall in Kilbirnie (1997), the Wellington Masjid (mosque) in Kilbirnie (2000), Te Raukura/Te Wharewaka on the waterfront (2011)? They all appear to fit HNZPT’s criteria.

(1992) Img 1 Bharat Bhavan Indian Hall. Museums Wellington
Bharat Bhavan Indian Hall. Photo: Museums Wellington
Wellington Masjid (mosque). Photo: Museums Wellington
(2011) Te wharewaka o Poneke. Lighthaus Ltd
Te Raukura/Te Wharewaka. Photo: Lighthaus

Are there any buildings or sites that you can think of that may need registering to be listed as historic?

Wellington City Heritage Week at Museums Wellington:

Nairn Street Cottage Open Day

WHEN: Monday 23 October from 10am-4pm
WHERE: Nairn Street Cottage, 68 Nairn Street
COST: Gold coin entry

Magical Mystery Drawing Tour

We’re celebrating Heritage Week with a drawing tour – and that’s all we’re saying! Come along with your preferred materials and we’ll take you to surprise locations where you can put your pencils, charcoal or paint to paper. In the week before, we’ll send you heritage clues that will disclose the meet up spot… Rain date Sunday 29th October.

WHEN: Saturday 28 October from 11am – 2pm
WHERE: To be disclosed!
PRICE: $20 (bookings essential)

heritage week

Film Review: The Square

Earlier this year a group of peeps from Museums Wellington went to see the ‘The Square’, a Film Festival movie.


Here’s a summary of the film from the movie website Rotten Tomatoes: “Christian (played by Claes Bang, pictured above) is the respected curator of a contemporary art museum, a divorced but devoted father of two who drives an electric car and supports good causes. His next show is “The Square”, an installation which invites passersby to altruism, reminding them of their role as responsible fellow human beings. But sometimes, it is difficult to live up to your own ideals: Christian’s foolish response to the theft of his phone drags him into shameful situations. Meanwhile, the museum’s PR agency has created an unexpected campaign for “The Square”. The response is overblown and sends Christian, as well as the museum, into an existential crisis.”

So this is what we thought of the movie…


Paul Thompson, Head of Content
A Nordic black comedy that raises important considerations of the semantics of the phenomenological signifiers ‘black’ and ‘comedy’ – does it not?



Brent Fafeita, Curator History
Is a square still a square if the square’s lines are incomplete? For instance, is a square paddock still a true square if a gate is left open or a fence line not finished? Is a square defined by its border, or more by its footprint, its content, or even something more irrational?

I left the movie early so for me the ‘Square’ was incomplete. Perhaps this feeling goes beyond the movie’s length however. I could just as well have felt this state of incompleteness at its conclusion. The question then is whether anything is ever truly complete. Our Museum is prone to change, more-so it seeks and welcomes it. Thus the Museum is also never complete – just like the ‘Square’. Maybe that was truly the movie’s point.



Brian Wood, Marketing and Development Manager
A movie that polarised people into two defined camps. LOVE it or HATE it. Personally I am in the LOVE it camp, mainly because it was genuinely thought provoking without providing answers or solutions and managed to be extremely funny in the process. The film highlighted many problems that cities around the world are currently facing including major ones like poverty and homelessness but it also touched on other issues like are museums connecting with their audiences? Overall for me the main point of the movie was, how bad can things get before someone or society has to step in? Definitely recommend A++ watch it and make your own conclusions.



Nik Bullard, Curator Social History
The opening scene of ‘The Square’ pokes fun at the inaccessible and elitist language of the contemporary art world. Interesting…

The central theme is based on an art installation with the premise: ‘The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it we all share equal rights and obligations’. Great, that’s thought provoking.

Then there were frequent references to homelessness on the streets of Stockholm. Excellent, this is going to look at poverty and inequality as seen through the eyes of the rich art curator. And it does, somewhat.

So, all good so far.

But then… It gets increasingly disjointed and esoteric (and downright disturbing in parts!). And it ends up not making any of the conclusions or exploring the insights into society that I thought it would. I like to think that there is hope for humanity!

Maybe if it hadn’t been 2.5 hours long it would have worked better? Maybe not. I left feeling deeply frustrated and embarked on a week-long therapy session with my other work colleagues who saw it (some of whom were struggling to make sense of it too).



Tom Etuata, Communications Co-ordinator
It’s good to have a laugh at yourself sometimes. The movie ‘The Square’ certainly does that.

Working in the marketing side of Museums Wellington, I couldn’t stop grinning while watching the scene when the two young PR creatives and the museum management team discuss what would be the best way to promote ‘The Square’ exhibition via social media. What they come up with was certainly over the top and very ‘Monty Python’, and to its credit the film does that well – poking fun at the image of Museums and Art Galleries and today’s world of social media where it’s all about creating ‘buzz’ to generate more likes and comments amongst the clutter of snapchats, Trump tweets and cat videos.

Overall the film is an interesting watch and certainly funny and thought-provoking in parts, but it runs out of steam in the last hour and could’ve done with some major editing (like getting rid of the last hour).

By the way, don’t get a seat up in the R Row at the Embassy. There’s absolutely no leg room whatsoever.



Raukura Hoerara-Smith, Assistant Curator Māori
‘The Square’ was not an easy film for me to watch. My anxiety levels were creeping in, and by the end of the movie, my thoughts were incomplete and I was frustrated at the whole thing.

Perhaps it reflected what different societies consider to be humane and inhumane?

‘The Square’ is the type of film that stayed in my mind and would occasionally still pop up randomly in my head. I give the director kudos for playing with my emotions!

Overall, a sensitively sophisticated piece of film that creates an experience like no other.



Tamsin Falconer, Project Manager
In ‘The Square’, an ambitious and potentially contentious exhibition is being launched alongside a major fundraising event with an amazing entertainer.  And it is a professional disaster, magnified by personal disasters.

In ‘The First Monday in May’ (which I also saw recently), an ambitious and potentially contentious exhibition is being launched alongside a major fundraising event with an amazing entertainer.  And it is a glorious success, resulting in professional kudos.

‘The Square’ made me feel slightly queasy, not because of the exploding kitten, but because sometimes there seems to be only a thin line between glorious success and personal disaster.

Film lover of Waikanae
Vicissitudes and Volvos – the quintessential Nordic combination.

Cassini’s Final Farewell

By Dr Claire Bretherton, Curator Science

On 15th October 1997, Cassini-Huygens blasted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida on its way to Saturn, the first spacecraft to enter orbit around the ringed planet. In the two decades since Cassini-Huygens has completely changed our knowledge of the planet, its stunning rings and dynamic moons, and taken some of the most awe-inspiring images of the Solar System we have ever seen.

The Cassini mission has always been dear to my heart. It launched on the 15th October 1997. I was 18 at the time, and just a couple of weeks into my degree at Leicester University studying Physics with Astrophysics. Seven years, and a long long journey later, which for Cassini took it half way across the solar system, and for me took me through an MPhys, teacher training and half of my PhD, we were both ready to do some real science. We’d both dabbled a little along the way, but now, as it entered orbit around Saturn, to begin its initial four year science mission, Cassini was ready to revolutionise our understanding of the mysterious ringed planet and change the course of future planetary exploration.

Cassini 1

Cassini-Huygens was a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and involved scientists and engineers from 27 different countries. NASA and ASI were responsible for the Cassini orbiter, named after the 17th century Italian astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini, who discovered four of Saturn’s moons and identified a gap in Saturn’s rings, which is now known as the Cassini Division.

View of Titan
First colour view from the surface of Titan taken by the ESA Huygens probe. NASA/JPL/ESA/University of Arizona

ESA contributed the Huygens lander, named after the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens, who discovered Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. On the 14th of January 2005, Huygens was dropped onto Titan, braking in the moons dense atmosphere, and parachuting down to the surface. On its way down, the lander collected ground-breaking new data on Titan’s atmosphere, clouds and surface features.

Meanwhile, Cassini continued to study the Saturn system from orbit, providing tantalizing evidence of the diversity and dynamism of its many moons and studying the planet’s atmosphere, magnetic fields and ring system in unprecedented detail.

With its initial science goals completed in 2008, Cassini’s mission was extended. The two-year Cassini Equinox mission included 60 additional orbits of Saturn and over 30 flybys of some of its moons. It also allowed the spacecraft to observe Saturn’s rings as they were lit edge on by the Sun, revealing stunning new detail and previously unseen structure.

In 2010, the mission was extended again. Known as the Cassini Solstice Mission, this second, seven year long extension would take us all the way past Saturn’s northern hemisphere summer solstice. Having originally arrived just after the northern hemisphere winter solstice, this allowed us to observe a complete seasonal period and to complete more in-depth studies of both Titan and Enceladus.

Saturn hguens
A huge storm churning through the atmosphere in Saturn’s northern hemisphere overtakes itself as it encircles the planet. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

There are so many highlights from the Cassini-Huygens mission that it’s hard to pick a favourite. The mission discovered seven new moons, revealed new structure and activity in Saturn’s rings, observed the changing colour of the planet’s north-pole hexagon, and witnessed the aftermath of a massive reoccurring storm seen in 2010. But to me the mission’s greatest successes come from its in-depth study of some of Saturn’s many moons, which have resulted in some truly surprising discoveries.

These natural colour views compare the appearance of Saturn’s north-polar region in June 2013 and April 2017. 

Cassini-Huygens has found rivers, lakes and seas of liquid methane and ethane covering Titan’s polar regions, complete with rain from hydrocarbon clouds, whilst the moon’s equator is marked by icy ‘sand dunes’ hundreds of kilometres long and 100 metres high.

Near-infrared, colour mosaic from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft shows the sun glinting off of Titan’s north polar seas. NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/University of Idaho

It has tasted Titan’s thick atmosphere to find a rich and complex chemical soup that still can’t be fully explained and revealed conditions that may be similar to the early Earth. Meanwhile, gravity experiments have revealed evidence for an ocean of liquid water and ammonia deep underground.

Exploration of the icy moon Enceladus has revealed a hot spot at the southern pole, icy jets spewing out from the surface and a vast salty ocean below the ice.  These jets contribute directly to Saturn’s diffuse E-ring and further study of the ring’s chemistry suggests the existence of hydrothermal vents, not dissimilar to those found on Earth. Together, these astounding new results promote Enceladus to one of the top candidates in our search for life beyond our own planet.

Cassini’s last Enceladus plume observation. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute. 

In April this year, after almost 13 years of discovery, and with its fuel running low, Cassini embarked on its Grand Finale, a series of death defying dives between the planet and its rings, before plunging into Saturn on the 15th September, just a month out from its 20th birthday. Even in its final moments Cassini continued to send data. Whilst the space craft is gone, its legacy lives on in our new understanding of the jewel of our Solar System.

In Saturn’s shadow. Saturn eclipses the Sun allowing Cassini to capture this spectacular view. Look out for the tiny pale blue dot just outside the brighter rings – this is our own planet, the Earth. NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.


Blog at

Up ↑