Championing First Nations Art through Reconciliation Action Plans


    Q&A with Brett Adlington, CEO of Museums & Galleries of NSW.

    What inspired your organisation to initiate a Reconciliation Action Plan, and how has this commitment evolved? Can you describe your organisation's journey in the RAP process so far?

    As a peak body for museums, galleries and Aboriginal cultural centres, prioritising First Nations art and cultural heritage has always been key to our work.

    Our first RAP was developed soon after our organisation held a Keeping Places & Beyond summit in 2011. One of the recommendations from this summit was the establishment of the Aboriginal Culture, Heritage and Arts Association (ACHAA), an Aboriginal-led peak body for Aboriginal cultural centres across NSW with M&G NSW playing a secretariat role.

    Embarking on a RAP helped facilitate this journey, so that now we are on our third RAP, and second Innovate RAP, with ACHAA becoming fully independent at the start of 2024.

    In light of the theme “Now More Than Ever”, how is your organisation working to ensure it does not disengage from the reconciliation process? What steps are taken to keep the momentum going?

    In developing our current RAP we thought about our sphere of influence, which includes more than 500 cultural organisations. Our touring exhibition program is one of the most immediate opportunities for us to have an impact. One entry in the visitors’ book at a regional exhibition of Indigenous artist collective proppaNOW read: “Went in a NO vote, came out a YES vote”. Two of our most significant First Nations touring projects have reached audiences of more than 110,000 people and the numbers are continuing to grow.

    How does the theme “Now More Than Ever” resonate with you personally?

    I reflected deeply after the loss of the Voice to Parliament referendum and felt that non-Indigenous Australians needed to step up and play a role in reconciliation and, importantly, to advocate for better outcomes and justice for First Nations peoples. I believe that the work of our organisation, and our RAP, can support this.

    How has implementing the RAP impacted your organisation internally? What changes have you seen in employee engagement and corporate culture?

    An ongoing part of our RAP was for our Aboriginal Programs Manager, now General Manager of ACHAA, to present a selection of First Nations stories with a focus on NSW Aboriginal culture at our regular staff meetings. This process opened up conversations between staff and developed a more nuanced understanding of current issues. Importantly, this has made non-Indigenous staff feel more empowered and confident in supporting the sector in First Nations-related queries, thereby reducing the cultural load on Aboriginal people in the organisation.

    While our organisation is a small not-for-profit, and generally works collaboratively across projects, having a RAP keeps agreed targets achievable for staff and minimises second guessing about how to approach our work in this area.

    What are some of the key strategies your organisation has implemented through your RAP that have had the most significant impact?

    One of our touring exhibitions, Void, curated by Emily McDaniel, included a work by Gunditjmara artist Hayley Millar-Baker. The work, Meeyn Meerreeng (Country at Night), 2017 is a collection of 71 volcanic and granite rocks. A condition of the display was that the work had to be handled and installed by a local First Person with a relationship to the Country where the exhibition was being held. This meant having conversations with venues that may have had little connection to local First Peoples or communities. We went on to ensure that all venues hosting First Nations exhibitions are provided with resources developed by First Nations educators. These sit alongside the Education Symposia, which help to prepare gallery staff for bringing significant exhibitions on to local Country and share strategies to engage communities through consultation and education.

    #NRW2024: Now More Than Ever

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