This is a museum evaluation of the Migration Museum in Adelaide, visited on 14 March 2022.
The importance of migration
Migration is a critical contemporary challenge at the centre of opposed politics and digital controversy. There is a need for a profoundly significant visitor attraction that focuses on the migrants’ inner selves, origins, and future. In Adelaide, the Migration Museum is such an attraction. It was constructed in 1986 to develop and enhance awareness about migrant South Australians and praise their cultural disparities. The museum is presently remodelling two exhibition spaces with digital-first experiences and enhanced recognition of the Kaurna people’s migration challenges.
Let us walk through the museum to evaluate how it fulfils its vision and mission.
A reconciliation plaque for the Kaurna people locates in front of the museum entrance. The dark-grey plate reveals the brutal history of British settlers’ dispossession of the Kaurna people’s homelands. A history that never should have happened. It needs to be heard, as European colonization deteriorated the lives of many Aboriginal Australians. Moreover, it still does. This piece sets a powerful expectation that the Migration Museum has intensively engaged with the Kaurna people and will be telling the colonial past from their perspective.
Inside the museum
Directly inside the museum a series of 10 paintings empathizes the pain, grief and loss levied upon Aboriginal Australians since colonization. This display is another substantial one about the Australian colonial past. It creates optimism that the remaining exhibitions in the museum also intensively include the Aboriginal history.
The first accessible exhibition room contains the ‘Missing Voices’ temporary exhibition, supported by the Victorian State Government and the Islamic Museum of Australia. The Islamic Museum of Australia collected over 70 stories from Australian Muslims whose voices have been overlooked in mutual awareness, hidden beneath communal prejudices about Islam. Their stories detail contemporary Australian Muslim experiences about grief, resilience, and happiness. The most noticeable element in this exhibition is a video in which Australian Muslims individually speak about specific Muslim-related experiences in Australia. The contemporary stories are continuously engaging because their experiences hold similarities to all of us, with moments of struggle, hope, and happiness.
The rooms’ white-painted walls likewise include captivating written stories with either colourful paintings or edited photographs connected to them. The stories are personal and individual, as are the stories on video. The inclusion of artworks creates an intriguing impact on the whole story as they boost a feeling of being absorbed into the whole experience. It is, however, demanding to maintain focus on the written stories as the audio of the video is disturbingly loud throughout the room. It is impossible to get emerged to the stories on the wall entirely. On the other hand, a positive surprise is the printed papers on which the written stories are large and easy to read. The large size of the papers is well-thought-through as most of the visitors seem to be above 65 years old and might not be able to read the small letters.
The other exhibitions
The other exhibitions in the Migration Museum at the time of visit are the ‘Forum Community Gallery’, the ‘Community banners’, ‘a history of the Migration Museum site’ and the ‘History of migration to South Australia’. All of these rooms neglect an introduction and guidance. To examine, let us look at another temporary exhibition, the Community banners.
The community banners
The objective of this room is to represent the memories, hopes, and dreams of many cultural groups in Australia and displays a dozen artifacts from different countries like Ukraine, Lebanon, and Greek. The artifacts and their stories felt lost and randomly placed. For example, two aimlessly placed chairs are encountered far away from another. Also, the introduction of this room is outside of the room, seemingly hidden away. Lastly, the lightning on the banners and the white background make the historic banners look monotonous and uninteresting.
A history of the Migration Museum
The following observable exhibition, ‘a history of the Migration Museum’, which resides in the same building as the Community banners, continues to be a dreary experience. By the first entrance, it is unclear what the all-encompassing story of this room is. There is no explanation, which is a significant problem as it creates confusion about the purpose of the artifacts in this room. There are no steps to follow that could help make sense of the room. The indications of a past separation of rooms within the exhibition room are challenging to notice. There is no initial introduction to guide visitors to become aware of the existence and meaning of the lines. Furthermore, the space contains interactive screens, accommodating tales about the abandoned children sheltering there. These stories could have been told so beautifully with more visuals, less written content, and the activation of more senses by providing the ability to listen to children telling these stories, for example.
3 key elements to enhance the visitors' experience
While some of the exhibitions include a well thought-through visitors’ experience, there are three key elements in which the museum needs to take action to improve the visitors’ experience drastically.
Firstly, there is too little representation of the effects of migration on the Kaurna people and too much on Europeans’ migration, specifically the British people. In the exhibition room ‘the History of migration to South Australia, an excessive amount of space for the migration of mainly British people to South Australia. Very little articulates the effects of this migration on the Kaurna people. Now that the Australian government is attempting to reconcile with the traditional landowners of Australia exponentially, it should be unnecessary to say that a museum like this must create considerably more awareness about the influences of migration on the traditional landowners.
Secondly, the museum must start telling stories relevant to the contemporary lives of migrants. Current events like the pandemic, climate change, or feminism can be intriguing topics as we all can empathize with them. For example, most of the presented stories about women are traditional tales. They are presented mainly as housewives or having other conventional roles like caring for children. No artefact or story reveals their resilience, protests, and fight for independence. The narratives only tell a small piece of what happened in their lives. Exposing stories about the historic womens’ strength and resilience is essential as their battle for independence in a country away from their beloved family and friends is challenging without a safety net.
Thirdly, there is too little interaction in the museum. Interaction is the ability for a visitor to communicate with artifacts, stories, other visitors, or museum personnel. Especially for younger audiences like students and children, interaction is crucial. They expect and need this for a memorable experience, as it is an extensive component in their contemporary lives. The Migration Museum mainly displays presentations, such as video presentations, written stories, and exposed artifacts. Most with which the visitor cannot interact. The lack of interaction leads to a lack of engagement, leading to disinterest. Interaction in the museum can be increased by engaging with more senses via, for instance, more audio, video, smells, and updated computer screens with more focus on visuals.
Due to this lack of interaction, it seems the primary audience of the Migration Museum is Australian-born baby boomers and older generations living in South Australia. As one of the objectives of the Migration Museum is to create awareness about South Australian migration, the best audience seems to be Australians. They did not experience Australian migration themselves and will be unaware of the intense migration challenges. Also, the artefacts contain an excess of written text and little interaction or use of technology in generally outdated exhibition designs. Such exhibitions are less attractive for younger generations as they have lived most of their lives with digital interactions.
Despite its central location and free access, the Migration Museum sadly misses its chance to connect profoundly with its visitors and sincerely celebrate cultural diversity. The current stories are heart-warming though many lack deep engagement with visitors. Furthermore, the museum neglects stories about the effects of migration on the Kaurna people and stories on topics like pandemics and feminism. The museum will become considerably more appealing for its visitors when it creates resolutions for the above.
The museum has an enormous task to fulfil. Let us hope the renovation will blow away the dust.
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Be Present As History
A museum evaluation of the Migration Museum in Adelaide