Chair's message archive



Terrible news from Brazil

It is with much sadness that I consigned my message for this newsletter to the metaphorical bin this morning. It was full of justifiable optimism about ICOM Australia’s future, another successful presence at the MGA Annual Conference and, congratulations to our annual prize winners and the members of our new slimmed down Executive Board. With due deference to all of the above, and offering my thanks to all those who have worked so hard over the previous year, particularly to make the Conference a success, you will understand why, this morning, my thoughts turn to Rio de Janeiro.

The terrible news of the devastating fire that consumed the National Museum of Brazil has stunned and saddened the international museum community. The facts are there before us – Brazil’s oldest and most distinguished museum, situated in the former Imperial palace of São Cristóvão, destroyed along with its extraordinary and unique collections of some 20 million specimens and artefacts.

In a tragic irony, the Museum was, this year, celebrating its 200 year anniversary.

It is literally, every museum worker’s worst nightmare. Many of us will have participated in ‘Disaster Planning’ sessions; many, like me, will have the Museum’s Emergency and Crisis Management plans on our shelves at home, hoping that we never get the call to have to use them; and most, thank goodness, will never have to experience the kind of trauma that our Brazilian colleagues are experiencing now.

This is, of course, an object lesson in some respects: you will have read the recriminations over the serial lack of investment in the Museum for many years in favour of other projects: there have even been riots in the streets about it. Whatever the truth, now is surely not the time for rancour: it is a time to support our international colleagues and the people of Brazil, a country that has, as a result of this fire has lost, not only an integral part of its heritage and identity, but something of it soul.

Alec Coles
ICOM Australia

September 2018


Another busy period

It has been another busy period for ICOM both internationally and nationally.

The year has involved a certain amount of navel gazing in terms of amending our rules and procedure  - a process that was both necessary and long overdue. Despite this, we have continued to ensure that our public presence is maintained.

To this end, on this website, you will read of our commitment to International Museum Day – and how we hope you and your institutions will embrace it like never before (!); of the expansion of our student essay competition;  of our exciting sponsored session at the MGA Conference, featuring Angelita Teo; and of our support of an important initiative to build resilience in museums in the Pacific.

There is also information about our popular and successful bursary program.

There is also still just time to nominate for the ICOM Australian Executive Board.

I have said many times, there has never been a more important time for us to be active on the international stage – and there is no better way to do it than by joining – and becoming active – in ICOM!


Alec Coles
ICOM Australia

March 2018


Our place in the world - and what is a Museum?

These might seem rather far reaching philosophical considerations for what is a very short piece, but they are really just to draw attention to a couple of the priorities for your ICOM Australia Executive, right now.

‘Our place in the world’, on this occasion, speaks to the potential for burgeoning relationships with south east Asia and, in particular with the ASEAN group of countries (Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Brunei).

As a (now) dyed-in-the-wool, naturalised West Australian, many of you will have experienced my desire to ensure that whilst ICOM Australia maintains its strong presence in and around the Pacific, we do not forget that we have important relationship surrounding the Indian Ocean rim and the south east Asian countries immediately to our north and east.

Of those ten ASEAN countries, eight have borders with the Pacific, four with both and one (Laos) with neither.

Singapore is one of the four that touches both oceans and so it was particularly gratifying, therefore, to see the commitment of both the Australian and Singaporean Governments to support cultural collaboration and exchange between our two countries.  This was manifest at a Cultural Leaders forum in Adelaide in October which I was privileged to attend.  Both governments have committed funding to this scheme and a number of possible initiatives were discussed and will, hopefully, be progressed.

At the meeting, I was delighted to make contact with the chair of ICOM Singapore and I am hoping that we will be able to work closely together over the coming years in order to assist in the delivery of Australia-Singapore initiatives.  Australia is regularly described as being part of Australasia, Oceania, of Asia, of the Asia-Pacific and the Indo-Pacific.  I do not really care what we call it, but this initiative gives us a real opportunity to collaborate, not only with Singapore, but with its ASEAN partners.  Let us hope that we can seize this opportunity.

With respect to the question what is a Museum, this is something that ICOM, internationally, is wrestling with at the present time.  In its consideration of revision of the definition of a Museum, it has formed a Committee for Museum Definition, Prospects and Potentials.  We have literally just received a request to establish a rounds table to ensure input from ICOM Australia.  I am awaiting further details as to how the round-table should be established, but in the meantime, I encourage all members to consider this in preparation for the debate. Agonising over definitions can seem a little bureaucratic - even self-indulgent – but clear and defensible definitions are critical when considering legal, ethical and, sometimes, financial matters.

Alec Coles
ICOM Australia

December 2017