The Wolanski Foundation Project


Paper no 45









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by Paul Bentley


Article originally published in Museum Matters December 2008 and reprinted with kind permission of the publishers Museums Australia Inc NSW


Advocacy is a thing that professional associations are expected to do. But what is it that organisations like Museums Australia need to advocate and how do they do it? Recent talks, books and TV cooking shows suggest some of the answers.


At Museums Australia’s September forum, organised to assist in developing a national policy for Australian museums, ACT branch vice-president, Alex Marsden, was asked to comment as a result of her work on the Australia 2020 Summit within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. She said it was important to respond to opportunities that arise from current government policies as flagged on the websites of the Council of Australian Governments (, the 2020 Summit, (, the Cultural Ministers Council ( and other relevant sites. Don’t place all your expectations on one or two ministers: they don’t necessarily hold sway over their cabinets. Museum advocates need to cast their messages more widely.

Chris Puplick has walked both sides of the fence as an government minister and as a board member of several cultural organisations. In his essay, Getting Heard: Achieving an Effective Arts Advocacy (Currency House, Platform Papers no 18, October 2008), he made several suggestions.

First, look in the right places for support. Advocacy, he says, requires inside knowledge and reliable connections. Although public inquiries involve extensive public input, they are usually driven by a rare breed of politician and they rely on the personal support of senior political leaders, prominent and well-connected business leaders, or senior bureaucrats with sympathetic interests.

Use the right language. Puplick says, in relation to the arts, that the rhetoric is getting somewhat confused and opaque. “The slippery segues from art to culture to creativity, from creativity to output to productivity leave one in real danger of missing what the debate is all about. The looseness of terms and definitions, the inexactness of measurements and incomprehensibility of some of the jargon becomes mind-numbing.” Arts advocates need to talk the language of politics and to frame their cases in the currency of political debate. Getting heard is not difficult, he says. Having something to say that is meaningful and convincing is much more of a challenge.

Do it the right way. The effort of a determined group of well-informed and dedicated individuals who embarked on a campaign to reverse a government policy decision to merge the Australian Film Commission and the National Film and Sound Archive is an example of doing it right. He describes the Summit is an example of a missed opportunity. Instead of being a genuine free flow of ideas, the sessions quickly degenerated into a process that herded participants along the Government’s pre-planned agenda. “Facilitators and chairpersons filtered out unpalatable ideas in order to produce anodyne conclusions…the paradigm shift in the government was not matched by any paradigm shift in conceptual analysis or thinking.”

Address the problem of fragmented lobby groups. “There is…no single national body which co-ordinates and represents the arts sector as a whole and as such the sectoral interests of this vast constituency tend to focus on matters of immediate interest to themselves, often a the cost of others.”

In October, the Sydney Arts Marketing Advisory Group ( called on three panellists for its seminar Agents for Change – An Insight into Effective Lobbying.

Tamara Winikoff, Executive Director of the National Association for the Visual Arts, has been a very effective advocate on behalf of artists. She recalled the advice of the former federal minister for the arts Rod Kemp, who had urged her to articulate what she wanted in precise terms. It is surprising, he said, how often people approach ministers without knowing what they want.

Promoting the need for increased Government funding for the visual arts through the Myer Inquiry involved a lot of hard work on preparing the ground - getting the data, providing the evidence. Use logic, she said, but also appeal to the emotions. Match your interests with ministerial interests. As part of the process make friends, establish a good relationship. Use wide-ranging power relationships - allies who may have influence. Use your numbers to create a groundswell. Get the media on side. Don’t expect a pot of gold, but don’t give up the ghost. Relationships are not a one-off exercise.

Kim McConville, co founder of Beyond Empathy and recipient of a Social Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2006, has been successful in attracting a mixed portfolio of support that includes state and Australian governments, philanthropic foundations and corporations. She agreed with Tamara. The important elements are using the right language and evidence, connecting the head with the heart, and drawing on power relationships. “People give to people rather than projects.”

Ruth Neave, a former staffer for Frank Sartor, gave a perspective from the other side of the desk. To influence politicians remember three things: don’t waffle, take a long term approach and have a great product. Connect your proposals with broad government policy areas such as infrastructure, investment, and training. Foster relationships with both sides of politics and with the three tiers of government. When asking for money there needs to be good case. Submissions are usually vetted by a staffer before it gets to a minister, so it is important for documents to be presented with great clarity.

Andrew Mawson spruiked his new book The Social Entrepreneur: Making Communities Work in an interview with Margaret Throsby last September. Drawing on his experience of developing the Bromley-By-Bow Centre in East London and the Community Action Network in the UK, he said there are problems with relying entirely on the public sector. In the UK, Government rhetoric about ‘joined up thinking’ hasn’t really matched the reality. There had been “an endless treacle of government speak and action”. Governments come and go. Sustainable development depends more on local enterprise, taking small steps, building confidence.

The book amplified the interview. With the support of a group of local people, Mawson established the Bromley-by-Bow Centre as the first integrated health centre in the UK. In making out prescriptions, doctors offer patients more than just drugs — they connect patients with health, education, housing, the environment, business and the arts resources. Today, it employs more than 100 staff, and runs more than 100 activities each week. It has transformed a derelict recreation ground into an award-winning community park. It has helped to establish a £300 million local housing company to manage more than 8,000 properties. It has become a catalyst for practical social innovation. But, despite all the rhetoric about "joined-up" action, the centre still has to administer 77 different funding sources from a range of government departments, all demanding their outputs, evaluation procedures and audit trails

Mawson’s message is that Governments need to focus on getting the detail of effective delivery of social and public service right, rather than simply focusing on an overall goal or objective. Making things work involves an understanding an area and the people who live there, appointing the right people, and encouraging innovative partnerships between governments and social entrepreneurs.

Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food, a television series is an attempt to improve health in the United Kingdom. Apart from making a buck for himself, Jamie hopes his new food movement, Pass It On, will “inspire people to get back into their kitchens and make simple, delicious food from scratch again.“ He wants governments to assist in establishing food centres in every community to head off a massive health problem. The town of Rotherham in the north of England, was the guinea pig for the television show, which set out to test the proposition by asking individuals, streets, suburbs, workplaces and local politicians to become involved. His website ( offers the tools — a manifesto, a model letter to ministers and tips on setting up your own Ministry of Food. Substitute museums for food centres and are there any lessons for the governments and associations?

Gordon Ramsay’s show Kitchen Nightmares (, on the other hand, is more about the quality of individual restaurants. Do they have good business plans? How do they respond effectively to the marketplace? How do they manage their staff? Does the kitchen and front of house staff operate effectively? Do they have the right menu? What skills need to be developed? All the questions you would ask about museum and gallery operations and about the associations that represent them


Advocacy, then, if you accept the advice of the accidental commentators who have found their way into this piece, involves everyone talking to every politician, tapping into an entrepreneurial spirit and tooling up for the future.

The entrepreneurial spirit is not new to anyone who has worked in professional associations and community organisations. McCrossin’s Mill Museum and the court house at Port Macquarie are two examples that spring to mind. Common sense and energy seized opportunities in search of enterprise.

As Museums Australia develops its plans to capitalise on this spirit, tooling up may involve finding answers to three questions.

What information do we need?

Several of the commentators highlighted the need for more data to support requests for government funding. A talk earlier in the year by Senator Ursula Stephens, the Parliamentary Secretary for Social Inclusion and the Voluntary Sector, draws attention to this expectation by governments. Flagging a more sympathetic federal government ear to the non-profit sector and the role of volunteers, she called for “a better understanding of the sector itself, and its contribution to Australia’s society and economy” and the need to look at “new tools to understand the productive input of the sector.”

Advocacy efforts by museum associations have tended to focus on persuading governments that museums are a good thing. Since governments already more or less agree with associations about the value proposition, deeper data mining may be required to establish whether existing funds are wisely spent.

The needs of Australian museums were articulated in some detail nearly a decade ago in the report Key Needs of Collecting Institutions in the Heritage Sector. This identified a range of issues to be addressed revolving around documentation, conservation, interpretation, professional development, research, marketing, quality and consistency, recognition of professional isolation and diversity, and nation-wide coordination.

The Cultural Ministers Council, as the nation’s coordinating body of ministers responsible for museums, has flagged contexts against which the association can align further advocacy efforts — arts education, indigenous art and culture, cultural diversity, international promotion of culture, innovation, and transforming cultural spaces and assets covering heritage assets and collections, digital and virtual environments, and infrastructure facilities.

Evidence for action is partly supported by statistical data published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, IBIS and industry bodies such as the Council of Australasian Museum Directors (CAMD) and the Council of Australian Art Museum Directors (CAAMD). This basic data is embellished by the evidence of a number of international studies and surveys conducted by kindred sectors such as archivists. Governments have produced numerous reports about crucial contexts. In publishing its strategic directions for the next few years, Museums Australia has hung its hat on the following areas: education, economic and social development of communities, and the digital economy.

The growth of the Internet and information technology has emphasised the central importance for the association to respond more effectively to demands for creating and making available digital information. Recent government policy and funding has tended to focus on the integration of facilities and delivery of platforms rather than on the collaborative detail for participation in the digital economy. A number of international reports paint museums as being behind the pace of other sectors.

Further development of standards and other information tools are needed. The publication in 2008 the National Standard for Australian Museum and Galleries and the anticipated new edition of Significance offer important Gordon Ramsay-style guidelines for operating museums. More work is needed to guide the sector to take full advantage of the Internet and technology.

Jamie Oliver-style strategies and tools may be needed to assist the sector to build relationships with ministers, members of parliament, oppositions, bureaucrats, local government councillors, suppliers, businesses, philanthropists, kindred sectors and people within the association itself.

What are our roles?

New government policies and sectoral dynamics call for clearer definitions of roles to match responsibilities with a capacity to deliver results.

Governments provide most of the money to the museum sector. Governments in different jurisdictions and at different levels have different approaches for dispensing the funds. As questions are raised about the effectiveness of the federal system of governments, the funding quagmire is widely acknowledged. Channelling funds through the labyrinth reinforces piecemeal action and short term thinking.

Governments in some jurisdictions have created intermediaries to influence policy and help them spend the money. But the approach differs in different jurisdictions. The Collections Council of Australia, with limited funding (compared with its counterparts in the United Kingdom and the United States) has been established to lead the converging interests of galleries, libraries, archives and museums. Museums and Galleries NSW has the brief of providing services and dispensing funds to museums and galleries, mainly small museums, in NSW. Museums and Galleries Services Queensland has a similar role in its state. The modestly-funded Collections Australia Network has been created with limited funding as the online engine room for the smaller museums and kindred organisations.

Major institutions receive most of the money provided by governments. In the library sector, the National Library of Australia plays a central role in leading online services, often in partnership with institutions from other sectors. The National Archives of Australia and state archives have played a crucial role in developing legislation and standards for managing the public record in the new digital realm. In a museum sector, characterised by considerable diversity, major institutions play a more discrete role in supporting other museums. In recent years the efforts of the National Museum of Australia in supporting Museums Australia and the work of the Powerhouse Museum in supporting regional museums have been noteworthy.

Professional associations, if you accept Mark Lyons’ 2001 analysis in Third Sector, are going through a process of transformation and decline. To work effectively they need to address the challenges of leadership, balance business and democratic needs, manage capacity, develop closer links with business, act in a concerted fashion, encourage growth and find the right mix of local and global action. Numerous commentators have called for associations to adopt radically different approaches in providing value to members. Counterbalancing this trend, however, are pendulum-like Government policies that swing from the power of the marketplace to the values of society.

How do we work together?

According to some theorists, the museum sector may be afflicted by the absence of a single authority to represent the sector as a whole.

Museums and museum workers in Australia are represented by Museums Australia (, which endeavours to represent the interests of more than 1300 organisations and 27,000 workers across Australia. ICOM Australia (, facilitates Australian involvement in the international museum community. CAMD and CAAMD, two bodies representing a small number of museums and galleries which receive most of the funding from governments, is less visible than its counterparts in other sectors such as the National and State Libraries Australasia Consortium (NSLA) and the Council of Australasian Archives and Records Authorities (CAARA). Many community organisations with cultural heritage interests gravitate towards the Royal Australian Historical Society.

Representation on bodies like the Collections Council of Australia favours those with control over the way most of the money is spent rather than professional associations like Museums Australia, the Australian Library and Information Association and the Australian Society of Archivists.

The last major restructuring of the sector was in 1993, when the galvanising Des Griffin (, then director of the Australian Museum, was instrumental in bringing together of number of museum and gallery sector membership tribes under the umbrella of Museums Australia.

Have we reached a stage for more morphing? Should MA, CAMD and CAAMD all roll into one peak body? Or has a rapidly evolving hyperlinked matrix of communities of practice and networks changed the name of the game?

We are a long way from the last scene in the popular Swedish film As It Is In Heaven, when a hall of competing choirs, awaiting the arrival of the conductor who was suffering a heart attack in the toilet, began singing a richly layered chord. The competitive spirit fell away. The experience of past singing produced a new chorus. The unity was uplifting. The impact was telling.




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