Reflecting the diversity of the community in the staff, volunteers and exhibitions at the Ashburton Museum helps make it a welcoming public space, according to Museum Director Tanya Robinson.
Currently, the Museum is recruiting new volunteers for its front desk so that it can become the “most welcoming destination” in the district.
“When you walk into a building, it’s important to see people that are like you, that have stories like yours, and that you want to connect with. Our front desk team are really diverse in their backgrounds and we definitely encourage them to engage with our visitors.”
For people visiting or moving to a new town, museums are often on their itinerary as a way to learn about the history of the area. “We want people to immediately feel welcome here. We want them to feel safe and we make sure spaces look inviting. There should be places to sit, places to have conversations, and even space to have contemplative time alone.”
Last year, the museum developed the New Faces, New Lives wall, which features the portraits and accompanying stories of people who have recently moved to the district. It aims to showcase the increasing diversity of the Ashburton population and help make newcomers feel part of the community.
“One of the really cool things about it is that we have not had a single school group come through that hasn’t known people on the wall. I think that’s really amazing. It tells me we’re connecting with people here,” Tanya says.
One of the ways the Museum engages the local community is through interactive activities. The recent ‘Sounds Like Us’ touring exhibition, developed by Radio New Zealand, was hosted the Museum. It featured quirky radios, resembling Kiwi iconography, which were made by Weta Workshop. Visitors were invited to craft and create their own radio design, showcasing their idea of what it meant to be a Kiwi.
“We ended up with more than 600 radios,” Tanya says. “One of the things our visitors got to see was how other people, who were perhaps new to the district, looked at New Zealand and developed their own ideas on what it is to be a New Zealander.”
She says, the Museum has also changed the way it collects visitor data to get a better breakdown of where its visitors come from and this has contributed to shaping future exhibitions.