Ask a Curator Day started in 2010 on Twitter to drum up some direct engagement with curators across the globe. Over the past decade it has grown to all corners of the internet, as the curious public question the keepers of cultural heritage about the objects in their care, and what it is they do with them.
The QPAC Museum Collection houses more than 80,000 items – costumes, photographs, set and costume designs, recordings, lighting plots, annotated scripts and memorabilia – that all form part of the story of Queensland’s performing arts history. Exhibition Manager Maria Cleary oversees the Tony Gould Gallery, which presents a program of exhibitions that showcases our vast collection.
Below are Maria’s answers to some of the burning questions for a curator.
Q: What is the oldest object in your collection?
While the oldest object in our collection is a fragile but fascinating newsprint program from the 1880s, there’s another favourite from the early days that features in our current exhibition Keeping It Real. It’s a photograph of the Smith family, taken around 1905. The family was part of the backstage world at Brisbane’s Her Majesty’s Theatre from the time it opened in 1888 until around WWI. Another link to the Smith family in our collection is this beautiful Australian Federated Theatrical Employees’ Association badge, which is more than 100 years old. It was owned by young Harvey Smith. See it for yourself when you visit Keeping It Real in the Tony Gould Gallery, then stroll through the QPAC tunnel or go online to discover more.
Australian Federated Theatrical Employees’ Association badge, 1912-1914. Photo by Maria Cleary.
Q: What’s your favourite museum to visit other than your own?
A great visitor experience makes a museum memorable. My new favourite has to be MAXXI in Rome. I visited in 2019, just before you know what… Attracted by Zaha Hadid’s architecture, the exhibitions within hit the spot! Contemporary art, inspiring exhibition design, great coffee, cool merch and the company of my nephew. Revisiting MAXXI is off the table for now, so it’s time to love local. Museum of Brisbane is a favourite that’s close to home. There’s always a great mix of exhibitions that reveal amazing things I didn’t know about the city I grew up in.
MAXXI: National Museum of XXI Century Arts. Photo by Maria Cleary.
Q: What’s the role of QPAC Museum in 2021?
Fabulous but fleeting moments are the stuff of live performance. QPAC Museum collects from across Queensland so that we can keep the evolution and excitement of performing arts in this state alive. In 2021, curators want to interpret collections in a way that helps audiences understand the present and imagine the future. We want to share ownership of the stories our collections tell, to invite everyone in, provoke wonder and encourage big ideas to flow from conversations about small things. These are the curatorial ideas behind Keeping It Real, an exhibition where fact and fiction become best friends! Visitors are enjoying the atmosphere in the gallery, COVID safe interaction using their own devices and headphones, and revisiting the exhibition either online or by popping back into the gallery after work or before a show (we also have great merch!).
Visitors to Keeping It Real. Photo by Maria Cleary.
Q: If you could add any object to your collection, what would it be?
A shimmering jacket worn by Steven Oliver in his 2021 world premiere season of Bigger and Blacker which played at La Boite Theatre Company earlier this year would be a very exciting thing to acquire. Steven was born in Cloncurry, Queensland. He is a descendant of the Kukuyalanji, Waanyi, Gangalidda, Woppaburra, Bundjalung and Biripi peoples. He first performed at La Boite back in the 1990s with legendary Indigenous theatre company Kooemba Djarra and his star has been on the rise ever since. Wonderful objects help museums tell stories, and Steven’s is quite a sexy First Nations story to tell!
Steven Oliver in Bigger and Blacker. Photo by Dylan Evans.
If you have a question for Maria on Ask a Curator Day on Wednesday 15 September 2021, hit us up on our social channels with the hashtag #AskACurator.
We pay our respects to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ancestors of this land, their spirits and their legacy. The foundations laid by these ancestors – our First Nations Peoples – gives strength, inspiration and courage to current and future generations, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, towards creating a better Queensland.