Thursday 11 October 2007 by Mal Booth. No comments
Exhibitions, Lawrence of Arabia and the Light Horse, Our exhibition

September was a really busy month for us. We all had to meet deadlines for text, get the initial design concepts endorsed by management and write essays for magazines and our catalogue. So, just in case you are interested in what has gone on so far, here is a pretty comprehensive listing of the process and a few images we have taken along the way.

Several senior staff from the Memorial viewed the IWM Lawrence of Arabia: The life, the legend exhibition in London.

An informal approach was made to the IWM for their assistance and cooperation. (They replied favourably.)

A curator (Mal) and assistant curator (Robyn) were appointed, and the exhibition team formed.

A concept paper (with an audience segmentation summary) was developed, and the project manager (Susie) developed a draft budget and the development schedule (I was glad that I didn't have to do that!).

The above was approved by Memorial management and our Exhibition Planning Group.

Our curator visited London exhibition with an eye for UK loans from various museums and other cultural institutions.

Formal requests for UK loans were written and sent Director-to-Director. We did this via snail mail and as time was short we also scanned them and sent them via email in advance.

I made a second visit to London to negotiate loans. This may seem excessive, but it wasn't and I went as a courier to bring some of our art works home from the IWM where they'd been in a joint exhibition: Shared Experience.  I beat many of the letters to the UK and some institutions told me that they'd not have taken our request seriously until they saw someone on their door step.

We then provided potential lenders with our Facilities Report, and exchanged Loan Agreements. This was very detailed and essential work that helped facilitate all of our loans. We are really grateful to the long hours put in by Rob Fisher from our Registration team who set up this entire loans program. (This was another job I was glad I didn't have to do!)

Robyn and I set up a public blog, with the assistance of Chris Dowling from our IT area.

Next was a long period of curatorial and historical research into the history of the period we are focussing on, covering the operations of the Australian Light Horse and Lawrence and the Arab Revolt.

We had to research our own collections, including relics, artworks, photography, film, maps, publications and archives (official and personal). We all looked at various collection layouts and viewings in the different curatorial areas to select the best items for this exhibition.

A research scholar was appointed to look into our archival collection for Lawrence links. This person was Claire Higgins from Melbourne who did a lot of leg work on the archival collection that revealed some interesting links between Lawrence and various Australians, mostly from the Australian Flying Corps. Later, another scholar, Lachlan Coleman from Adelaide, did a lot of research into the Battle of Megiddo and the taking of Damascus.

We began developing sponsorship proposals, but none appear to have been that successful! We were, however, successful at securing generous funding from the British High Commission in Canberra to bring out Jeremy Wilson and his partner Nicole Helari to deliver a public talk on Lawrence on Sunday 9 December, following the official opening.

Negotiations regarding our UK loans continued, with detailed arrangements being set up for such matters as: fire-arm exports, cultural heritage exports, framing, digital imaging, conservation needs and display methods, packing, transportation, and courier arrangements from the UK.

The exhibition curators from all collecting areas began to prepare a "120% exhibition list" and this was also created on our

museum collection management system. This is a really useful central listing of everything that is a serious candidate for the exhibition. It is constantly used by the curators, designers, editors, conservators, registration staff and our marketing & communications folk.

Collection areas drafted our object captions.

The exhibition curator and our historian (Nigel) drafted exhibition text (the detailed story-line) and

integrated that with the object captions.

Orders for facsimiles and digital images for use in press and publications were placed.

A rough draft text document was discussed with the main project team, editor, and endorsed by senior Memorial management.

We ran a useful text workshop: this is a peer assessment of the draft text and included were a couple of people who knew nothing about the exhibition or the historical events in question.

Changes resulting from the text workshop were incorporated. 

All exhibition text was finalised, checked for historical detail and then edited by our in-house editor Robert Nichols. Nigel became too stretched by his other priorities at this stage (he was also working as the historian for our new permanent galleries on Korea), so Peter Burness stepped in at the last minute to give me a hand as our historian. Jeremy Wilson also provided some useful advice and some corrections at this late stage.

All exhibition text was signed off by the Memorial's Director and senior management.

Susie prepared and released a design brief for quotes.

Mal and Robyn began planning public events such as curator-led tours, guest speakers, film screenings, and other public

programs for the life of the exhibition, with our education and visitor services staff, and we started making suggestions for someone to open the exhibition in December.

Nigel, Robyn and Mal wrote articles related to the exhibition for the forthcoming issue of our magazine, Wartime.

Peter and Mal wrote essays for the exhibition catalogue and we have asked Jeremy to write one for us as well. These are currently being edited.

A powerful amount of work was done recently by our Photos, Film and Sound curator, Ian Affleck, who has chased the planet for the permissions needed for various images and film clips and to satisfy the last minute demands of the exhibition curators for a few photographic images they could not live without. I think he has been successful in every quest so far!

Our designers, Arketype, were appointed and Nicki and Jesse travelled to Canberra from Adelaide for a viewing of all

AWM collection material, and images of all UK loans. They quickly developed graphic concepts and we set up a private blog to quickly exchange ideas and graphic files between Canberra and Adelaide (no, you can't see it). Within a few weeks the general concepts were endorsed by Memorial senior management and we are now engaged in finalising the actual layout of the images and showcases.
AWM’s Lawrence robes - embroidery detail AWM’s Lawrence robes - embroidery detail
We've incorporated several fantastic features in the exhibition design that reflect some of the peculiar features of this exhibition and I hope they'll be picked up by visitors. We wanted to recognise the importance of the desert environment and the region itself, the dual legends and the drama in our story, the features of the major books that tell the stories, and the textiles that will be on display.