New partnership new era for Australian Museum

L to R: NSW Premier Mike Baird, Kim McKay AO, Executive Director and CEO, Australian Museum and Brian Hartzer, Westpac Chief Executive Officer. Photo: Alexander Mayes.

L to R: NSW Premier Mike Baird, Kim McKay AO, Executive Director and CEO, Australian Museum and Brian Hartzer, Westpac Chief Executive Officer. Photo: Alexander Mayes.

The Australian Museum recently announced an historic partnership with Westpac, and the NSW Government to restore the nation’s first museum gallery, and to showcase its 200 most significant treasures.

Arts NSW sat down with Kim McKay AO, Executive Director and CEO of the Australian Museum to highlight the entrepreneurial work that the Australian Museum is undertaking to develop new business partnerships and audiences.

2015 was a big year for the Australian Museum – with the introduction of Free Kids and the opening of the new Crystal Hall entrance. In regards to the Australian Museum’s future, what are you most excited about?

We’re currently Master Planning – developing a business case and design for a new wing of the AM on the corner of William and Yurong Streets.  The AM has an extraordinary collection of more than 18.5 million natural science specimens and cultural objects and we’re determined to share more of the collection with the public. If the funding is provided, it will be a game-changer for the AM and be a new major international cultural attraction for Sydney.

Developing partnerships and collaborations are central to the continued success of NSW arts and culture. How important are new partnerships to the sustainability of the Australian Museum’s work?

Partnerships and collaboration are essential for all cultural institutions in the future. We’ve already forged a raft of new sponsorship partnerships and philanthropic gifts as well as collaborative partnerships through the Australian Museum Research Institute – including joint appointments of science researchers with Universities.

The Australian Museum recently announced a $9 million partnership with Westpac. Can you tell us how the partnership with Westpac came about and the moment you knew it was a natural fit?

It’s actually a three way partnership between Westpac with matching funds from the NSW Government and individual donors to restore our Long Gallery – the first museum gallery in the nation.  Next year the AM marks its 190th anniversary and the restoration of the Long Gallery and installation of the 200 Treasures of the Australian Museum exhibition will be our flagship activity – a gift to the nation.

We realised that our 190th coincided with Westpac’s 200th anniversary in 2017 and I thought the bank would be looking for a ‘physical’ presence to demonstrate their commitment to Australia.  The Long Gallery turned out to be the perfect project for them – especially as it is a true partnership with the State and donors matching their contribution.  It will involve the general public, their customers and their staff.

To enable the exhibition of the 200 treasures and as part of the Australian Museum’s own philanthropic efforts, you’re offering donors the opportunity to support each of the priceless objects. Can you tell us a little more about the fundraising campaign?

Each of the 200 Treasures can be supported by a philanthropic gift – the donor receives a plaque near the object recognising the gift when it goes on exhibit.  Some families are supporting more than one Treasure – one for each of their children. Through the AM Foundation we’re approaching long-time Museum supporters and we’re also attracting new donors to the Museum – anyone can join in.  The funds donated will be directly used for the conservation of the treasure during the 10 year display period.

What will the Australian Museum do to ensure the partnership thrives?

We have an exciting program of activity around the 200 Treasures of the Australian Museum in the Westpac Long Gallery. Each treasure has a story to tell and we’ll be using all of the tools at our disposal from digital engagement on the floor, to radio podcasts, television vignettes, social media and education programs to communicate with audiences.  On a business level, we have a professional team in our development and sponsorship office to work collaboratively with our partners.  I’ve always regarded sponsorship as ‘friendship’ – and that involves being flexible and understanding everyone’s needs.

How will this partnership impact your audiences? Do you think it will help bring new audiences to the museum?

Yes, it’s all focused around engaging audiences in our history and taking them on a decade-long adventure to our 200th in 2027! We will be creating the ‘must see’ gallery in the nation with the building helping to frame the story while the Treasures will reveal the essence of who we are as a nation.  And it won’t just be the 200 Treasures on display.  Our Curator, Peter Emmet is working on the ‘entanglement’ of objects so there will be the ‘hero’ objects as well as other associated specimens from the collection to flesh out the whole story.  I think the public will find it compelling in the same way the British Museums 100 Objects that Shaped the History of the World have drawn huge crowds.

What are your top 3 tips for arts organisations seeking more ambitious and innovative partnerships with the business sector?

  • Be creative in your approach – offer something they haven’t thought of themselves.
  • Ensure you’re ‘on target’ for their campaign needs – think about their audience, customers and staff and how you can engage them and develop marketing outreach ideas that help them leverage the opportunity.
  • Be flexible and open. Engage with your partner to develop the idea further and be willing to listen and adapt. That doesn’t mean changing all your plans – it does mean being open to other ideas – you’ll get a better result.


The NSW Arts and Cultural Policy Framework: Create in NSW supports the State Cultural Institutions and sets in place programs to encourage their growth and expansion. For further information on key actions relating to innovative models of investment and developing networks and partnerships, please download a copy of Create in NSW

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Published: 16 February 2016