Today’s story actually came from one of our collegues who was horrified by the process…
From October 2006-December 2006, a local Melbourne artist by the name of Flossie Peitsch exhibited community art in the South Australian Migration Museum. Besides thirty (30) large paintings, audio/visual and 3D productions , the exhibition ‘Chisholm’s Homes’ included three (3) scaled constructions of ‘shakedowns’ or ‘shelter sheds’. The grand project itself involved over 700 participants creating art outcomes. The reduced scale hostels were based on the design by Caroline Chisholm. These houses were built by a local catholic college wood-work class. This class invested at least 3 hours labour on each section. The art project celebrated the 150th anniversary of the humanitarian work of Caroline Chisholm (late of Australian five dollar notoriety) in providing safe lodging for women and children immigrants travelling to and from the Victorian goldfields. A website of the remarkable project is found at:
At the Opening of Chisholm’s Homes alone, Peitsch raised awareness and publicity for the exhibition and the Migration Museum herself as is so often the case for visual artists. She organised school workshops that brought in (200) school children and community participants to experience the art at the museum as well as utilizing her own contacts to drum up support for the museum and its exhibitions.
All this hard work was thoroughly negated though by two senseless actions. Despite advertising to the contrary, the curator forced the exhibition to close one month early to accommodate the ‘transporting issue’ of a ‘more important’ exhibition from Sydney. This, though demoralizing enough, happens all too often in the field of visual art.
What happened next, however was outrageously unthinkable! In order to accommodate the new exhibition, Peitsch’s work needed to be stored on-site.
To fit the shakedowns under a small, open stairwell, the museum Director, Viv Szekeres, authorized the roofs of all the shakedowns to be ripped off, shattering the frames, collapsing some buildings completely and rendering the shakedowns looking like matchsticks and firewood. This action was freely admitted to over the phone. But no responsibility for the resulting disaster was taken. Though the houses were insured, like all the work exhibited at the Migration Museum, the Museum at first has refused to pay out on the insurance policy suggesting that the art must have been “damaged” during the return transport –an impossibility given the nature of the transporter. They finally decided that the houses should be repaired but only that the specific repair expenses be covered – never mind the fact that this artwork is now severely compromised, its structural integrity having been vandalised by the people who had the primary responsibility, should have known better and given the artwork the respect it deserves. Never mind that their neglect has caused major delays for future exhibitions involving the works, never mind that it is impossible now for the students that had such a completely unique and personal involvement with this project to feel anything but frustration with the museum’s handling of their work.
Carpenters quoting on the repairs and reconstruction of the shakedowns said that the buildings had to have been thoroughly mistreated to have sustained such significant damage. Previously, these houses travelled to exhibitions around Melbourne and regional Victoria with only MINOR wear to the structures. It is with disgust and despair that I am sending this letter to try to provoke a response from an uninterested, rude and disrespectful museum director.
Many more commitments and permanent displays were scheduled for the Shakedowns but thanks to the disdainful management of the Migration Museum staff , this unique community-engaged display is now, as yet, trashed.
editor’s note: We have since found out the insurance was paid out after 6months.