The Museums and Galleries of NSW Museum Advisors Program connects museum professionals with small and volunteer-run museums. The advisor provides expertise in nominated areas of need–whether it is improving visitor experience or cataloguing their collection.
We recently spoke with Museum Advisor, Margot Jolly about her recent work in assisting museums following the Eugowra floods and her experience working as an advisor. Margot has worked in the remote and regional sector for 15 years after a 10 year career in Sydney with what is now the Museums of History NSW in collection management and curatorial.
Margot, you recently assisted the affected museums in the immediate aftermath of the Eugowra floods, how did you become involved and how were you able to assist on the ground?
Eugowra is a town that I have been attached to all of my life. It is only 30 minutes from my current home in Parkes.
My family has strong connections there and I am still involved with a local sporting club.
Members of my extended family were directly impacted by the flash flood on the 14th of November and due to a dose of Covid, I could not help anyone in the first week.
The museum was one place where I could be of real use. As the museum committee members were dealing with issues of no clothes, no home, and hours of trauma – a disrupted museum was not high on their list of priorities. With the help of M&G NSW and Create NSW, we were able to bring in a couple of experienced conservators along with museum professionals from Orange Regional Museum, and volunteers from neighbouring museums to assist the community. This enabled us to triage the collection and the building, so now the museum is in hibernation until the Eugowra Museum can come back to it in 2023 when their lives have come back to some normalcy. There was a lot of cleaning thick smelly silt from objects and the floor. Unfortunately, the museum lost all of their old glass display cases and most of their internal partitions and walls.
Can you tell us a little about your career path leading up to becoming a Museum Advisor and how long have you now been acting as an advisor?
I came to work in the museum industry in my thirties, starting with the Historic Houses Trust of NSW, after doing a Post Graduate Diploma in Museum Studies at the University of Sydney. I started as a guide and filled in doing administration work and a stint as an assistant building manager at the brand new Museum of Sydney. Working for the Trust enabled me to experience different types of museums – historic houses, heritage buildings, modern gallery spaces and museum displays. I worked in education, collection management, curatorial and property management positions.
I began as a Museum Advisor a few years after returning to the country to live. My first contract was with Bland Shire Council in 2006. Since then I have worked with Narrabri Shire Council, Lockhart Shire, Shoalhaven City Council, and some work with Tamworth Regional Council.
What are some of the key challenges currently facing regional volunteer museums?
The biggest challenges for volunteer run museums is always ensuring there are new volunteers coming along the ensure the sustainability of the museum.
To enable this the organisation needs to be well organised, understand who and what they are, and then maintain their capacity to present an engaging, lively museum that attracts visitors and community support.
As long as there are volunteer museums there will always be a need to maintain a level of support to assist enthusiastic volunteers with expertise and financial backing.
What have been the highlights for you in your time as a Museum Advisor?
The highlights are definitely seeing a volunteer committee see new potential with their collections and community stories and acting on them.
I love meeting people and assisting them to see their places with new eyes, teaching new skills and showing them great funding opportunities.
Also working with M&G NSW has been fantastic – always a supporting voice at the end of the phone!
Image: M&G NSW Museum Advisor Margot Jolly undertakes conservation work at Eugowra Museum, 2022
The Museum Advisors program is managed by M&G NSW with funding from Create NSW. Participating local councils are asked to match the Create NSW funding of $7000 per year. The Regional Museum Advisor Program has been operating since 2000 visiting and active in over 40 local government areas to date.