Alec Coles, Chief Executive Officer, Western Australian Museum. Photography © Rebecca Mansell

1.What is your museum about and what is your work there?

Our mission is to inspire and challenge people to explore and share their identity, culture, environment and sense of place, and to experience and contribute to the diversity and creativity of our world.

The Western Australian Museum is a multi-campus, multi-disciplinary organisation with seven public museums: three in the metropolitan areas of Perth and Fremantle, and four spread over a 1000 km radius across the south west corner of our enormous State.

Our flagship museum in the middle of Perth is the subject of a major $ 400 million development and is due to open as a brand-new museum in November 2020.

Our collections encompass cultures, communities and the environment. The Museum’s collections comprise some 8 million items, which support an extensive research program, particularly in the natural sciences, earth and planetary sciences, and terrestrial and maritime archaeology.

The Museum is also responsible for the research and management of some 1,600 historic shipwrecks off the coast of Western Australia.

2.How is your museum dealing with the coronavirus crisis?

At the time of writing, Western Australia is well placed in terms of dealing with the covid-19 pandemic. Our State has entered Phase 4 on the RoadMap to recovery which means that restrictions have been relaxed.

The WA Museum’s public museums are open, with increased cleaning and hygiene practices, temperature scanning and continued physical distancing. Some interactive exhibits and tactile play materials have been removed.

When the new WA Museum opens in November, we will continue to follow State and Federal guidelines, but anticipate we will open with crowds of people.

The Western Australian Museum is documenting the impact of the covid-19 pandemic on our State through a contemporary collecting project. The WA Museum covid-19 collecting project has two main areas of focus – Collecting the State and Collecting the Community. This will result in a temporary exhibition displayed in the new WA Museum when it opens in November 2020.

3.What is the impact on your digital activity? Do you have tips to share with your colleagues?

During covid-19 restrictions the WA Museum has been able to develop extensive additional online digital content. This has included creating a series of videos showcasing the collections titled Distant Discoveries.

We also launched a new digital collections platform, called Collections WA, to increase access to, and promote regional museums and collections across the State, including many public and independent collections and keeping places.

We are focusing strongly on social media channels to keep engaged with our audiences.  We have consulted and engaged with more than 50,000 Western Australians to develop the content for the New Museum and it is important to keep sharing stories and showcasing work with communities to keep connected.

During this period our staff continued to work, particularly on the collections and New Museum Project and digitising the collection and increasing access to collections online and via our Electronic Content Management system was a priority.

4.Are you already preparing yourself for the reopening? Tell us in what way.

The WA Museum’s public venues reopened on 6 June 2020. We are very fortunate in that we only had a short period of closure due to the pandemic.

We are currently preparing for a week-long festival to celebrate the opening of the New Museum in the Perth Cultural Centre in November with local visitors.

The WA Museum implemented its Pandemic Management Team, developed a covid-19 safety plan and all WA Museum sites were deep cleaned while closed. In line with medical advice and WA Government requirements, the museum increased cleaning of surfaces especially in public spaces, continues to provide hand sanitiser, removed some interactive exhibits and play materials, and ensure physical distancing is maintained.

The museum also installed automatic temperature scanning systems at all of its sites. The system automatically scans each person upon entry to the building, and notes any temperature recording outside the normal body temperature range. It does not record personal images or other information.

We continue to monitor the covid-19 situation in line with Australian, and Western Australian Government requirements.

Interview by Fabio Pariante, journalist


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Alec Coles is the Chief Executive Officer of the Western Australian Museum in Perth, the main state cultural organization that includes all of WA’s scientific and cultural collection.

In addition to the New Museum which is under construction in the Perth cultural center, the other museums are open to the public are:

  • WA Maritime Museum
  • WA Shipwrecks Museum
  • Museum of Geraldton
  • Museum of the Goldfields
  • Museum of the Great Southern
  • Pop-Up Museum Locations

The Western Australian Museum for over 120 years thanks to research, exhibitions and public events.