Candidate for: BOARD MEMBER

Paul Donelly

Chau Chak Wing Museum, The University of Sydney, Australia

ICOM No. 81452

Nominators: Gina Hammond (Australia), David Ellis (Australia)

Biographical note

Dr Paul Donnelly is Deputy Director of the Chau Chak Wing Museum in charge of curatorial and exhibitions. He had many curatorial roles for over 20 years at the Powerhouse Museum (MAAS) in Sydney. Paul has a B.A. (Hons) from the University of Sydney, and an MA in Applied History from the University of Technology, Sydney. His PhD from the University of Sydney focused on ancient ceramics of Western Asia and has published widely in archaeology and design. He is an active archaeologist working in Jordan and Greece. In 2017 he attended the Getty Museum Leadership Program in Los Angeles. Link to CV.

Qualifications for the position

I started at the University of Sydney nearly 7 years ago specifically to play a leading role in the preparation and execution of the new Chau Chak Wing Museum building, and its diverse exhibition program within. In 2020 the Chau Chak Wing Museum opened as the new purpose-built home for collections previously housed separately in the Macleay Museum, Nicholson Museum and University Art Gallery. The 8000sqm A$66.2M landmark building is a significant addition to Sydney’s cultural life, providing state-of-the-art facilities for the enjoyment, teaching, and research of objects spanning art, antiquity, humanity, natural history, and science. More than 120,000 people visited the Museum in the first year. In 2021, more than 17,000 students and staff participated in object-led teaching, including many disciplines which had never used museum objects for teaching.

As the Associate (from 2019 Deputy) Director I oversaw the exhibition program and lead the curators in the development of what became 18 exhibitions and a further number of future changeovers scheduled for 2021 to 2024. My participation in the building of the Chau Chak Wing Museum involved detailed interrogation of the building design, the designs of its exhibitions, and all their budgets.

Strategically I advocated for the employ of four different design firms that enabled closer interrogation of allocated budgets, ensured the quality involvement of the principals of each of the firms, while eventuating in a variety of tempos, styles, and moods to the benefit of audiences. The project came in under the original budget of A$66.2M set in 2015 – a rarely seen occurrence at the University. In my work I have ensured I remain up to date with museological developments and the social changes of the past few years. I curated ‘Object / Art / Specimen’, the introductory exhibition at the Chau Chak Wing Museum, through thematic groupings of diverse objects that avoids hierarchy and the privileging of Western art.

I bring to the UMAC Board over 30 years in museums of diverse collections. The University of Sydney’s cultural and scientific collections include: the largest and best quality antiquity collection in Australia with strengths in ancient Egypt and Greece; the earliest known Aboriginal bark paintings; an historic entomology collection dating to the 1790s; Pacific cultural material; historic photographs; Australian post-impressionist painting, and modern and contemporary art. The range of objects impressively encompasses a diversity of natural phenomena and human achievement spanning millennia and the globe. Prior to my role at the University of Sydney is more than 20 years’ experience at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (Powerhouse) in Sydney where I worked in curatorial roles interpreting collections spanning decorative arts and design, science, engineering, fashion, architecture, and social history.

This long experience with diverse collections precludes me from privileging one collection over another which as a UMAC Board Member provides me with objectivity and respect for collections of all types. I revel in the often-surprising interconnectedness and relevance of diverse collections and the tangible, frequently profound and emotive, connections they provide to people, places, and events.

Main goals of candidacy

I would like to instigate an international program I am calling ‘Collective Collections’ constituting a formalised structure promoting collaborative sharing of collection items between Universities.

I am dedicated to, and believe in, the value and mission of university collections and their strengths in inspiring and instructing students, staff, and the broader public. University museums are unique resources of superb quality and diversity able to raise the profile of their institutions while substantially adding to the student experience and adding to the well-being of the community. The broadening horizons of the modern world have never been more in tune with these University collections and their powerful role in interdisciplinary teaching and learning. Concomitantly, there has never been a better time for university collections to leverage their strengths and diversity to the benefit of their own relevance and their multiple audiences.

University collections are in an increasing position of relevance and accessibility. Imagine, however, these University collections supplementing their holdings through access to objects, art, and specimens not otherwise represented in their collections? Through strategic and supportive collaborations under ‘Collective Collections’, university museums and galleries could maximise their opportunities and impact through the sharing and lending of short and long-term loans. Through such a program, university museums will be able to strengthen their relevance and democratise their relevance and democratise their collections by reducing privilege and increasing accessibility. ‘Collective Collections’ can be a decolonising tool that subverts the notion of ownership and promotes Universities as truly universal.

‘Collective Collections’ at its fullest potential can place university museums and galleries at the forefront of a different paradigm that changes our idea of what constitutes a museum.