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A collective vision

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The University of Tasmania cares for more than 100,000 items of artistic, cultural, and scientific significance, and a new web portal is the first step in making this amazing collection visible to the world.

Our Arts and Cultural Collections include fine art and antiquities, rare books and documents, scientific collections and ephemera relating to the history of the university.

You may have heard of the Tyler Collection of work by artists from Romania, the Special and Rare Collection housed in the Morris Miller Library or the Waterworth Optical Collection. Perhaps you have visited the John Elliott Classics Museum or one of the University galleries at Inveresk or Hunter St, Hobart. Do you recall the joy of happening upon a work by an internationally renowned Australian artist (such as Tracey Moffatt, Emily Kame Kngwarreye or Lloyd Rees) in a foyer or corridor of a University building? We can still encounter the University’s collections in all these ways, but as the online portal develops more people will be able to see and engage with them, wherever you live.

Caine Chennatt is the University’s Director of Curatorial and Cultural Collections, the acting Co-Chair of the Council of Australian University Museums and Collections and the University’s representative on the University Art Museums Australia committee. He is deeply committed to the University’s role as caretaker of around 18 different collections.

“It is important to remember that the collections don’t exist in isolation at the University,” Chennatt said. “They form a link to our community. In an educational sense, they support our teaching and research. In a heritage sense, they help to tell the story of the University, its contribution to Tasmania and beyond, reminding us as a society where we've come from and the kind of collective thinking we were doing at certain times in history.

"The collections remind us that, while the University’s primary impact is in education, we have a social and cultural impact as well.”

Chennatt sees the University’s many communities as essential in the way the collections are cared for and managed.

"We are very conscious of the many communities with interest, expertise, and cultural knowledges of our collections. These include our staff, students, philanthropic donors, as well as industry experts and colleagues in the cultural sector. In most cases, collections are about people – our relationships, perspectives, and traditions. They are not objects to be encountered in isolation."

Chennatt leads the University’s Cultural Collections and Galleries team, who collectively bring together the different facets of the collections – from the invisible work of collections care and  research, to the more visible art commissions and displays resulting from curatorial exhibition development.

He highlights the importance of good practice in managing the collections, including collaborating to ensure that items are homed with the organisation best qualified to care for them. In the University’s case this means frequent and productive conversations with other cultural organisations such as the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG), the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery (QVMAG) in Launceston, and the State Library of Tasmania.

Work on the Waterworth Optical Collection, a small part of which is on display in the Inveresk Library until November 24, is one example of a collaboration between the University and local industry.  Collections staff and historians have recently carried out a dedicated cataloguing project and significance assessment of this body of work, which dates from WWII and was designed and manufactured at the Optical Munitions Annexe on the Domain in Hobart.

The 300 objects, including lenses, magnifiers, slide projectors, instrument cases, prisms, and stereoscopes, represent a venture of national engineering significance and innovation. Its relevance continues, with 200 school students visiting the display for an education activity in August as part of National Science Week.

The University’s art collections are also a bridge to the community. An artwork by renowned Australian-Ukranian artist Aleks Danko was exhibited at the Plimsoll Gallery as part of a group exhibition in July this year that attracted close to 14,000 visitors over its 45-day showing period. The exhibition also included works by recent graduates Georgia Morgan and Cassie Sullivan and is currently being picked up for a national tour.

Artwork: Silvia Radu, small bowl, 1984, glazed porcelain, 11 x 5 cm. Tyler Collection: University of Tasmania

For details of the collections and what you can visit on our campuses, go to our Arts and Cultural Collections web page.

Top of page: Caine Chennatt in front of the artwork 'Weathering at the Edge - Stone, Lichen, River and Sky" by Troy Ruffels, from the University's collections installed at the Inveresk Library.