New Museum Project Western Australian Museum

New Museum Project Western Australian Museum

New Museum Project Western Australian Museum

By Donna Comtesse from Western Australian Museum | 12 Sep 2017

New Museum Project Western Australian Museum teaser Western Australia is located on the vast and expansive Indian Ocean that has seen travel and trade for thousands of years and continues to see 70% of the world’s goods travelling across it today. This unique location also means Western Australia is situated in the ‘Zone’ where 60% of the world population lives.

When the New Museum for WA opens in 2020, it will share the stories of our people and place, acting as a gateway to explore all of Western Australia. It will reflect the extraordinary history, creativity and diversity of our State in the region. This will include our position in the Indian Ocean and our relationships with others in the Zone.

It is a major project for the State Government and is being built in the Perth Cultural Centre on the existing Western Australian Museum (WA Museum) site. It is being developed with a ’People First’ approach, encouraging all people from all over the State to be involved.  It will be another example of how Perth, far from being isolated, is one of the world’s most connected cities.

In developing the New Museum, a focus is on understanding our audiences in order to ensure content is relevant and engaging. In my role as an Audience Advocate at the WA Museum, I undertake evaluations to help guide our teams to create meaningful experiences for visitors and how best to present stories. At the start of 2017 I conducted an evaluation with the goal to find out our audiences attitudes towards, perceptions, and knowledge of the Indian Ocean World and Western Australia’s position within it.  This included conducting 41 interviews and surveying 412 people.

This evaluation established key insights and findings of how Western Australians think and feel about the Indian Ocean World.

In order to better understand people’s associations and knowledge regarding the Indian Ocean world, we asked participants to describe what words they associate with the Indian Ocean. Words such as blue, vast, tranquil, sunsets, memories, beautiful, trade, explorers, exotic, unknown, and marine life came up a lot. Also words about travel and trade, the health of the ocean and Western Australia’s relationships with other countries came up. The Indian Ocean captured their imagination and emotions - they consider it highly valuable. We will use this knowledge to inform the use of familiar language, visuals and emotions as a way to draw in visitors’ to engage with stories and themes they might not be so familiar with.

The research gave us insight into some of these areas of unfamiliarity. For example, participants were asked to list as many countries as they could that were located the Indian Ocean rim. On average, they were only able to list four countries and 47% listed at least one country not found on the Indian Ocean rim. This indicates a degree of unfamiliarity with geography of the Indian Ocean and the countries surrounding it. For the New Museum, we should create context and provide visual references when sharing stories related to countries around the Indian Ocean.

To understand how people view Western Australia’s role in the Indian Ocean world, its community and current and future impacts, participants were asked to respond to a series of statements relating to these concepts. Most agreed with the idea that Western Australia is part of an Indian Ocean world and is impacted by it now and in the future. However, they had difficulty articulating their responses, and often spoke of our role and Indian Ocean impacts as being at a high level that had little to do with their everyday lives. This highlights a challenge for us to convey information about Western Australia’s position and future in the Indian Ocean and the Zone in a way that people can connect to personally. 

This research highlighted the some of the perspectives and gaps in knowledge our audiences hold about the Indian Ocean world and Western Australia’s role in it. It offers a guide to themes that would be compatible with underlying viewpoints that visitors will bring to the New Museum. These and other evaluation results highlight our role in creating exhibition content that is most meaningful to our audiences. We’d be most interested to hear your thoughts and associations regarding the future of Western Australia in the Indian Ocean World and in the Zone. Contact us at
Donna Comtesse is an Audience Advocate at the Western Australian Museum.


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