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Powerhouse Museum partners with the Westmead Institute for Medical Research

Powerhouse Museum partners with the Westmead Institute for Medical Research
September 22, 2020

As it continues to build a collection responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on Australia, Sydney's Powerhouse Museum has announced it is working in partnership with world-leading medical research institute, The Westmead Institute for Medical Research (WIMR).

The partnership with WIMR will assist the Powerhouse Museum to collect medical and scientific material related to the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, contact tracing research and technology, and stories from lead researchers and the patients with whom they are working.

Guided by the Museum’s core collecting areas of science, technology, engineering, design, arts and Indigenous culture, curators have begun sourcing materials which capture the social and scientific stories about the unfolding pandemic and communities’ responses.

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) Collection aims to record the scientific, economic, cultural and social impact the outbreak has had on Australia. The Collection will capture the urgency of the time; the collaborative nature of the responses; the medical treatment and research; systems of communication and technological innovation, and cultural and artistic expression including data interpretation, and expressions of the care, fear and resilience demonstrated by people and communities. The Collection will also reflect the immediacy of the initial wave of the pandemic in Australia though to the era of learning to live with the virus.

Powerhouse Museum Chief Executive, Lisa Havilah advises “as we build towards the new home of science and technology at Powerhouse Parramatta, I am thrilled to announce a new strategic partnership with The Westmead Institute for Medical Research for the Museum’s COVID-19 Collection.

“The COVID-19 Collection continues the collecting work that the Powerhouse has undertaken over the past 140 years. The Museum’s health and medicine collection documents the influence of different diseases on Australian communities and medical innovations developed to track, test and treat these outbreaks, from samples of penicillin mould grown by Sir Howard Florey through to early vaccination tools for the prevention of small pox.”

WIMR Director of the Centre for Virus Research Professor Tony Cunningham advises that COVID-19 is the largest pandemic Australia has faced since the Pandemic Flu more than one hundred years ago and adds “I am delighted to be part of the COVID-19 research team here, on the Westmead Health Precinct, which continues to be the epicentre for COVID-19 diagnosis, patient treatment and vaccine development in New South Wales.

“I am working with my team at WIMR to develop a vaccine that is particularly designed for the segment of the population at greatest risk from COVID-19 – the ageing. We’re leveraging our learnings from the development of the Shingles vaccine targeting ageing populations, to develop an effective vaccine for COVID-19.

“It is so important to document this period and protect the moments and milestones, so that future generations can learn from our experiences and I look forward to contributing items associated with our own research, and hope that it helps to draw attention to the vital role medical research continues to play, not just in relation to COVID-19, but all aspects of health.”

The Collection will include materials such as masks, scrubs and other personal protective equipment made by Australian fashion labels including Cue; Ernabella ‘bush billboards’ made from junk car bonnets in Pitjantjatjara language to communicate safety messages with members of the Anangu community (APY lands); stories around the effect on retail such as the exponential rise in online shopping including sales in lingerie and adult toys; DIY paste-ups and signs that appeared around cities and suburbs with messages of care and togetherness; multi-lingual public health posters made by the Northern Land Council and the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance NT; artistic works that reflect on periods of lockdown and quarantine; design objects and photographs that document the streets of Sydney during lockdown and capture the changing nature of visual communication and the built environment in this era; learning from home teaching material in English, Arabic, Dari and Turkish; and video and other artefacts reflecting the adaptation to online performances and social events for diverse communities.

The acquisitions will be available to the public through the Powerhouse collection online, one of the largest digitisation projects in Australia. 

Image: Professor Tony Cunningham AO at The Westmead Institute for Medical Research

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