Case Studies/Powerhouse Museum, Sydney

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Flickr, commons, archive, history, Sydney, Australia, play, education, photography, images


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Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum offers an iconic collection of Australian cultural artefacts whose images are captured in PHM’s ‘Photo of the Day’, plus a suite of educational materials under the banner of ‘Play’. On 7 April 2008, PHM became the first museum in the world to share its historic images on the Flickr Commons.

It’s great to see our images displayed, acknowledged, accessed and appreciated by so many passionate enthusiasts that we can engage with on our favourite subject, and hopefully so others can learn from our images. — Geoff Friend, Powerhouse Museum Photography Manager


The Powerhouse Museum, Sydney (PHM) is one of Australia’s premier cultural institutions, housing collections which express the nation’s innovation and creativity in science, technology, and the arts. With 22 permanent exhibitions, as well as 250 interactive displays, over 388,000 historically-significant objects are curated by museum staff across an area of 20,000 square metres, the equivalent of three international competition soccer fields. PHM was opened to the public on 10 March 1988, with the vision that ‘celebrates human creativity and innovation in ways that engage, inform and inspire diverse audiences.’

PHM’s history and exhibitions are captured in the Museum’s ‘Photo of the Day’, a blog which features photographs pertaining to its vast collection. Shot by PHM’s professional photographers for a variety of purposes – documenting PHM’s public events, programs and exhibitions, to behind-the-scenes operations – the images form a rich archive of life in New South Wales and beyond, as well as detailing aspects and activities of the PHM hitherto unseen. A selection of these photographs is hosted on Flickr.

On 7 April 2008, PHM announced its collaboration with Flickr to create ‘The Commons’, becoming the first museum in the world to release publicly-held historical photographs for access on the photo-sharing platform. PHM selected its Tyrrell Photographic Collection for display, an extensive series of glass plate negatives taken by photographers Charles Kerry (1857-1928) and Henry King (1855-1923), showing Sydney life in the late 19th and early 20th century. The initial Flickr collection consists of 200 black and white Tyrrell images, which are now available for public tagging and comment. PHM’s curators continue to upload 50 new images every week from the collection’s 7903 images, and, where possible, add geotags to create an interactive map documenting the position of the photographic content.

New South Wales Minister for the Arts Frank Sartor said in response to the announcement:

‘The Powerhouse Museum initiative shows that the NSW Government is a leader in increasing public access to Australian cultural collections. These evocative images of historic Sydney and early Australian life will greatly appeal to people from around the world, as well as Australians.’

‘Play at Powerhouse’ is PHM’s education program for children. It provides a resource designed for children aged up to 10 years, and involves parents and carers. ‘Play’ includes information about visiting the PHM with children, and offers activities and games around the topics of science and design to engage children at home. These can be downloaded and completed independently, but are clearly designed to enhance a visit to the Museum. The project is overseen by the Web Service Unit at the PHM, headed by Sebastian Chan.

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