A collection's new home: from East Anglia to ACMI

Precious cargo arriving from EAFA

Precious cargo arriving from EAFA

Co-authored by Andy Bowen, Curator (Film Equipment), East Anglian Film Archive

Chelsey O’Brien, Assistant Curator, ACMI

Frequent flyers through history

Objects you find in museums often travel the world. Some are toured in exhibitions like Wonderland or loaned to peer institutions, others are acquired, commissioned or donated, making them some of history’s most frequent flyers.

What isn’t so frequent is when objects find a new permanent home in another museum’s collection, particularly one as far abroad as ACMI, but that’s exactly what happened to 49 objects from the East Anglian Film Archive (EAFA) in Norwich in the UK.

From East Anglia to Melbourne

Founded in 1976, the EAFA has been owned and operated by the University of East Anglia (UEA) since 1984 and includes over 12,000 hours of film and 30,000 hours of videotape.

One of the magnificent objects acquired

One of the magnificent objects acquired

Many of the objects in the EAFA had been accepted informally, coming in with film donations over the years, and slowly growing to almost 1000 objects in the collection. In 2016, EAFA reviewed its collecting policy and decided to stop collecting film equipment. Those objects that were already collected would be ‘rationalised’, or re-homed, with museums or other organisations.

The changing nature of a collection

Rationalisation or disposal from museum or archive collections is still potentially controversial in the UK. In 2008 the UK Museums Association (MA) published the first version of its Disposal Toolkit, a set of guidelines that ensures ethical and conscientious transfer or disposal of museum collections.

These guidelines were followed during the EAFA’s film equipment rationalisation project. For the first two months of the project the collection was offered exclusively to museums in the UK that had been accredited by Arts Council England, and a listing was posted on the MA website and in Museums Journal to inform the museum community that the enormous project was taking place.

Once this two-month period had elapsed, the next step was to offer the collection to other public museums or organisations. It was at this point that EAFA and ACMI started discussing part of the collection travelling from Norwich, England to Melbourne, Australia. The decision to transfer equipment overseas was only approved by EAFA’s governing body after closely following steps in the Disposal Toolkit.

Cinema advertising slide, ‘It’s a Great Feeling’ (1949)

Cinema advertising slide, ‘It’s a Great Feeling’ (1949)

Amazing objects that tell a story

Over on ACMI’s side our curators and collections staff sorted through a flurry of lists, images and objects, finally deciding to accept just under 50 objects, including cameras, projectors and lantern slides, which we’re planning to include in the new permanent gallery.

Though all the objects are incredible, the lantern slides are particularly special. There are early mechanical slides, which created some of the first moving projections, and cinema advertising slides from the 1930s-40s. Not only do these complement our collection of slides from the 1920s, they also capture a golden era of cinema history.

And now we get to share them with our visitors when we reopen mid-2020. Not a bad place to end up after travelling 16,766 kms from Norwich to Melbourne.

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Assistant Curator Chelsey O’Brien examines some of the magic lantern slides from EAFA

Assistant Curator Chelsey O’Brien examines some of the magic lantern slides from EAFA

Anaya Latter