Gandel Philanthropy has contributed $1.5 million towards the National Museum of Australia’s (NMA) $6.5 million Defining Moments Digital Classroom initiative, representing the largest single philanthropic gift the museum has ever received.
In recognition of the Gandel family’s generosity, the Canberra-based NMA is providing naming rights to a building for the first time in its history, with its Main Hall to be renamed the Gandel Atrium.
The gift from John and Pauline Gandel has also assisted with the purchase of a contemporary aerial sculpture by acclaimed Victorian-based Indigenous artist Reko Rennie, called Bogong Moth, which will be suspended from the dome of the Gandel Atrium.
The digital classroom initiative will make NMA’s existing Defining Moments program available to students through interactive smart boards, iPads, videos, virtual tours, 3D-scans and trivia quizzes.
The museum’s Defining Moments program covers the key moments that have shaped the development of Australia, and was established by the museum three years ago with the aim of fostering a public conversation about what matters in the nation’s history.
The collection covers events ranging from the earliest evidence of habitation by Indigenous Australians 65,000 years ago through to more recent events, such as Federation and the 2009 Victorian Black Saturday bushfires.
The new initiative will also provide custom-designed, versatile Australian history lesson plans that are aligned to the national curriculum at each year level, and will be delivered to classrooms across the country from 2020.
How the partnership came about
In a statement, John and Pauline Gandel said that the project “ticked a number of boxes” following careful discussion and deliberation.
“Last year, the National Museum approached Gandel Philanthropy with a program it believed answered a real need in Australian classrooms – for a dynamic digital history resource, aligned to the national curriculum,” the Gandels said.
“We held preliminary discussions with the NMA’s head of development, Annalisa Millar. Annalisa had seen a synergy between Gandel Philanthropy and the museum – as both seek to actively support and promote education and the arts.
“As a result of those, a meeting was scheduled between the director and the head of development of NMA and the CEO of Gandel Philanthropy to discuss the future and the outline of the proposal related to the Defining Moments program.
“The development of this partnership took more than six months and involved a range of representatives from the both museum and Gandel Philanthropy.
“This included site visits to Canberra to see the museum ‘in action’ as well as meetings with key staff in Melbourne, numerous stages of development of the elements of the proposal and discussions about the nature of those,” the Gandels said.
A central part of the museum’s conversation with the Gandels, according to NMA director Dr Mathew Trinca, was around how their support for the digital classroom initiative would make a strong, positive impact on the lives of Australian students.
“I know the Gandels were very moved by this [central notion the museum has] that to know where we are going, we have to know where we’ve been. I think that’s especially true of young people, and we need to deliver them the tools in the classroom that will allow them to develop that kind of knowledge,” Trinca says.
“There’s no doubt that this signals a really important moment for us as an institution, but more generally for all of us who work in major public institutions that are devoted to public education and learning in inventive and entertaining ways.
“I couldn’t be more pleased but to see a major philanthropic interest like the Gandels, who have such a tradition of supporting the work of galleries and other institutions across the country, really becoming focused on the possibilities that come out of supporting our work in a place like this.”
A long history in arts philanthropy
While this is the Gandel’s first major donation to NMA, the family have a well-established track record in supporting a range of national and state arts institutions.
In 2016, the Melbourne Museum opened the Pauline Gandel Children’s Gallery following a donation of $1 million by Gandel Philanthropy, and the family has been a long-standing patron of the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) since it first opened in 1982 with a major $7 million gift in 2010.
The family are also long-time supporters of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), with their donations helping to establish the institution’s Pauline Gandel Gallery of Japanese Art in 2012.
“Learning is one of the driving forces for us, as we know full well that education opens up opportunities,” the Gandels said.
“As importantly, knowing, understanding, and investigating the history of our nation will help our future generations feel connected to their country, and encourage them to be part of the future defining moments in our nation.
“The other important factor was the reach – the fact that this project will, in essence, bring the NMA and this program to every corner of Australia through digital means, meant that we were indeed helping all Australian children to learn, participate and engage.”
A valuable resource for students
The importance of the program, according to Trinca, is the growing importance of digital resources within school classrooms, which has enabled more personalised learning for students.
At the same time, content from the museum’s Defining Moments program has become an increasingly important resource for many students who are learning about Australian history.
“That program has now grown to be the single strongest source of young people’s engagement with all of the NMA’s online resources – about 700,000 visits a year to those resources that are online. And we’ve been able to track those interests and to see that the greater proportion of those are coming in school term time from young Australian students,” Trinca says.
“So the notion that we can reach into classrooms with digital resources and engage young people in discussion, debate and teaching programs around defining moments in the nation’s heart is something that will have demonstrable results for the nation. That’s both in terms of educating them about events that mattered in the nation’s past, but also engaging them in fruitful debate and discussion that has a national reach and ambition.”
Gandel Philanthropy said it views education as the key to future success, and the family is confident that supporting education is a way to make the nation even better.
“Technology influences all areas of society and this is particularly true of education. Children today are digital natives, they use technology to learn, grow, explore and communicate. It seems a natural progression to take history into every Australian classroom,” the Gandels said.
“There is a definite appetite for online programs like the Defining Moments Digital Classroom. The museum demonstrated this to us through the education resources it already had available on its website – the Defining Moments Digital Classroom builds on this.
“The majority of the traffic to the resource is during school hours, which showed us that the demand was real and taking this content into classrooms would be a valuable resource for students and teachers alike.”
There is a growing awareness within major cultural institutions, Trinca says, about how philanthropic support for programs with public sector resources can achieve things that might otherwise not be possible. The value of such relationships goes beyond the donation itself.
“There is, of course, the importance of the actual investment. But when you work with a philanthropic interest like the Gandels, you also learn a great deal as an institution about public sentiment and the broader community interest in your work,” he says.
“You become focused ever more keenly on how to best reach your audience and involve them actively in your work. Not just seeing them as passive consumers, but rather as active participants in your work.”
In this spirit of collaboration, Trinca says it is vitally important for cultural institutions to have a dialogue with their potential philanthropic partners, rather than simply pitching them a funding proposal.
“Develop a real relationship with a philanthropic fund and really listen to what they think is important and their consideration of [what] the community or nation needs, as much as coming to that discussion with clarity and purpose on your own program,” Trinca advises.
“The best programs emerge from a real dialogue with your philanthropic supporters about what it is you’re trying to do together and how to do it. Simply going to people with a finished idea and asking them to support it is not good enough anymore.
“I can’t tell you what a delight it has been to have that dialogue with the Gandels, who are interested in our work and really have the vision to see what was possible in this and get us to see it in new ways. That is the real virtue of this relationship.”