Manly Museum & Art Gallery – Guest Post

I am so excited to share with you the first guest blog post on Curate Your Own Adventure. Happy reading!

Hello! My name is Imogen, and I was lucky enough to be asked by my good friend Bec to write a guest post here on Curate Your Own Adventure. I have just graduated from the Master’s program in Museum and Heritage Studies at Sydney University, and continue to indulge my love for museums in Sydney and further afield.


I feel lucky that despite the fact that I have always lived in Sydney, and have visited museums and exhibitions for as long as I can remember, I continue to discover great museums, galleries, and other cultural spaces in my hometown. Over the recent October long weekend, I spent time house-sitting in Manly, one of the largest and most popular beachside suburbs in Sydney. I took this opportunity to visit the Manly Museum and Art Gallery. Despite the fact that I was born in Manly and spent much of my childhood there, I had never visited nor had I ever heard much about it. Of course, I felt obliged to visit and went to explore. The Museum is conveniently located within a two-minute walk of the Manly Wharf, the most popular gateway for visitors to the area, and sits next to the Sealife Aquarium, another popular spot for visitors.

The fact that I had been largely unfamiliar with the Museum before my visit and that I knew it was an institution operated by the local council led me to naively assume it would be quite small in scale with perhaps a simpler approach to local history. I am pleased to report I could not have been more wrong!

My naïve assumptions were washed away as soon as I entered the museum space. What struck me the most as I moved through the exhibition spaces (the museum and art gallery spaces are different rooms within the same building) is the sheer size of the space the curators have to work with. It is certainly one of the largest exhibition spaces I have seen for an institution of this type, which was great to see. I started my visit in the museum area, which is currently housing the exhibition Manly: Art From the Vault, showcasing the long history of artistic interpretation of the area from the Museum’s existing collection. This surprised me, as I expected the museum space to be more object and information based, knowing that the rest of the building was dedicated to visual arts. As I moved through the exhibition spaces, however, I realised that the institution’s collection does seem to be more focused on artworks rather than other museum objects and that the dedicated gallery spaces are used for the aesthetic display and commercial sale of artworks.


The Museum exhibition did, however, contain a number of objects, some of which were arranged in what were labelled ‘still life of objects’ displays, alongside particularly informative text panels. The panels discussed both the heritage of Manly itself as well as the depth of the institution’s collections. From these panels, I learnt that since the 1980’s the institution has narrowed its collection areas to focus on swimwear and beach memorabilia. There have been donations from many notable Australians contributing to what is now recognised as one of the most significant collections of its type in the country. I was, therefore, surprised to see only a handful of swimwear and beach memorabilia on display. Especially considering that this is the focus of the institution’s collection. I was intrigued however by the way the curators had chosen to display dozens of surfboards in an innovative and engaging way. I can only imagine how many surfboards the Museum has received through donations. The way they were hung from the ceiling allowed a large number of them to be seen and enjoyed without encroaching on the rest of the exhibition.



A large window in the museum space looked out onto the harbour and wharf drawing connections between the objects and artworks on display and the location. Beyond the museum space, the floor space of the gallery is about two to three times that of the museum. Again, I was surprised and amazed to see so many resources being dedicated to the arts on a local level. Just like in the museum, the artworks in the gallery were specific to the local area in terms of the subjects being represented, and most of the artists were also locals. Unlike the museum space, most of the artworks seemed to be available for purchase. I was also surprised and excited to discover that one of the rooms in the gallery space was a dedicated ceramics gallery, showcasing the institution’s large collection of ceramics from Australia and overseas. These ceramics have been donated by Helen Robin and Sylvia Longfoot and purchased by the gallery following a recent exhibition, making up a 370-piece reference collection.

My visit to the museum and art gallery left me heartened to see such a rich collection, curated and displayed in such a beautiful, effective, and engaging way (I was also glad to see the collaborative work of curators, interns and volunteers). I was humbled that my initial assumptions were proven wrong. Next time you are in the area or feel like catching the ferry into Manly, I highly encourage you to visit the Manly Museum and Art Gallery!


This post was written by Imogen Kennard-King. Her email is:

A huge thank you to Imogen for writing such a wonderful post on Manly Museum and Art Gallery. I will definitely make time to visit the gallery soon! If you would like to write for Curate Your Own Adventure send through a quick summary of where you’d like to review and why to I hope to publish some more amazing reviews in the near future!

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