The Arrival – behind the Scenes in the Performing Arts Collection


The Australian Performing Arts Collection recently received an exciting new acquisition of costumes from Opera Australia. This acquisition included 44 costumes from the past 60 years of Opera Australia’s history, and were worn by some of Australia’s most renowned opera singers including Emma Matthews, Cheryl Barker, Anthony Warlow, Robert Gard and many others. The acquisition included almost 200 individual parts including dresses, pants, vests, shirts, crinoline, armour, hats, wigs and accessories.

The costumes began their journey at Opera Australia’s headquarters in Sydney, and traveled to Melbourne in a specially fitted costume truck with our courier, International Arts Services, in partnership with Garde Robe.

Australian Performing Arts Collection and International Art Services staff unloading costumes from the Opera Australia acquisition, June 2017
Australian Performing Arts Collection and International Art Services staff unloading costumes from the Opera Australia acquisition, June 2017

On delivery day in Melbourne, members of our Collections team were on hand to carefully unload the costumes for sorting. Each item was labeled and a condition report completed to help us better understand and care for the object appropriately. Capturing this information on arrival provides a valuable reference point to monitor any changes that occur to the materials over time.

The sorting begins.JPG
Sorting, sorting, sorting.
In order to keep track of almost 200 items, all the new arrivals were checked off our inventory list and labelled

In addition, each item was photographed in our in-house studio, with the photographs used for internal reference only and added to the object catalogue record in EMU (our collection management database) for tracking purposes.

Photographing the costume worn by David Hibbard as Pietro Fleville in Andrea Chenier, 2001/2, Opera Australia

Once the photography was complete, the costumes entered quarantine. All new arrivals must undergo quarantine before entering the collection to kill any pests that might have made their homes within the garments. This is particularly important for objects that may have been in storage for extended periods, as was the case here. The first step is to deprive insects of oxygen, this is achieved by placing the items in airtight plastic storage for several weeks. Once this phase is complete, additional freezer treatment will be undertaken to kill stubborn pests. Pests pose a huge risk to organic based cultural material as many love to feast on fabric and paper, and could potentially cause carnage if they managed to enter the collection undetected.

Costumes from Opera Australia in quarantine storage

After the quarantine period, the costumes can finally enter the collection. At this point the registration team fully catalogue, rehouse (using archival grade boxes and padded hangers), and professionally photograph each item for online publication. Each item is given an individual identification number so it can be easily located and tracked for use in exhibitions and research.

A selection of our new Opera Australia costumes will be on display in the Smorgon Family Plaza at Arts Centre Melbourne (near the box office) from 14 October 2017.


Day one over - the team minus Nicole (behind camera).JPG
From left: Margot Anderson, Curator of Dance & Opera, Fiona Wilson, Collections Coordinator, Elyse White, Collections Operations & Logistics Registrar, Jean Chen, Assistant Registrar, Collections and Nicole Bowller, Assistant Curator (not pictured) June 2017





Published by

2 thoughts on “The Arrival – behind the Scenes in the Performing Arts Collection

  1. What a fantastic addition to the collection. Thanks for this article Fiona – a really interesting insight into what happens behind the scenes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s