Cultural heritage institution
In Australia, one of the custodians of a section of the CHIs, heritage properties, is the National Trust, Australia’s leading conservation organisation. The National Trust of Victoria (a non—government conservation organisation) is the guardian of a number of both urban and regional properties scattered throughout the State of Victoria. The National Trusts rely heavily on community support generated through membership subscriptions, sponsorship, donations and bequests, property admissions, and retail sales (National Trust of Australia, 2018a). Two of the principle staff involved with the creation of exhibitions and revenue streams are the exhibition curator, Elizabeth Anya-Petrivna and Commercial Manager, Drew Grove. The NTV properties provide a viable space to facilitate historical interpretation, conservation, and preservation, as well as being an excellent venue or site for staging appropriate exhibitions or filming television and cinema productions. In addition to these two properties, there are over 20 other extraordinary heritage sites.
The approach of utilising fashion and costume exhibitions to reinvigorate patronage has been instigated by the NTV in a range of heritage properties across Australia. Review of the National Trust’s Strategic Plan 2018—2022 shows there are a number of key objectives which are aligned with this approach. The NTV Strategic Objective Two articulate that:
We will bring our heritage to life through engaging storytelling and providing memorable visitor experience. To achieve this objective, there is the goal of developing new audiences through major exhibition programs and innovated visitor experience.
(National Trust of Australia, 2018b, p. 13)
National Trust of Victoria
The following three cases provide an illustration of the synergy between heritage properties and tourism and then examine to what extent mediatization of fashion have influenced attendance numbers and increased potential revenue at properties managed by the National Trust of Victoria.
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012-2015)
The NTV has conducted in partnership with Every Cloud Productions and Marion Bryce (the winner of the 2014 AACTA, award for the Best Costume Design in Television) two special event exhibitions at Rippon Lea House and Gardens, a large urban 19th-century mansion surrounded by seven acres of Victorian pleasure gardens. The exhibitions separately displayed costuming from series two and three of the popular Australian television drama. The Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries (2012—2015) was set in Melbourne in the 1920s and was based on a novel of the same name by Kerry Greenwood. The series developed a huge fandom following and a public fascination with the time period (McDowall, 2015a). In addition, the series was partially filmed at a number of NTV properties, including Rippon Lea House and Gardens, Como House, and Labassa in Melbourne. After the considerable success of these two exhibitions in Victoria, the National Trust has embarked on a two-year national tour, travelling to National Trust properties located in other cities across Australia including: Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney, and Canberra (McDowall, 2015b).
Martin Green, Learning and Interpretation Manager NTV described a number of challenges faced by the NTV. First, the task of creating an engaging three-dimensional exhibition from an action-packed television program. Converting television ideas into a dynamic display space required creative reflection (Green, 2013). The Miss Fisher series pivoted around the exploits of an audacious, superbly fashionable female private detective, Miss Phryne Fisher (Essie Davis) who interacted with the local constabulary, one Detective Inspector Jack Robinson (Nathan Page). The costumes were central to the success of the series. Miss Fisher’s fans hold preconceived expectations based on their personal interpretation of the television show. Thus, it was important for costume designer, Marion Boyce, to undertake meticulous research into the twenties period to provide authenticity to that time period. Each fashion item contained elaborate detail and was fastidiously crafted to replicate the lavishness of clothing in this era. More than 30 costumes worn by the characters were on display. Every Cloud Productions' producers Fiona Eagger and Deb Cox said:
We are thrilled at the enormous success of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries costume exhibition hosted by the National Trust which allowed thousands of our show’s dedicated admirers to appreciate Phryne Fisher’s stunning wardrobe and the work of our amazingly talented costume designer Marion Boyce.
To allow the exhibition wardrobe and accessories to be more engaging and accessible to visitors, there was limited barriers between the costumes and the audience. This in itself caused some trepidation for the curator since visitors may try to handle the costumes. Green (2013) explained that the Curator Elizabeth Anya-Petrivna devised an inventive solution. By employing mirrored perspex shapes in diamond patterns around the base of the costume stands, visitors cannot stand too close but feel no sense of a barrier between them and the costumes. In addition to the interpretation panels, many of the costume displays provide sample swatches of the garment fabrics which were designed to be touched, which in itself produced visitor interaction.
The author reflected on the fact that the design of the mansion provided the opportunity to have each room as a specifically themed installation. The Conservatory contained sporting apparel (tennis themed) and the upstairs bathroom displayed intimate lingerie. A number of innovative visitor engagement strategies were employed to encourage the public to linger and also have an experiential tourism encounter. There was an interactive Murder Mystery activity with clues hidden throughout the exhibition (in housewares, on furnishings, in bookcases, and on mirrors and even on the piano). A movement censored talking screen of the character Detective Inspector Robinson spoke to the visitors as they passed through the drawing room. In one of the upstairs bedroom rooms, attendee could complete a drawing template of their own exhibition inspired costume and then pin them up for others to admire and appreciate, building a dynamic visitor centred display via co-production. In addition, an array of different costumes made by our embroidery volunteer Eva Fabian and her team (based on Miss Fisher’s 1920s cocoon coat) were available to wear while guests wander through the mansion. An additional avenue to increase monetary contributions for the NTV is the sale of programs, merchandising and memorabilia (including a Miss Fisher inspired jewellery range) for many of exhibitions. (Author’s personal observations).
Drew Grove, Commercial Manager of the NTV stated the following about the Miss Fisher exhibition: 'It was our most successful exhibition ever, over 60,000 people came through’ (Ross, 2016). This increased patronage assists with revenue and possible future donations but also brought added pressure and aggravation for the local community since the historical property is located in a residential neighbourhood. There is limited parking which is predominantly on the street; however, the mansion is located near to a railway station which takes some of the pressure away from this access and transportation issue. There needs to be a considered balance between visitor access and the focus on conservation and community interests (Btjkiewicz et al., 2017).