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Thursday, December 9, 2021

Australian arts icon Robyn Archer donates collection to the National Museum of Australia

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Internationally acclaimed singer, writer, performer, artistic director and public arts advocate Robyn Archer AO has donated personal items collected over two decades to the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.

Ms Archer began singing professionally at the age of 12 and has performed a range of genres, including folk, pop, blues, jazz and cabaret. Her one-woman cabaret A Star Is Torn (1979) and her 1981 show The Pack of Women both became successful books and recordings. A Star Is Torn toured Australia from 1979 to 1983 and ran for a year at Wyndham’s Theatre in London’s West End. The Pack of Women was produced for television in 1986.

Ms Archer has also created works for the stage, including The Conquest of Carmen MirandaSongs from Sideshow Alley and Café Fledermaus. In 1989 she was commissioned to write a new opera – Mambo – for the Nexus Opera in London. In 2008 her play Architektin premiered in Adelaide, and in 2009 she developed Tough Nut Cabaret for a production in Pittsburgh, USA.

Following a successful performance and production career, Ms Archer became an arts festival director, developing captivating events in Australia and abroad for two decades. The Robyn Archer collection comprises 18 objects gathered during her prolific career. The objects include a 1993 Reclaim the Night T-shirt, a Wonder Woman jumper, a cardigan knitted by a fan, and memorabilia from festivals Ms Archer has directed, such as the Melbourne International Arts Festival and the Adelaide Festival.

The collection also contains Ms Archer’s T-shirt from the 2013 Canberra Centenary. As program director, she curated a calendar of events and oversaw 12 months of celebrations. The festivities saw heightened visitation to the capital, including crowds of around 150,000 at the One Very Big Day event on Lake Burley Griffin. Ms Archer was praised by the Canberra community for her direction and her contributions throughout the celebrations.

Ms Archer said the items donated to the National Museum chart her long career in the arts: “I am delighted to donate these mementos to the National Historical Collection. Photographs, programs, recordings and posters all portray an interesting trajectory of what has turned out to be a long and still energetic career in the arts. But I hadn’t quite realised that the merchandise does exactly the same thing – and in a very colourful way. I love the way the Museum has curated this glimpse.”

Curator Dr Lily Withycombe said the National Museum was excited to add Ms Archer’s items to its collection. “Robyn Archer is often referred to as a national treasure. Her career has evolved from an extraordinary one-woman performer to a director of major arts and cultural festivals across Australia,” Dr Withycombe said. “We are thrilled to welcome these personal mementos to the National Historical Collection. They will help us tell the rich stories of theatre and festival culture in Australia and the role of women in the arts.”

Ms Archer won the Helpmann Award for Best Cabaret Performer in 2013. In 2016 she received the Cabaret Icon Award at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival and was inducted into the South Australian Music Hall of Fame. She has recorded 11 albums, published numerous books and written for the Griffith Review and the Australian Book Review. Ms Archer is an Officer of the Order of Australia, Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France), Officer of the Order of the Crown (Belgium) and Honorary Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

The Robyn Archer collection includes the following items:

  • 1993 Reclaim the Night (angel) T-shirt
  • 1994 Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras ABC broadcast T-shirt
  • Virgin of Guadalupe (Mexico) T-shirt
  • 1995 National Festival of Australian Theatre T-shirt
  • 1995 National Festival of Australian Theatre mug
  • 1998 Telstra Adelaide Festival T-shirt
  • 2000 Adelaide Festival T-shirt
  • 2001 May Day Darwin T-shirt
  • 2002 Melbourne Festival T-shirt
  • 2003 Melbourne International Arts Festival T-shirt
  • 2004 Melbourne International Arts Festival T-shirt
  • 2001 Ten Days on the Island T-shirt
  • 2003 Ten Days on the Island T-shirt
  • 2005 Ten Days on the Island T-shirt
  • 2011 5th World Summit on Arts and Culture (Melbourne) tote bag
  • 2013 Canberra 100 T-shirt with rainbow
  • Wonder Woman jumper knitted by a fan, gifted to Ms Archer and previously displayed in the Eternity gallery at the National Museum
  • Cardigan depicting Robyn Archer’s face and the cover of her album A Star Is Torn, knitted by an unknown fan.
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