The Museum of Freedom and Tolerance was born in 2012 as a small idea with a big ambition: an institution that would foster a cohesive society free from racial and religious prejudice in Western Australia.

With a keen understanding of humanity’s long and terrible history of racial and religious discrimination and the high price that has been paid to uphold the values of freedom, tolerance, respect and fairness, the Museum’s founders sensed the need to respond with constructive urgency to a global climate increasingly tainted by the spectre of intolerance and discrimination.

They made a decision to invest in the idea of a Museum that would utilise the tools of cultural expression to pay homage and catalyse experiences from the past in service of a more cohesive and racially tolerant future.

Throughout their journey, they found many others in the community who shared their passion and supported the idea of a Museum of Freedom and Tolerance as a place of special significance in Perth: a virtual and physical memorial to truth and compassion, a hub of energy and excellent for exhibits, artistic expression, outreach and advocacy and a safe space for diverse communities to share their stories.

Five years on from the Museum’s establishment, its founders could have little predicted the relevance of their ambition.  The incidence of moral and structural racism and religious intolerance has risen to unprecedented levels, cheered on by a ruling elite well versed in the success of divide and rule politics.

The first year of Trump’s presidency, the Brexit vote and events closer to home such as the government’s response to the Manus Island refugee crisis and the long-awaited Uluru statement, have called into question the ethics of decision-making at the highest levels of office.

In response, the global climate has galvanised active citizens and institutions everywhere to act against the status quo, and to challenge the prevailing narrative, particularly in the cultural sector.  The overwhelming vote for marriage equality in Australia is an encouraging sign that active citizenship can generate change.

In 2017, the Museum of Modern Art in New York reacted to President Trump’s ban of people from several Muslim countries from the US by creating an exhibition of artists from those countries.  Tate Britain in London responded to the Grenfell Tower tragedy by exhibiting the work of Khadija Saye as a memorial to her and the other victims, and the Turner Prize was awarded to Lubaina Himid for “addressing ‘difficult, painful’ issues that tackle colonial history, racism and institutional invisibility.” 

A painting by the late Haitian Puerto Rican activist artist Jean-Michel Basquiat sold to a Japanese collector for $110 million, becoming the most expensive piece of American art in the world, and Awol Erizku’s image of Beyoncé, the latest in his series of powerful works to challenge the white narrative of art history, broke the record for the most likes on Instagram.

As the year ended, Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei created a series of art installations around New York for his exhibition Good Fences Make Good Neighbours, as a citywide commentary on borders and immigration.  In Cape Town, the privately funded Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art opened as a platform to showcase contemporary African Art.

In literature, Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize for his quiet but institution-challenging prose, and Reni Eddo-Lodge caused a sensation with her powerful book, ‘Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race’, defining white privilege as “an absence of the consequences of racism — an absence of violence enacted on your ancestors because of the colour of their skin.”  In Australia, Peter Carey published ‘A long way from home’, as a commentary on indigenous dispossession, saying:

“It’s no good not engaging with something that you’ve been intrinsically involved in. You wake up in the morning and you are the beneficiary of a genocide…  I’m an Australian writer and I haven’t written about this? Well, that just seems pathetic to me.”

2017 has been a big year for the Museum of Freedom and Tolerance as we reflected on the rapidly changing political and cultural landscape, and invested significantly in our own suite of projects, designed not only as a commentary on the world around us but to catalyse some of this commentary into meaningful action.

We formalised our partnership with the WA Museum to hold an international Symposium on difficult storytelling in early 2019, and ran a comprehensive schools-based program designed to address issues of racism and tolerance with our partners Together for Humanity. We also presented our first paper at the Federation of International Human Rights Museums (FIHRM) conference in Argentina, on the opportunities and challenges of building a Museum from the inside out.

We are so grateful to our donors and champions for their continued support in 2017 and we look forward to continuing the journey to build our museum, and the momentum towards our goal of a more cohesive and tolerant society in Western Australia and further afield, in 2018.