10 September 2021

Centenary director Robyn Archer donates career milestones to National Museum

| Ian Bushnell
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Robyn Archer

Robyn Archer: From one-woman shows to iconic festivals. Photo: Claudio Raschella.

The woman who masterminded the celebration of Canberra’s centenary in 2013 has donated personal items collected over her two-decade long career as an arts festival director to the National Museum of Australia.

Running festivals was Robyn Archer’s second career after being an internationally acclaimed singer, performer, writer and director, as well as being a tireless advocate for the arts and a writer.

The Robyn Archer collection comprises 18 objects gathered during her prolific career including the rainbow T-shirt from the 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 by Lake Burley Griffin.

Ms Archer drew praise from the Canberra community for her direction and her contributions throughout the celebrations.

The collection also includes 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.

Ms Archer said the items donated to the National Museum charted her long career in the arts.

“I am delighted to donate these mementos to the National Historical Collection,” she said.

“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.”

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Curator Dr Lily Withycombe said the National Museum was excited to add items to its collection from such 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 began singing professionally at the age of 12 and has performed across a number 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 Miranda, Songs 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.

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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Capital Retro6:11 pm 12 Sep 21

I’m surprised her Skywhale lightbulb isn’t included.

Thank you Ms Archer

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