The rise and fall of mini-Melbourne

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by Adrienne Leith
Publish date
11 May 2012
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Adrienne creates and presents public programs at Melbourne Museum.

Most of our holiday activities for kids include a make-and-take aspect, where visitors go home with a memento of their own creation, such as an Egyptian pendant. Last holidays, we took a different approach, designing a communal and collaborative program to build a mini-Melbourne within The Melbourne Story exhibition.

We weren't sure if visitors would be happy to work on something that they couldn't take home, but we needn't have worried. Each day the mini-city grew and grew and grew, so much so that Whelan the Wrecker had to come in a few times to make room for the city's growth. (Ah, how art mirrors life!) By the end of the holidays, the entrance to the Melbourne Gallery was completely full.

Cardboard city Urban sprawl of the cardboard variety at mini-Melbourne.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Each participant received a cardboard square, two rectangles, a triangle, a person and three connectors to put the set together. From these simple components grew a huge array of city features. Memorable were the churches, art galleries, museums, dance studio, aquarium, South Vermont Primary School and about ten Herald Sun buildings. More personalised were the homes with family names (in English and Vietnamese) and street numbers. There were lots of boats, trains and trams but surprisingly no cars – however there was a submarine!

Buildings and residents of mini-Melbourne. Buildings and residents of mini-Melbourne.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The city was populated too, with little people sitting on or hanging off the buildings. The population explosion was very evident as the holidays progressed – the little people everywhere really made the whole scene come alive.

Mini Melburnians Mini-Melburnians in their cardboard city.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Participants were aged from about 18 months to grown-ups and of course not everyone approached the project the same way. Younger kids wanted to decorate and construct their own buildings, while older, kids, teenagers and adults banded together to make bigger and more ambitious group projects. The cardboard pieces were decorated with coloured textas and then constructed to individual designs. So much concentration and so many conversations!

Sadly, we couldn't keep the city but we did keep the little people, all 5,000 of them. We are now seeking an artist who might like to use them in an art work or installation so the people of our mini-Melbourne live on. If you have a new home for the mini-Melburnians, email me at Melbourne Museum.

Staff working on mini-Melbourne Museum staff preparing the cardboard components of mini-Melbourne.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The autumn holiday team included Lisa Nink, Bernard Caleo, David Perkins, Jen Brook, Alexandra Johnstone, Lauren Ellis and 46 wonderful volunteers.

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Robyn 16 May, 2012 07:59
It was such a creative event and brought so much good energy into the Melbourne Gallery. Well done!
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