The Alexander experience
Join in the fun program of multicultural events for the Alexander the Great exhibition, says Theodora Minas Gianniotis.
For the last three months I’ve been working with many of Sydney’s multicultural communities to develop a program of events for the Alexander the Great: 2000 years of treasures exhibition. My guiding principle is to add value to the visitor experience – with the emphasis on ‘experience’. Here’s just a taste of what to expect.
Connecting with communities
Community groups want to be engaged as part of the journey and they have offered their music, their speakers and their educators to the program. It’s all very inclusive, with the Greek community, Egyptians, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Russians, of course.
So these groups are bringing along their cultures, deeply influenced by Alexander and Hellenism, and offering it to the Museum’s audiences. We’re taking on their opinions about how it should be done, so when we look at the Sunday lecture series for example we’ll have lectures that look at the Hermitage, at Egypt, Greece, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan.
Family story time
In family story time on Saturday afternoons, authors will read their works for different age groups – the under-fives, five to eight, and so on. Story time is an old tradition still prominent in so many cultures, from Australian Indigenous cultures to all of the ethnic community groups I’ve been speaking with. They still practise that idea of storytelling, either through song or verse. It’s a family tradition and it’s how Alexander was educated – it’s oral history, and it’s still very much alive.
Museum at night
The Museum will be open on special evenings during the exhibition for talks, musical events and Jurassic Lounge. You’ll be able to see the exhibition in a more relaxed setting, take in a talk with like-minded people, have some wine and cheese. It’s something to do midweek that’s not burdensome but enjoyable – a nice thing to do after work, pop into the Museum.
People will need to book for the lectures to secure limited seating, and for catering purposes, but there may be a few tickets at the door. The talks focus on pieces from the exhibition and snippets of Alexander’s history, especially his mammoth Eastern campaign, and they really give a deeper understanding of how far and why he travelled and an appreciation of his legacy.
For instance, did you know there’s a tribe of people in Afghanistan, the Kalash, who claim to be descendants of Alexander? They speak a dialect of ancient Greek, have blond hair and blue eyes and are a minority group with markedly different beliefs to other Afghanis. Mark Corcoran showcased them on ABC TV’s Foreign Correspondent, and he’s scheduled to talk about that particular place.
Follow the conqueror
There’s lots of freebies in the program too, like the ‘Follow the conqueror’ trail where kids follow a trail and pick up clues throughout the Museum with each clue related to the history and mythology of Alexander the Great. At the end of that, their prize is to join Alexander’s army. I’m hoping we’ll have a shield decoration activity as a way for children to contribute to the exhibition during the school holidays.
Working with ethnic community groups has just been such a pleasure. They’ve been so supportive and energetic, and there’s an enthusiasm that really needs to be embraced. My cultural background is Greek, but when I speak to the Egyptians, for example, we speak the same language. I get where they’re coming from, they get where I’m coming from; we’ve had that same migrant experience, which is just fantastic.
My parents migrated here from Greece in the sixties and settled in the Botany area. I was born here. Growing up, we spent a lot of time with large family groups listening to oral histories and stories about our culture. There were social events on the weekend, every weekend without fail, massive gatherings. You just didn’t know a weekend without it. A lot of migrants came here without fathers, brothers, mothers or sisters, so these friends became family and these gatherings were their support network.
There’s a lot of that spirit in what we’re trying to do with this program of events. Tapping into ethnic groups is an untouched resource that mainstream cultural institutions really need to focus on. There’s a depth there that can really be interpreted creatively.
So I hope to see lots of Members as well as the general public at this community program. There really will be something for everyone!
Theodora Minas Gianniotis spoke to Brendan Atkins
First published in Explore 34(4)
Brendan Atkins , Publications Coordinator