Buvette Masthead

The Great Kaleidoscope Cubby

Amanda Whitley

We’re heading into the last weekend of Enlighten, but if you think all the action is outside, you’d be mistaken. One of the most captivating activities happening during the festival is a structure within an iconic building: The Great Kaleidoscope Cubby in Old Parliament House.

The Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House (MOADOPH) is using people’s voices to shine a light on the power of words and self-expression. Facilitated by performance artists, people are invited to decorate the inside and outside of the clear-walled cubby with colourful static cling, creating a stained glass window effect around the whole cubby.

We caught up with Nanette Louchart-Fletcher, Community Learning Officer with MOADOPH, to find out more.

So, what exactly is The Great Kaleidoscope Cubby?

The Kaleidoscope Cubby is an all-ages collaborative art project to decorate a contemporary cubby in the very heart of Old Parliament House. We are asking visitors what issue is closest to their hearts and to put this onto our cubby. The individual messages come together on the cubby to create a rich visual tapestry of conversation about democracy. It is a beautiful, playful,  contemporary piece of interactive art that connects directly to what the museum is all about – celebrating Australian democracy and our voices within it.

Where did the idea come from?

We spend a lot of time thinking about how to create a magical experience for our visitors during Enlighten. Last year’s Occupy Small Street attracted record crowds to the building. Our goal this year was to retain the playful, cross-generational experience of last year but to create one great visual masterpiece rather than thousands of individual items that were produced in 2014. We also wanted to play with the notion of light and transparency both as a visual metaphor for good government and to connect the interior of our building with the wonderful light projections that take place on the façade of this iconic landmark.

How does it underpin the messages of MOADOPH?

The Kaleidoscope Cubby is the embodiment of what our museum stands for – a catalyst for conversations, a site to provoke healthy debate and encourage participation as well as providing a safe space for dialogue. The power of words and self-expression are integral to both the cubby and to the museum as a whole.

What kind of messages has the cubby been decorated in so far?

From intricate messages of support for the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong to words and symbols in Australian Sign Language (AUSLAN), our cubby has it all. Some people have used song lyrics to describe issues that are close to their hearts, others have used hash tags such as the recent #Illridewithyou.

What’s been the response from visitors?

The response has been phenomenal. We had over 7000 visitors to the Cubby last weekend, most of these people left their own personal messages behind. This week our staff have spent a significant amount of time documenting the work and gently moving some it to the roof to make space for new contributions to come this weekend. All visitors have responded with delight, many returning to see it over both nights and during the weekdays.

How do the performance artists play a part in the project?

Some people think of democracy as a weighty and serious subject. We think it can also be a playful, colourful and joyous concept, as such our performance artists, Public Mischief from Melbourne bring additional, colour and humour to the experience. They serve as a visual reminder to visitors that colourful conversations can discuss serious subjects in playful ways.

How will it form part of you family exhibition, Play Up, after Enlighten concludes?

The Kaleidoscope Cubby will be a part of the new ‘Right to Shelter’ exhibition in Play Up later this year. This new exhibition in Play Up will be a hands-on exploration of the importance of shelter and protection. As always in Play Up, we will be exploring these ideas through playful learning and investigation of things including cubbies, housing from around the world and doll houses. The Kaleidoscope Cubby will be a centrepiece in this new showstopper exhibition coming in late June 2015.

the essentials

What: The Great Kaleidoscope Cubby
When: 6pm to 10pm, Friday 6 and Saturday 7 March.
Where: Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House
How much: Free

Images by Stefan Postles, Chalk Studio


Amanda Whitley

Amanda Whitley is the founder and director of HerCanberra. In her 'spare time', she instructs zumba, loves to cook (and eat), and wrangles two gorgeous little girls. She's done everything from present the tv news to operate a stop and go sign and is passionate about connecting Canberra women. More about the Author