We design and create platforms for community storytelling, historical discovery and collaborative learning. This work spans permanent museum installations and interpretation, temporary place-making activations and events, and digital programming.
We are visual communicators, creative producers, cultural historians, place-makers, digital innovators and urbanists.
What unites everything we do is a commitment to capturing the unique story of every place and community we work with.
Esem Projects was born in 2011 as a creative collaboration between Sarah Barns and Michael Killalea. Together we bring diverse backgrounds & experience working across digital media, visual design & branding, research and strategic consulting.
Our original idea was to connect Sarah’s passion for archives-based digital storytelling with Michael’s creative direction and visual communication skills.
The first collaborative projects we delivered were temporary activations: we used digital projection to reveal site-specific historical collections and community stories. Over the years our practice has evolved to include permanent installations and interpretation platforms, community storytelling vehicles, and place-making festivals and events.
Our clients have grown to include local councils, developers, cultural institutions, universities and festivals…as well as retailers, wine makers, interior designers and more.
We are always learning, and always curious to try something new. In our world, stasis breeds indifference, and mediocrity is banished!
We deliver design services across print, digital and experiential media. We also collaborate with a network of freelancers and collaborators to deliver bespoke branding and visual communications services for museums, universities and other corporate clients.
Community Engagement & Place-Making
Many of our projects involve intensive community engagement using a mix of digital media platforms and personal collaborative workshops. See Portraits of Memory and Barangaroo Welcome Festival.
In 2015 we developed the ‘Storybox‘ container as a vehicle that combines place activation with community storytelling and interpretation.
We also maintain a small inventory that allows us to produce bespoke outdoor installations, and have good relationships with external technical media companies that allow us to deliver large-scale events and installations.
Research and digital storytelling
All of our projects are research intensive, and we’re always exploring new formats and techniques for storytelling, spanning mobile media and augmented reality platforms, soundscape and installation design.
Ever wished a building could talk? A street could whisper its hidden mysteries to you? Digital technologies are opening up all kinds of new ways of interacting with each other, with our environments and, not least, the stories of our past. Museums and libraries continue to invest significant resources digitising our cultural heritage. And meanwhile, while we may be drawn to social media, we still love to gather in places. Places, their stories, and the people that have shaped them, still matter. Drawing from the photographs, sound recordings, films and stories of our institutions and the community, we like to trace stories and people across time, and across the built and recorded geographies of a city. Doing so, we hope we can enliven not only our knowledge of the past, but our connection to places today.
Esem Projects is led by Sarah Barns and Michael Killalea. We work with a network of regular collaborators that allow us to program, curate and produce multi-platform projects from conception to delivery.
Dr. Sarah Barns is a strategist, digital creative producer and researcher with close to two decades’ worth of varied experience working across digital & creative media, public policy and urban research fields. Sarah’s former roles span strategy, research, consulting and production for organisations such as the ABC, UTS Creative Industries Innovation Centre, National ICT Australia (now Data61 / CSIRO), the Australia Council for the Arts, and Arup. She is proud to have created the ABC’s first location-based mobile service in 2008 with Sydney Sidetracks, and continues to explore the potentials (and pitfalls) of digital disruption in cities through Cities Plus Data.
Sarah was awarded her PhD in urban informatics & digital storytelling in 2010 and holds an Urban Studies Foundation Research Fellowship at the University of Western Sydney. Her archive blog from an earlier era of her digital storytelling is at Sites&Sounds. On Twitter she’s at @_sarahbarns, and you can also find her on LinkedIn.
Michael Killalea has been a designer & illustrator for over 20 years. He is a former Art Director for The Bulletin Magazine and Director at creative agency killanoodle, where his clients spanned key fashion, retail and media clients including Herringbone, Ginger & Smart, Creative Magazine, the City of Sydney, Marina Mirage and more. Find Michael on LinkedIn.
Our network of collaborators
Leif Wilson: Technical A/V Manager and Events
Gary Sinclair (Tactile Music)
Elin Matilda Andersson: Design and Illustration
Anna Fraser: Visual FX
Mike Daly: Visual FX
Naomi Russo: Writing & Research
Rebecca Hawcroft: Cultural heritage interpretation
Orlando Norrish: Props and installation design
MLC Centre (QIC / GPT)
Tanner Kibble Denton Architects
Paul Kelly Designs
Heffer Station Winery
Australian National University
The University of Newcastle
The University of Technology Sydney
Western Sydney University
GOVERNMENT Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)
Enterprise Connect / The Creative Industries Innovation Centre
The City of Sydney
The City of Newcastle
The City of Kiama
Bathurst Regional Council
Port Macquarie-Hastings Council
Sydney Opera House
Surry Hills Neighbourhood Centre
Museum of Contemporary Arts
The Arts Centre of Christchurch
PARTNERS & PROJECT SUPPORTERS
National Film and Sound Archive
State Library of NSW
Sydney Living Museums
Digital NZ / National Digital Forum