The Powerhouse Museum at Ultimo is in imminent danger. Its Board and CEO Lisa Havilah are pressing ahead with plans to close it on 31 December for three years – despite the NSW Labor Government’s stated intention to retain it as Australia’s leading science and technology museum.
Museum supporters are being urged to contact Arts Minister John Graham, 02 7225 6030, to call on him to halt the closure and implement a transparent process of research and planning for the museum’s future.
Today, 30 November, the NSW Upper House will debate a motion “to preserve the Wran legacy and keep the Powerhouse Museum open as a centre for technology and innovation suitable for all of the citizens of NSW including families and children”. Moved by Robert Borsak MLC, who led the inquiries that unmasked the previous Coalition Government’s plans for the museum’s destrcution, it also calls on the Government to “replace the CEO, Senior Directors, and Board of Directors for the Powerhouse Museum with a Board and Senior management committed to a museum run on world’s-best museological practice”. (Full text of motion here.)
The current Board is chaired by former Liberal leader Peter Collins and includes powerful business figures such as developer Lang Walker.
The plan to break up the museum – a first in the developed world – was hatched under the Coalition Governments of Mike Baird, Gladys Berejiklian and Dominic Perrotet. It involved the $800m construction of an events and entertainment palace on the flood plain at Parramatta, the dismantling of the priceless collection at Ultimo and destruction of its award-winning museum design in favour of a fashion, events and commercial precinct, and removal of much of the collection to the Castle Hill storage facility which museums specialist Kylie Winkworth and others have deemed completely unsuitable. [Ed 30/11 10am: See Kylie Winkworth’s comment below: the museum is being destroyed before our eyes!]
The plan was part of the disastrous acceleration of the corporatisation of the arts and culture sector which included the construction of Sydney Modern – another function venue – at the Art Gallery of NSW, while leaving it millions short on its operating budget. The Museum of Contemporary Art, facing a similar crisis, is contemplating the introduction of admission fees.
The Minns Labor Government inherited an unholy mess at the State’s cultural institutions, and fine words alone will not fix it. On 2 September Arts Minister John Graham issued a statement saying: “We promised at the election that we would preserve the Wran legacy and keep the Powerhouse Museum at Ultimo open. We are doing just that.” Treasury was happy that he had halved the $500m budget for “revitalisation” of the Ultimo site. Two months later came the announcement that closure would go ahead at the end of the year – with no detailed plans for renovation made public.
If you are going to “preserve the Wran legacy” and “keep the Museum open”, why close it less than halfway through the school holidays? To allow the Board and CEO to do this shows flagrant disregard for the people of NSW.
The secrecy surrounding this manoeuvring is particularly disturbing. Australia already has the distinction of being the world’s “most secretive democracy”. For this to apply to the cultural sector is positively Kafkaesque – a prime example being the Berejiklian Government’s refusal to publish the business case for Sydney Modern, and we can see how that’s worked out.
The Minns Government must stop the closure of Ultimo, replace the Board and CEO, publish all documents relating to renovation plans and restore the integrity of the collection.
For more information, see the Powerhouse Museum Alliance website.