Inner-city residents are opposed to the relocation of the Powerhouse Museum to Parramatta and the sale of the Ultimo site to developers. Photo: Fiona Morris MCA director Elizabeth Ann Macgregor believes the Powerhouse Museum has been a victim of bad planning. Photo: James Brickwood
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The Powerhouse Museum is a victim of bad planning and its inner-city Sydney site has been adversely affected by the redevelopment of Darling Harbour, according to the NSW premier’s cultural ambassador for western Sydney.
Elizabeth Ann Macgregor, who is also the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, says “an awful lot more money” is needed to fix issues at the Powerhouse’s site in Ultimo.
Asked what problems were posed by that site, Macgregor says: “Well, the convention centre shuts it off. It’s a victim, dare I say it, of a very bad piece of planning because it doesn’t actually open up the museum at all.”
Macgregor says the proposed relocation of the Powerhouse, part of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, would be a “game changer” for western Sydney.
“We are actually talking about a rethink and I think everybody accepts that it’s a really good moment to do that,” she says. “It’s a great opportunity to do that with the possibility of a purpose-built building.”
Macgregor says there was no way the government would have paid for an additional major cultural institution for the region, which is home to more than 2 million people.
“It comes down to money,” she says. “Ninety-whatever per cent of the budget is spent in the CBD. There’s no way they’re going to add another $100 million to that budget.”
However, the Shaping Future Cities – Designing Western Sydney report, launched by Premier Mike Baird earlier this month, calls for $300 million to be committed to cultural arts infrastructure in western Sydney over the next five years.
Macgregor made the comments as the NSW government searches for a new director of the museum, and considers one of two potential sites in Parramatta for the new museum.
The relocation plans have met stiff opposition from inner-city residents who gathered enough signatures to force a parliamentary debate on the controversial plan to move the Powerhouse Museum to western Sydney and sell off its Ultimo site.
Opponents of the relocation have also warned that moving the museum, which has more than 500,000 items in its collection, will cost far more than the $150-$200 million value of the Ultimo site.
MAAS director Rose Hiscock resigned in November, less than three years into her tenure. She had initially opposed the relocation to western Sydney before changing her mind.
Macgregor praised Hiscock, saying she “has done a great job of turning it around obviously, but it’s not exactly been firing on all cylinders.”
A job advertisement for the position of MAAS director states the role requires “highly developed communications, influencing and negotiation skills” and major projects experience.
It also says the Powerhouse will be reimagined to “to engage a younger, diverse and dynamic audience, while cultivating a broader range of partners”.
Names mentioned to take over Hiscock’s job include Carriageworks director Lisa Havilah, Indigenous arts curator Hetti Perkins, Michael Snelling, the head of the National Art School, and the executive director of Parramatta-based Information and Cultural Exchange, John Kirkman.
Acting director Dolla Merrillees declined to say whether she had applied for the role, but denied she was opposed to the move to Parramatta.
“I have been instrumental in and actively engaged in developing our vision for MAAS Parramatta as well as the business case to deliver a once-in-a-generation opportunity to invent a museum for the future,” Merrillees said.
Former trustee and museum consultant Kylie Winkworth, an opponent of the move, says the job would not appeal to a museum professional.
“A new director will need to rebuild all this from scratch but will be working in a context where the museum development is mired in controversy,” she says. “At every turn they will face the painful challenge of explaining the downsizing of the museum and shrinking the already small proportion of its collection on display.”
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