It looks like the Powerhouse Museum might be packing its boxes. The State Government announced today that the biggest branch of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences will indeed be moved to Parramatta if the government is re-elected on March 28. In a media statement, NSW Premier Mike Baird and Deputy Premier Troy Grant detailed plans to funnel more than $30 million toward developing a planned 'arts and culture precinct' in Western Sydney, a project set to take four years and confirmed following months of discussion about a potential Powerhouse move.
"We want to extend Sydney’s cultural ribbon to Western Sydney so we will invest $10 million to relocate the Powerhouse Museum to Parramatta," said Baird. "This will be the first time one of the State’s five major cultural institutions will be entirely located in Western Sydney."
Moving the whole Powerhouse to Parramatta will predictably take a third of the precinct funds — $10 million is being put toward transporting the museum from Ultimo. "The $10 million will be used to develop a business case for the Museum’s relocation to ensure it remains the interactive and vibrant place enjoyed by children and families," says Baird. Moving the entire Powerhouse across Sydney — collection, equipment, furniture — is indeed a costly exercise; it's not exactly a one-trip deal.
Another $800,000 has been allocated to setting up a 'resident company' at Parramatta's Riverside Theatre, and $7.5 million has been pledged to vaguely "support artists and organisations based in Western Sydney by creating more opportunities for practicing and emerging artists". Baird also stated the profits from the "urban renewal" (read: land sale) of the Ultimo site will go directly to the new Parramatta museum.
When the proposal to move the Powerhouse was first announced, it met with mixed reviews, including scepticism from Rose Hiscock, the museum director herself. Whether this move will really transform the Powerhouse into the "world’s leading museum of science and design" or whether this an easy way for the Liberal Party to win over some all-important western Sydney votes, the plans have some serious pros and cons. Ultimo itself could use development as an arts precinct, and the Powerhouse released its own 2020 strategy this year, citing its current location, proximity to Sydney’s tourist centre, educational institutions and start-ups as vital to its future plans.
On the other hand, as the Sydney Morning Herald pointed out, one in ten Australians and almost a third of NSW's population live in Western Sydney — though the West only enjoys 5.5 per cent of the state government's arts budget, according to the Building Western Sydney's Cultural Arts Economy report. This Deloite report, commissioned by Western Sydney local councils, controversially suggests moving the Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS) and the National Arts School to Western Sydney too — seeing as there's no major state cultural institution in the West.
With State elections set for March 28, let the furious pub debates begin.
Should the Powerhouse move to Parramatta? Or could a Questacon-like offshoot could be the better option? Weigh up the pros and cons with our feature over here.