Community consultation meetings: July 2017

 Public consultation meetings: Parramatta and Ultimo
26 and 31 July, 2017

 Long-awaited public consultation took place in late July at meetings organised by the Dept of Planning and Environment with MAAS: on 26 July in Parramatta, and 31 July in Ultimo. Attendees had been asked to register beforehand, and send in their ‘top three questions’. The purpose was to provide information to contribute to the extended business case for the proposed museum in Parramatta, as well as to (more recently) consider retaining an unspecified ‘cultural presence’ in Ultimo.

In each venue, a large audience was seated in groups at tables, each with a discussion facilitator. Introductions were made by Brian Elton, the contracted organiser of the event, and the project manager of ‘the MAAS project’, Craig Limkin. In Parramatta Chair of Trustees Barney Glover and Director Dolla Merrillees also spoke; and in Ultimo, Arts  Minister Don Harwin.

The Ultimo audience felt confused about its role in consultation for the extended business case, as the Premier had made a surprise announcement that morning that the government had reached an agreement with the Parramatta Council to purchase the proposed riverside site, and move the museum there.

The meetings continued with discussion at each table about two questions:
1) What would you like to see, do and experience at the new Museum in Western Sydney…?
2) If some Powerhouse Museum presence stays at Ultimo, what would you like to see, do and experience?

In feedback from each table to the full audience, unofficial reports show it was clear that both audiences were strongly in favour of:

in Ultimo, retaining the Powerhouse Museum, while investing in expansion and development there; recognising its long-earned presence there in the context of audiences, access, education and tourism; with both historical and contemporary significance in its buildings, collections and programs; and contributing programs to regional centres as it has always done.

in Parramatta, a preference for developing an art centre (alongside the existing performing arts centre) with exhibition galleries relevant to local audiences (as in other regional cities); with potential for a science centre; and touring exhibitions and projects, and perhaps satellite venues, from MAAS and other CBD institutions. At the same time, there was a strong argument to develop museums at the North Parramatta Heritage precinct, that include local programs of local and state significance, on such as Indigenous and colonial histories and heritage, and migration history.

Other issues included the need for wider professional consultation in considering different options for each location; comparative costs for those different options; importance of adequate recurrent funding in any major institution; risks of a flood-prone site; and the questionable current priorities of political gains and building development income over cultural and social needs.

– Meeting summaries: The MAAS Project team posted summaries of both meetings on their website on 21 August.  See: Summaries  

Other reports: see the News Chronology  and  Letters to the Editor   on the PMA website for related reports about these meetings and recent announcements.

Grace Cochrane, August 9, 2017