Five Museum Ideas for Parramatta: Kylie Winkworth

Building a new museum is an exercise in community engagement. Storytelling is at the centre of how museums inspire audiences, donors, supporters, volunteers and sponsors. Parramatta and Western Sydney have compelling stories to tell that should inspire a new community of museum friends. However that depends on developing and communicating a museum vision that is unique to the history, geography, cultures and people of Western Sydney.

To create a great museum in Parramatta, the government needs to start with cultural planning and consultations with the people of Western Sydney and Parramatta, looking at where the gaps and opportunities are in Sydney’s museum profile. The people of Western Sydney should be driving the museum’s concept, planning and content through an open process of dialogue and real choices about the form and themes of the new museum. There are a number of options for a new state museum in Parramatta which would arguably have a greater cultural and educational impact, and be more aligned with Western Sydney’s cultures and audiences than the current museum relocation plan.

Principles or key considerations

  • The themes, content and facilities of the new museum must be developed through consultation with Western Sydney communities
  • In developing museum options for Western Sydney, consideration should be given to addressing glaring omissions in the scope of the state government’s museums, most notably the absence of NSW history, migration heritage and Aboriginal contact history
  • With so many state owned collections in storage, a new museum must expand access to collections, both physical and virtual, rather just relocating collections from Ultimo to Parramatta
  • Any new museum for Parramatta needs to recognise the cultural diversity of the city, with nearly half its residents born overseas
  • The conceptual and operational model for a new museum in Parramatta should be designed to benefit all the communities of Western Sydney and engage curators and artists from Western Sydney
  • The new museum site in Parramatta will need a mix of arts, community and museum facilities and the potential to develop as a cultural, tourism and education precinct

1. A new museum of Creativity, Science and Art developed in partnership with museums and galleries in Western Sydney and the university and Western Sydney to engage kids in the science of creativity and promote STEM subjects and a culture of innovation. This concept would not involve the wasteful move of all the PHM collections but would focus on a new approach to the creative industries and the science of innovation. Read more.

2. A multipurpose exhibition space for use by all the cultural institutions in the new Parramatta Square development; this model would include opportunities for curators and arts workers across western Sydney to work in NSW cultural institutions to develop exhibitions and projects for Western Sydney audiences, not just in Parramatta but for museums and galleries at Liverpool, Bankstown, Fairfield, Blacktown, Penrith and Campbelltown. This would create locally distinctive exhibitions for local audiences and generate a higher level of community cultural engagement across Western Sydney, not just the Parramatta edge.

3. A museum of NSW and Migration History on the Female Factory site at Parramatta; presenting exhibitions and programs exploring the cultural diversity of Sydney since 1788. This is an obvious opportunity given that nearly half the population of Parramatta was born overseas and it would create a new museum for NSW history. Remarkably NSW is the only state in Australia that does not have a museum devoted to its history or any current programs exploring its migration heritage since the PHM cut its award winning Migration Heritage Centre. The Female Factory is across the river from the World Heritage listed Parramatta Park, and is Australia’s most significant women’s history site with the core of an 1818 Greenway building in an intact cultural landscape. This site has the potential to evolve as an arts and heritage cultural precinct.

4. A NSW Heritage Centre at Parramatta; based in the Fleet Street heritage precinct or the Female Factory, with a mission to conserve and interpret Western Sydney’s heritage landscapes, museums, collections and sites. The Female Factory is part of the most significant, extensive and intact cultural landscape in Australia. Parramatta and Western Sydney have many small heritage sites, houses and museums which individually lack the funds and critical mass to do justice to their important stories of first contact, colonisation, migration and settlement. A new cultural institution with education, marketing and interpretation skills could support and partner with the distributed heritage sites across Western and south Western Sydney, and support their work with interpretation, education, research, marketing and public programs, in a larger version of what Sydney Living Museums does for its small portfolio.

5. Build the AGNSW extension in Parramatta; the AGNSW has ambitious plans for a massive extension into the Domain. It would be more equitable to build the gallery extension in Parramatta, and it could be done without the dead cost of moving all the PHM collections. Sydney already has two public art galleries in the city with the AGNSW and the Museum of Contemporary Art. It has only one science and applied arts museum. There is no compelling case to double the size of the gallery on its present site when it would be more equitable, cheaper, less complicated, and accessible to build the gallery extension in Parramatta.

Note: See also five more options for a new Parramatta Museum from Andrew Taylor of the Sydney Morning Herald.


Kylie Winkworth
November 2015