Also read News Chronologies for the nine years: 2014-2019; 2020; and 2023 on…
And PHM being Destroyed not Saved: 2023 Call to action
For Inquiry into Museums and Galleries webpage: Read more
For the Inquiry Committee’s Two Final Reports: Read more and media release Read more
For informed research, analysis and opinions, see What the Experts Say: Read more
To read about Museum history and issues with a recent Heritage nomination, Read here.
‘Letters to Editors’: for related letters to the editors of newspapers, see the PMA web site, here: Read more
17-29 November, 2023
Powerhouse Museum Alliance: correspondence re meetings with Minister
With the purpose of passing on concerns about the current situation of the Powerhouse Museum to Minister John Graham and Premier Chris Minns, this selected correspondence between Kylie Winkworth, on behalf of the Powerhouse Museum Alliance, and Grace Cramer, Policy Advisor in Office of the Hon John Graham, MLC, provides considerable information about the experiences of contributing concerns and suggestions.
Read full record HERE: PHM correspondence with Minister Extracts follow…
On 17 November, the Minister hosted a meeting with a number of people and organisations and, while unable to attend, PHM wrote: ‘Thank you for suggesting that Create NSW consult with us over the plans for the Heritage Revitalisation of the Powerhouse Museum…Among the PHM’s supporters there is widespread disillusion with the management of MAAS and another round of what has been a consultants’ picnic EIS. The project is certainly at the point of needing ministerial attention. In our view the Powerhouse Museum cannot be saved while the project remains in the hands of the LNP’s handpicked team intent on breaking the museum – as the MAAS CEO puts it in her talks on how to break the museum, unmaking the institution. The dismal MAAS annual report reveals a museum that has lost sight of its purpose, its family audiences, its science and technology remit, and focus on education. The 2023 People Matter survey for MAAS shows staff have no confidence in the senior management. In our view the future of a 143 year old museum is still at risk, along with responsible spending of more than $1.3 billion in cultural infrastructure, not to mention baked-in high recurrent costs for NSW taxpayers for the Parramatta development which is based on a fantasy business case.’ (A very extensive and informed document followed. Read more!)
22 November, 2023: Further correspondence confirmed that PHM representatives Kylie Winkworth and Jennifer Sanders would meet the Minister to discuss issues directly with him on 27 November. As Winkworth wrote: ‘By coincidence Monday the 27th marks nine years since Mike Baird announced the Powerhouse Museum would be moving to Parramatta. Four premiers on, three CEOs, numerous broken promises, and token rounds of consultations where community and expert advice has been ignored, and we are again asked to accept the collection eviction and closure of the Powerhouse Museum, a museum which is supposed to have been saved. Twice.‘
22 November: a further PMA email included: ‘Personally I strongly object to the requirement to sign an NDA. As a former Trustee and museum expert of more than 40 years’ experience this insulting and contrary to all museum planning processes and ethical principles. No museum anywhere in this country or overseas is developed in a shroud of secrecy. We deeply regret that the Minister has not released any of the plans as he promised before the election. … If the government was serious about preserving the Wran legacy it would not have chosen to continue with the LNP’s stage 2 EIS for the Ultimo Creative Industries Precinct, retaining the same team that saw no heritage value in any part of the actual Powerhouse Museum. … The Stage 2 EIS will see these plans approved. The work of collection eviction and asset stripping is well underway. I note government declined the option to complete the Alan Croker Design 5 CMP which would have given the heritage revitalisation slogan some credibility. … And having promised to keep the Powerhouse Museum open only a few months ago we now know the PHM is closing. There is no need to entirely close a museum that only 35 years old.’…’There is no actual museum plan for the Powerhouse Museum. Hence the shroud of secrecy. The Minister may talk about retaining the PHM’s traditional focus on science, technology, engineering and transport but this has had no impact on the MAAS CEO and the LNP’s handpicked Trustees who have never wavered from their determination to ‘unmake the institution’ as the CEO puts it. The previous government said something similar when they announced the PHM was saved on 4 July 2020. The next day MAAS and Create NSW kept working on the same scheme from the 2018 business case. With some recent tweaks like keeping the shell of the Wran building, this is essentially the scheme the Minns government is now delivering as we witness the former Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences turn into a contemporary arts and entertainment organisation.
29 November, 2023: Kylie Winkworth followed up the meeting on 27 November, saying: We were surprised to walk into the meeting with Minister Graham on Monday to find the MAAS CEO and head of Create NSW already seated. It would have been a courtesy to tell us they would be attending. We had been asked to what you described as a ‘candid’ meeting with the Minister. We would not have accepted the invitation if we’d known they would be present. We had already told you that we would not sign an NDA and had no interest in meeting with the MAAS CEO and Head of Create NSW. …. In fact not a shred of information about the plans for the Powerhouse Museum or Parramatta has been released since Labor was elected. The secrecy around these projects is completely outside the norms of museum development and it is wasting millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money.
Only a few months ago the Minister announced we promised at the election we would preserve the Wran legacy and keep the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo open. We are doing just that. Read Media Release Here: This is not true. The Wran legacy will be finished with the closure of the museum next month. …We already know what will be in the EIS – not because anyone has broken a non-disclosure agreement – but because the proponents of this project have never wavered from their intent to rip the heart out of the Powerhouse Museum, evict all the collections, shrink the museum, change its remit to contemporary arts, and turn once dedicated exhibition galleries into venue hire and function spaces – sweating every single asset as the MAAS CEO shamelessly puts it in her public talks on how to break the museum. …’
‘Twice in the last nine years the Powerhouse Museum has been saved by community advocacy only to discover that ‘public servants’ have ignored the letter and intent of the government’s announcement and gone straight back to doing exactly what they planned, telling multiple lies in the process. The now head of Create NSW flat out lied under oath to John Graham last year in budget estimates, 5 September 2022, when she denied there was another conservation management plan for the Powerhouse Museum. … Countless lies have been told, including at the meeting on Monday, apropos the reckless demolition of the large showcases in the transport gallery without covering any of the remaining objects. … The MAAS CEO said she has confidence in her staff. The problem is that she doesn’t take their advice. And they have no confidence in her leadership if you read the 2023 People Matter survey results. The people that work in the museum can see the emperor has no clothes. It hasn’t dawned on the new government yet.
The CEO’s stated vision for the PHM is to ignore the weight of language, history and architecture, and not bow down to the monuments of the 20th century, to quote from her talks on breaking the museum. Now is the perfect time to be undoing our institutions she says. The MAAS CEO has no intention of preserving the Wran legacy. She has spent the last five years undoing it, if you paid attention to what is happening in the museum and read the annual reports.’ …
‘The MAAS CEO has ignored the spirit and intent of Labor’s announcement on 2 September, just as she did the former government’s announcement on 4 July 2020. That is why she is determined to close the museum and hide everything to do with her plans for the museum from public scrutiny. Next she will ask the staff to sign NDAs. ‘
If the Minister thinks he is saving the Wran legacy he might be the only person to believe this. With the removal of all the collections, the Powerhouse Museum will never reopen in any recognisable form as a museum. Unless there is a change of course the Minns government will be remembered for killing-off one of Labor’s cultural landmarks, delivering the essence of the LNP’s museum demolition scheme in the process. That this might be approved through misplaced confidence or naivety will not lessen the cultural crime, or public anger about Labor’s broken promises….The MAAS CEO boasts of not responding until it no longer matters, and that’s a very special bureaucratic strategy. This is what she did with the demolition of half the transport gallery, and the unnecessary move of the collections from the PHM’s purpose-designed collection store in the Harwood building into inferior and less accessible storage at Castle Hill.* Hundreds of objects were damaged in the process. …’‘I note we were advised in Monday’s meeting that the EIS is not close to release for public exhibition. It is not too late to save the Powerhouse Museum. The government could get much better value from its $250m investment through the staged revitalisation that we outlined, which includes renewal of the major exhibition galleries. This would keep parts of the museum open, engage the public in the renewal and conservation process, and create a sequence of exhibition launches over the next three years to show the government is keeping its promises. It will also keep the staff at Ultimo, preventing a looming brain drain. By all means get an independent opinion on this option if the Minister is sceptical of the advice of the PMA’s museum professionals with 40+ years of museum development experience, and the advice of Australia’s leading heritage conservation architect who spent a year closely inspecting the fabric of the building. We regret that we could not have the candid conversation we were promised on Monday which would have fleshed out more cost effective options for the heritage revitalisation of the PHM. In pressing ahead with the stage 2 SSD EIS, using the same LNP museum demolition hit squad, we fear the government is on the brink of a cultural and political disaster which may run for years.’
30 November, 2023
‘Stop the closure of the Powerhouse Museum’
Author Judith White wrote in her Culture Heist blog page, about that day’s debate to take place about Robert Borsak’s Notice of Motion for discussion about the decisions being made about the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo. She said: ‘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. … 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…’
‘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.’
To read the Culture Heist blog, as well as many informed comments about her concerns,
Read Here, and Here: Culture Heist 30 Nov
29 November, 2023
Powerhouse Museum: Notice of Motion
Robert Borsak, MP and former Chair of two Select Committees for comprehensive Inquiries into the former Government’s decision to close the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo and move it to Parramatta, circulated a Media Release announcing his Notice of Motion to read in Parliament later in the day. In the Media Release, he writes: ‘In response to concerns raised during Budget Estimates, the Minister for the Arts reaffirmed the government’s commitment to the Powerhouse Museum as a science and technology institution. However, upcoming events such as the Powerhouse Late: Heaps Gay have further cast doubt on the museum’s alignment with the government’s vision and election promises.’ Mr Borsak said, “I have called on the government to fulfill its pre-election commitments, end secrecy around the Powerhouse Museum’s plans, and ensure the preservation of priceless exhibits during the re-invigoration process”. He emphasised the importance of air-conditioned storage for exhibit pieces and calls for the replacement of the current CEO, Senior Directors, and Board of Directors with individuals committed to maintaining the museum as a technology and innovation hub. “My motion reflects a commitment to safeguarding the Powerhouse Museum Ultimo’s legacy and ensuring that it remains a valuable resource for education, inspiration, and enjoyment for all citizens of New South Wales”, Borsak said’.
Read here for Media Release: Media Release RB PHMU technological legacy
And Here for Notice of Motion: Notice of Motion PHM 29 Nov2023
And Here for a video of the speech in Parliament, with adjacent introduction, where: ‘As an advocate for preserving the Powerhouse Museum Ultimo’s legacy, I’ve just moved a motion in the NSW Parliament to affirm the Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party commitment to its role as a centre for technology and innovation.’ He said: ‘It’s time to fulfill pre-election promises, end secrecy, and safeguard the Powerhouse Museum’s invaluable legacy!
And for Minister Graham’s earlier media release on 2 September, which he refers to Read Here: Media Release Minister Graham 2 Sept
29 November, 2023
Following the Media Release (above) Save the Powerhouse Museum group reported in email and Facebook, that: ‘Borsak’s motion calls on the Upper House to: “affirm its support for Powerhouse Museum Ultimo to preserve the Wran legacy and keep the Powerhouse Museum open as a centre for technology and innovation suitable for all the citizens of NSW including families and children, not as a fringe art display gallery or revenue raising, function or event space, part-time fringe DJ dance floor or party venue.” It said that “The Powerhouse Museum CEO, Senior Management, and Board of Directors are obviously out of step with the Labor government’s vision for the Powerhouse Museum Ultimo and called for 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 technology and innovation museum run on world’s-best museological practice, not…an event and party venue compromising the values, as well as the integrity, of the priceless technological exhibits held at Ultimo for the education, inspiration and enjoyment of the citizens of New South Wales.” Save has long called for:
– Keeping the Powerhouse as a REAL Science and Technology Museum respecting the Wran heritage legacy.
– Keeping the Museum open during the “Revitalisation” process.
– Replacing the Management by a team which understands museums and is willing to follow the Government’s directions.
There is no reason to close the Museum on December 31 when no “Revitalisation” project has been approved or even made public. Save again asks the Minister to keep to his promises of an open and consultative process, release immediately the documents kept secret by the previous and his Government and consult widely BEFORE any decisions about capital works or closure are made’. Read more: Save the Powerhouse re Borsak
29 November, 2023
‘City’s cultural institutions have enriched us for so long that we have taken their continued success as a given’
The Editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald draws attention to the need for on-going program and staff government funding for major arts and museum organisations, apart from building development, saying ‘At a superficial level, Sydney could claim to be Australia’s cultural capital. Beyond a plethora of small galleries and strong emerging artist network, the inner city boasts the Sydney Opera House on Bennelong Point, Museum of Contemporary Art at Circular Quay, recently expanded Art Gallery of NSW in the Domain, soon-to-be-rebuilt Powerhouse in Ultimo, and increasingly popular Australian Museum near Hyde Park. Further west, $800 million is being spent on the exciting new Powerhouse Parramatta. These institutions have enriched our lives for so long that we have taken their continued success as a given.’… ‘But through the dogged work of arts writer Linda Morris, the Herald has built a good sense of what is really going on behind-the-scenes – and it’s not a pretty picture. Many of the venues entrusted to protect and showcase our art and history have been slowly strangled by a toxic combination of rising costs and stagnant government funding, seriously undermining Sydney’s claim to be a world-class cultural destination. Sydney likes to talk a big game when it comes to its cultural footprint, but political interest in the arts often only extends to making sure buildings look good. How the institution itself operates is of less importance to Macquarie Street decision makers, who see little political capital in making sure our galleries and museums have enough money to pay staff, keep the doors open seven days a week, maintain free entry, stage groundbreaking exhibitions, share their collections with regional galleries and museums, and act as an incubator for new talent.’
…’ A significant funding boost for the city’s major galleries and museums would make a huge difference to these institutions and be akin to a rounding error for the annual state budget. Will Premier Chris Minns and Arts Minister John Graham seize the opportunity to nourish our institutions in the same way they have nourished our city’s soul? It is the definition of a no-brainer.’ Read more Here: or Here: SMA Editorial 29 Nov
and for Linda Morris: ‘MCA weighs up end to free admission in face of budget crisis’, Read Here: or Here: SMH costs for galleries and museums
28 November, 2023
Hip-hop’s new epicentre: Western Sydney scene to be amplified at new Powerhouse
Helen Pitt, in the Sydney Morning Herald, records yet another example of how the management of the Powerhouse Museum is focusing in Parramatta on entertainment for local audiences, rather than an engaging and informative museum that has stories to tell and display from its existing and expanding collection of applied arts and sciences. She writes: ‘For decades the hip-hop culture emanating out of Western Sydney – considered the epicentre of emerging talent in the genre – has had no fixed address to call home.
Now music and street art representing neighbourhoods between Parramatta and Penrith will be honoured and sustained at Powerhouse Parramatta when it opens in 2025, under a cultural partnership between the new museum and Blacktown City Council. The Powerhouse Parramatta and Blacktown City Council Foundational Cultural Partnership is a five-year program set up to tell the urban and suburban stories of Blacktown, one of the most multicultural areas of Australia, with residents coming from 188 different birthplaces. It aims to spotlight the diversity of the creative skills of the communities, ranging from street art from Mount Druitt, and hip-hop across the region to Pacific Islanders’ weaving. Powerhouse Parramatta will be the new home of 4ESydney, which empowers youth, and champions emerging hip-hop musical talent, as well as hosts Australia’s only hip-hop festival and conference, called 4Elements.’
Read more: or Here: SMH Hip Hop at Parra
[The Powerhouse Museum Alliance and others continue to ask why Parramatta does not already have its own community art centre and gallery, and why the Powerhouse Museum must be so badly changed from its acknowledged and successful purpose and programs.]
Powerhouse Museum staff ratings: 2023 Public Sector Employee Survey
The 2023 Public Sector Employee Survey provides ratings on employment issues for a number or arts and museum organisations, including the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (Powerhouse Museum). For MAAS the results confirm concerns of those within the workplace for the management of the Museum and doubts about its program for the future. Powerhouse Museum Alliance and Save the Powerhouse have summarised the ratings here, saying ‘Employee feedback on the management and leadership at MAAS has further deteriorated from the atrocious results in 2022. What is especially notable in this survey is the comparative difference between MAAS and its peers in the sector.’
A summary for MAAS shows, among a number of ratings:
– 36% of survey respondents intend to apply for jobs elsewhere in the public service (+3% from the sector) and 21% intend to leave within a year (+13% from the sector).
– Only 18% think change is well managed in the organisation (-3% from the previous year and -21% from the sector).
– Only 31% think senior managers model the values of the organisation (-4% from the previous year and -23% from the sector).
– Only 25% think senior staff provide clear directions for the future of the organisation (-7% from the previous year and -25% from the sector).
– Only 34% agree that the processes in the organisation are designed to support the best experience for customers (-22% from the sector).
– Only 42% agree that the organisation meets the needs of the communities, people and or businesses of NSW (-2% from the last year and -22% from the sector).
– And a staggering 42% want to leave because of the poor quality of the senior leadership (+16% from the sector)
Former MAAS Trustee and Senior Museum Consultant, Kylie Winkworth commented ‘This is what happens when a once-renowned public museum is turned into a contemporary arts organisation, at the expense of its focus on audiences, education and developing a collection of long term value’. Save the Powerhouse adds (refer Facebook) ‘Staff members are dissatisfied, visitation is at an all-time low, essential repairs are neglected and valued permanent exhibitions have been dismantled. Above all the Minister for the Arts’ vision of a popular Science and Technology Museum is constantly undermined by the current management team, pointing to the Museum imminent closure at the end of the year. Time for a change?’
Read more: PSA Survey with MAAS
To see the files online, Read Here (select Enterprise Investment and Trade),
Or Here for MAAS: NP0220766 – Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences
and other state arts and museum organisations:
NP0220592 – Art Gallery of NSW
NP0220597 – Australian Museum
NP0220780 – Museums of History
NP0220788 – State Library of NSW
NP0220794 – Sydney Opera House
24 November, 2023
‘PHM CLOSURE ON DECEMBER 31 DOES NOT MAKE SENSE’
Save the Powerhouse group documents on its email and Facebook, that according to Infrastructure NSW’s projects page, ‘We are reliably informed that the Powerhouse MUSEUM in Ultimo is going to close for “Revitalisation” for a period of at least 3 years, starting 31 December, 2023 and all the exhibitions listed on the Museum’s webpage end on that date.’
But they note that ‘Just over a month before this major event there has been no public announcement from the Management, nor from the Ministry for the Arts, and plans for the “Renewal”, recently re-packaged as “Revitalisation” continue in the same secretive way as it has been in place since Mike Baird’s statement in November 2015 that the Powerhouse would move to Parramatta. The same teams at MAAS, Create NSW and Infrastructure NSW, who planned the entire demolition of the Museum under Premier Mike Baird, a “presence” under Premier Berejiklian and a “Renewal” under Premier Perrottet, are still in charge. Their goal is to maintain secrecy over a decade of confected business plans, backflips and dozens of $millions of taxpayers’ money spent on private consultants.
The wide consultations repeatedly promised by the Minister for the Arts were limited to listening to a few powerful lobbyists and the public, the community groups and the museum experts were never heard.’
Save the Powerhouse continues: ‘We believe there is no justification for the closure of the MUSEUM‘ and provide a number of reasons (see attached below). They ask: SO WHY?
– Is there an operational budget short-fall that does not allow MAAS to continue the Museum’s operation?
– Are large parts of this budget being transferred to Parramatta?
– Is the Management eager to pursue its path of destruction on the MUSEUM and its collection even before any “Revitalisation” project is finalised?
Is anyone ever going to answer these questions?
The EIS Exhibition is likely to attract numerous opposing submissions. Is the old LNP’s device of confecting a fake “Response to Submissions” going to be used again? If the Museum closes in a month’s time we will never see again the Science and Technology “people’s” Museum we loved and that the Minister for the Arts and the Premier promised to keep until very recently. Lisa Havilah’s dream of turning the MUSEUM into a creative industries/contemporary arts and entertainment centre will be achieved and the Wran heritage obliterated forever!’
READ MORE: 24 Nov PHM Closure!
19 November, 2023
‘Setback to Powerhouse Museum’s $44 million extension’
Linda Morris reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, about expected delays to the development of the new building for this controversial location, far distant from central Sydney and state audiences, writing that: ‘The public opening of a state-of-the-art extension to the Powerhouse Museum’s storage facilities in Sydney’s northwest is running months late because the building has not yet met current fire standards; the state’s arts agency has still to obtain an occupancy certificate from Fire and Rescue NSW for the storage facility built inside the Museum Discovery Centre at Castle Hill; and the facility remains closed because the existing fire hydrant system the new building tapped into was deemed to have supplied insufficient pressure to run the sprinkler system.
The three-storey facility is to provide expanded storage – and weekend public access – to 300,000 objects in the museum’s collection including winged aircraft, historic trains, and helicopters. The Powerhouse Museum has been waiting since June to move dozens of staff including its conservation teams into the building ahead of the expected closure of its Ultimo museum for renovations. After shuffling the building’s opening dates several times, Create NSW said the storehouse won’t open now until 2024, when a new fire hydrant system is commissioned.
Read more Here, or Here: SMH Linda M Parra storage setback
11 November, 2023
1,001 Remarkable Objects
‘An irresistible, mindboggling exhibition awakens sense of wonder’
(Note: extracts in […] are from original draft)
Art critic John McDonald wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald that: ‘When Leo Schofield and a group of associate curators put together an exhibition called 1,001 Remarkable Objects, from the voluminous collections of the Powerhouse Museum, the emphasis was on the word: “remarkable”. The whole point of this irresistible, mind-boggling display, spread across 25 rooms, is to reawaken our sense of wonder …. Every piece in this show has a story, but they are best sampled first-hand. Curatorially, 1,001 Remarkable Objects is a cultural pot-pourri, with disparate items clustered together based on a shared motif or theme. In some rooms, it’s as if Schofield, along with Mark Sutcliffe, Ronan Sulich and Eva Czernis-Ryl, simply put a word such as “peacock” or “music” into the collection database and selected the strangest things that popped up. Ephemeral items of pop culture are juxtaposed with artefacts of ancient civilisations, tiny pieces of jewellery are linked with great clunking pieces of furniture. Viewers see everything from an Arnott’s biscuit to an electric car manufactured in Detroit in 1917. One extraordinary pairing puts a medieval suit of armour alongside the wheel of the plane in which Charles KingsfordSmith perished when he crashed in November 1935. The effect is almost hallucinogenic…’
‘This approach, so contrary to the usual curatorial processes, harks back to the ancestor of the modern museum: the Wunderkammer, or cabinet of curiosities, in which royal courts and wealthy connoisseurs in the 17th and 18th centuries would display historical treasures, works of art, items of natural history and ingenious mechanisms … 1,001 Remarkable Objects serves as an urgent reminder of the depth and breadth of the permanent collection. It could be seen as a “greatest hits” package, but the rationales for this show are more complex.’
‘Leo Schofield has been a consistent critic of the previous government’s plans for the Powerhouse, which involved starving it of funds and then pushing through a preposterous billion-dollar scheme to move the museum to Parramatta, in defiance of public outrage and expert condemnation. He has been equally unimpressed by what has followed, namely the claim that the Ultimo establishment is “saved”, while the collection has been shunted into storage at Castle Hill [resulting in numerous damage reports. The fate of the Harwood Building remains under a cloud, and the historical mission of the museum is threatened by new management that seems determined to turn Ultimo into a contemporary art and fashion hub, while the unwanted new building in Parramatta becomes a depot for food and beverage]… [Elsewhere in the Powerhouse, a potentially interesting drawing show has been ambushed by neo-conceptual artist, Agatha Gothe Snape, who has been allowed to fill the galleries with her ‘creative’ interventions … Under current management, who have spent more than $1.5 million in a rebranding exercise that has erased the word “museum” from the institution’s title, such gestures represent the future of the Powerhouse while 1,001 Remarkable Objects represents the past. Yet …] Schofield’s riotous cabinet of curiosities respects the individuality and dignity of objects that have not been co-opted into any political or aesthetic program. [The people responsible for this glorious vision, which – prior to 1,001 Remarkable Objects – had reduced Powerhouse attendances to their lowest ebb since the 1960s, probably see the Schofield exhibition as a way of demonstrating their public commitment to the collection. To them it is a piece of useful theatre that provides cover for the wholesale demolition job being enacted behind the scenes.]’
‘For Schofield, one suspects an entirely different motivation: namely to throw a spotlight on an incredible collection that is being treated in the most cavalier fashion. At the conclusion of this show, on December 31, the vast majority of objects on display will disappear into storage in Castle Hill, joining other items that have been hauled off into obscurity, destined to resurface only as part of someone’s art or political statement.
1,001 Remarkable Objects may be a PR exercise for the new regime, but for Schofield and his curatorium, it is a Trojan horse, showing us what will be lost if the Powerhouse is comprehensively made over, sacrificing its unique identity as a museum of applied arts and sciences. It’s a plea to give the public what it really wants rather than impose a set of priorities that reflect the ideological values of those who have been handed the reins of power.
In a recent budget estimates hearing, Premier Chris Minns said: “The ultimate mission of the Powerhouse was really the advancement of science, showcasing innovation in NSW”. But under the Powerhouse’s new direction, science and innovation are being sidelined, and social history is being rewritten in narrow, partisan terms. If the Labor government is serious about honouring its election promise to preserve the Powerhouse as a museum, it needs to stop prevaricating and act swiftly and decisively. Otherwise, most of Schofield’s remarkable objects will be gathering dust for a very long time. The only experience of wonder involved will be to wonder how this could ever have been allowed to happen.’ Read Here, or Here: SMH John McD 1001 objects
Note: includes sections edited from original as […], and sourced from McDonald’s website
12 November, 2023
‘Collection that refuses a Once-over’
Christopher Allen, in The Australian, reviews the Powerhouse Museum’s exhibition, 1,001 Remarkable Objects, saying ‘A Sydney exhibition is so rich with intriguing items from a vast history of mankind. It will keep you doubling back.’
He documents very informed responses to the content, the display and the significance to historical and contemporary aspects of museums.
Read Here: (with text version to come) Christopher Allen The Australian 12 November
8 November, 2023
‘The City, the River and the Museum: Ways of Knowing the Parramatta/Burramatta River.’
In a local context, which includes the ‘flood’ issues associated with the development of the proposed ‘Powerhouse Parramatta’ Western Sydney University organised a symposium to discuss these issues. Their invitation said: ‘This symposium brings together researchers, scientists, policy makers, artists, activists, community members and museum workers to focus on different aspects of the Parramatta River as a central feature of Parramatta’s growing role as the Central River City in Greater Sydney.
Parramatta is the furthest navigable point inland on the Parramatta River, and also the point at which the river becomes freshwater. Aboriginal people once fished from bark canoes on the river, and the river continues to be a place of Aboriginal cultural significance. The river was also an important transport corridor between Sydney and Parramatta, and most of the Parramatta River was once swimmable. By the 1950s, however, a lack of regulation and rapid industrial development caused substantial pollution and degradation of the water quality. Today, there are growing calls and initiatives to restore the Parramatta River’s significance as the green heart of the city. The arrival of the Powerhouse Parramatta – scheduled to open in 2025 – is a catalyst for this development.
The symposium will discuss the ways in which the Parramatta/Burramatta River exemplifies the multiple roles of rivers in the lives of cities and their environs through intersecting physical, social and cultural structures and processes.’
Read more Here, and Here: UniWS Conference re Parra floods
Comments from Powerhouse Museum Alliance correspondents:
(most names withheld), about the University of Western Sydney’s conference on Floods.
Abbreviated comments include:
1: ‘So the symposium is about ‘Ways of Knowing the Parramatta River’. Hmmm, how about a session summarising the latest flood study?’
2: ‘Right from the beginning the university’s support for the ‘museum’ has been for its own programs at the new Powerhouse Museum site.’
3: ‘What’s the point? The river – at least at Parramatta – is as much lost as Willow Grove. Meriton et al have built high rise towers within metres of the riverbank and overturned planning controls to maintain the views down the river corridor from Parramatta Park. Developers including the Powerhouse have destroyed the river’s history, (demolishing Willow Grove the last riverside garden villa in Parramatta). They have wrecked the scale and public amenity of the river, and made it impossible to appreciate its history and significance.
4: I note the PP’s flood advisor is Arup’s who designed the Windsor Bridge which regularly disappears under flood waters and fails to achieve what it was designed to do – safely link the population on both sides of the river in times of flood. I agree we should request the Government commission a new study of the flood risks given updates re flood risk and, changes to the building – as well as the report by Steve Molino … and Dr John Macintosh’s evidence, …which are unambiguous in their overall conclusions of why would you build a museum – or indeed large public building – on a flood prone site with limited access in and out of the site.’
5: ‘May I suggest, in the light of the recent Parramatta Council release of an updated flood risk impact assessment, that you reread Kylie Winkworth’s outstanding submission to the Select Committee into Museums (Upper House Inquiry) Mark II, in 2021.’
Read More: Comments Flood conference
9 November, 2023:
‘MINISTER GRAHAM RE-EMPHASISES SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY MUSEUM FOR POWERHOUSE ULTIMO’
The Daily Mail report below (6 November) was followed up in NSW Parliament on 9 November. On 12 November, Save the Powerhouse Museum group reported in email and Facebook that: ‘Minister for the Arts John Graham, answered questions during the 9 November Budget Estimates session and disclaimed responsibility for the Absolutely Queer exhibition excesses. Read here. (Pages 19 to 21)
Mark Banasiak, MLC, showing sexually explicit images from the exhibition, “which is best described as exhibit of sex, cosplay, etc…”, asked “whether this (fitted) into the (Government’s) view of good family entertainment.” “The souvenir shop (also) had explicit souvenirs” he added.
The Minister admitted that there were “far less families going to the Powerhouse at the moment” and re-affirmed the Government’s “very clear vision” for the Powerhouse: “It’s very much a science and technology museum and very much the institution that the Powerhouse has been known and loved for.” He concluded that the Absolutely Queer exhibition was “probably straying outside the Government’s direction for a science and technology museum.” “We will take some time to work through that with the Powerhouse” he added, but, as Arts Minister, “I am not going to interfere in particular exhibitions.”
“Clearly the leadership of the Powerhouse museum doesn’t share (your) vision or direction for the Powerhouse Museum, do they?” concluded Banasiak. Read Here: Save the P Govt response (Watch the video of the proceedings HERE)
6 November, 2023
‘Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum is slammed after sexually-explicit exhibit is set up next to popular attraction for children’
Writing for the Daily Mail Australia, Sarah Liversidge reports on the Absolutely Queer exhibition that: ‘A popular child-friendly museum has been slammed for allowing a sexually explicit exhibition to run alongside child-friendly activities. A shocked patron came across the racy exhibition while visiting the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney and uploaded a video to social media documenting his shock. …
In the video, Sam shows viewers around an exhibit of an old train set up at the museum. ‘The kids will love this,’ he said. But then the camera turns around to show a cardboard cutout of a woman dressed in a skimpy black leather outfit. The camera then goes inside the room housing the queer exhibition and comes across another carboard cutout of a man with exposed buttocks. …’ I’m not a prude,’ Sam said. …’This is supposed to be about science but instead it’s a whole lot of sexual innuendo being injected into kids’ minds under the guise of science,’ he says. A spokesperson for the Powerhouse Museum told Daily Mail Australia: ‘The Powerhouse Museum is proud to present diverse views and stories from Sydney’s queer creatives through the Absolutely Queer exhibition’. See Here. ‘At entrances to this exhibition, content information exists to assist visitors including parents with children navigating the museum. ‘These signs clearly state, “This exhibition celebrates the creativity and resilience of the LGBTQIA+ community. It contains swearing, sexually explicit language, nudity and religious references.”’ Read More. For video, See here.
25 October, 2023
PREMIER ANSWERS TO ROBERT BORSAK’s BUDGET ESTIMATES QUESTIONS
Save the Powerhouse Museum group documents the questions asked in Parliament during a “Budget Estimates” session on October 25, by former Chair of Enquiry, Robert Borsak, and the replies provided by Premier Chris Minns on October 25. They provide the questions asked relating to the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo, and responses given, and then summarise a large number of continuing issues that remain unresolved:
They note: ‘To Borsak’s question “It has been announced that the Government, in its renewal of the Powerhouse Museum, will deliver a dynamic applied arts and applied sciences program. What’s your understanding of what that means?” he answered “The ultimate mission of the Powerhouse Museum was really the advancement of science”, reaffirming the NSW Government’s commitment to re-establishing a Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. Even so, he seemed unfamiliar with the details. To the question “Do you ‘believe the persons advising him have the expertise they need to return that facility to a proper arts and sciences museum?” he answered” I’m not sure who he’s getting his advice from…but I haven’t heard that he’s getting bad advice or from the wrong people.”
Among other leading questions, he responded to the question: “Would you agree with the concept that a technology and applied arts and sciences museum really does need to be put back on that site?…this is a unique technology museum that has stood there since the eighties” The Premier responded “Yes, I think you’re right and I think showing the evolution of the Powerhouse, and not just the Powerhouse but showing the evolution of how scientific innovation and technology has changed in Australia, is really important for our national story…” Save the Powerhouse Museum summarises: ‘This is exactly what the community wants: a museum that showcases science history (steam revolution, transport and space, etc.) while showing how science and technology continuously evolve to transform Australia and the world…which is a long way from the CEO’s vision of a fashion and event centre! And where does this leave Minister John Graham and CEO Havilah and team? Keep watching for more “Budget Estimates”.
Read more Here: Premier replies to Borsak 25 Oct
See also: Budget estimate, Portfolio Committee No 6: Transport and the Arts
Extract from NSW Government, Hansard: relating to Powerhouse Museum: Read here: Budget Estimates PHM 25 Oct
16 October, 2023
DESPITE MINISTERIAL STATEMENT, NOTHING AT PHM HAS CHANGED?
Save the Powerhouse Museum comments:
‘Shortly after the Treasurer, Daniel Mookhey delivered the 2023-24 NSW Government budget on September 19, John Graham, Minister for the Arts, said in the Upper House ( Read here: or Here: ) that “Museums have always been democratic places…The Government wants the Powerhouse Museum that the people of New South Wales have always known and loved: a museum of applied arts and sciences, a temple to technology and science…a place where families…could get off the train at Central, and within a short walk they could be in the Powerhouse Museum alongside Locomotive No. 1 or, indeed, launching into space.” This followed the September 2 announcement that the $500M “Renewal” was abandoned and replaced by a $250M “Heritage Revitalisation”, even though, budget details showed that only $119M was budgeted over the next 4 years. Despite his apparent good intentions, it seems that that we are being offered exactly the same project (to transform our beloved Science and Technology Museum into a fashion and event centre) re-packaged for the third time, from Berejiklian’s “Presence”, to Perrottet’s ”Renewal”, to Minns’ “Revitalisation”. The same MAAS/Create NSW/Infrastructure NSW management team is currently working on yet another version of the same project even though they have consistently disdained Applied Arts and Sciences and demonstrated a clear lack of Museum experience and understanding. The Museum CEO has regularly stated her intention to close the Ultimo site at the end of this year and fire visitation staff, confusing curatorial and consultant positions, move professional curators to Castle Hill and move unnecessarily collection objects to Castle Hill, and denied they have been damaged. She said in 2021 that her intention was to “ignore the weight of history, language and architecture” (Here) contradicting the Minister’s statement about respecting the historical and architectural “Wran Heritage” and carrying out a “Heritage Revitalisation”.’
They note also that ‘The recent resolutions of the Heritage Council of NSW (Here) confirm our concerns’, and provide many issues and recommendations for the Minister to consider, and for supporters to follow up. Only relentless pressure from the powerful Powerhouse Museum supporting community which has already saved the Museum from demolition can halt this destructive project.
We urge you to send your concerns immediately to the Minister at https://www.nsw.gov.au/nsw-government/ministers/minister-for-roads-arts-music-and-night-time-economy-jobs-tourism and encourage your friends and families to do the same.
Read more here: Nothing has Changed 16 Oct
11 October 2023
CAMPAIGN TO SAVE THE POWERHOUSE
Australia’s major Museum of Arts and Sciences in Sydney’s most evocative heritage building.
Long-term supporter of the Powerhouse Museum, Tom Lockley, published his final Bulletin 91, the last in a long series of summaries of issues, questions and concerns, about the future of the Museum in Ultimo. He says:
‘In brief: the Government has promised to develop a scheme for the Powerhouse Museum Ultimo ‘Heritage Revitalisation’, not further defined beyond an earlier statement that there will be a ‘dynamic applied arts and sciences program, presenting exhibitions that showcase the Powerhouse Collection and attract international exhibitions…’. But it is being developed by the same planners who have been operating for the past eight years, and of course we have heard nothing about involvement of people with experience and qualifications in museum work. The rumour is that the ‘design and fashion emphasis’ is not dead, but may be dressed up as ‘the retention and repurposing’ of the heritage building. An allied rumour is that the museum will still be closed during major alterations, hardly necessary if the popular and highly significant steam display, the heart of the museum, is to be retained.
The constant demand for the future has been for THE Powerhouse MUSEUM to remain as the main Australian museum dedicated to the vital interface between the applied arts and sciences, in its present magnificent heritage building on its present site, most accessible to the state, the country and the world. So, until this is achieved, another battle has to be fought.’ He notes that: ‘There is a little bit of progress in getting heritage protection for the museum. On 8 October the Heritage Council of NSW resolved to ‘note the significance of the 1988 adaptive reuse of the entire site to create the Powerhouse Museum’ and ‘to recognise its social and historic significance’. The experts of the Powerhouse Museum Alliance are examining the report in detail, but at least it is a step forward from the ‘tear down and rebuild’ plan of the previous Government.’
Lockley documents a number of related concerns, and concludes: ‘I need to thank the people who are still reading! … Over the years, there have been a few comments to the effect that the struggle is useless – why try to beat these people who have usurped democratic power? Other people have been afraid to openly criticise Government policy because they are Government employees or contractors, which is of even greater concern…But overall this experience over the period since our first publication, May 2015, has been very positive, and a great affirmation of the collective wisdom of the supporters of Australian culture. I do think that the battle is nearly won, and that our museum will survive. Read more: Tom Lockley Last Bulletin 91
1 October, 2021
MAAS CEO’s 2021 STATEMENT CONTRADICTS 2023 MINISTERIAL PROMISE
Save the Powerhouse Museum writes that:
‘On August 27th, 2021 Lisa Havilah, MAAS CEO, said that her intention was to “ignore the weight of history, language and architecture” in Ultimo. (Read here.)
This contradicts directly John Graham, Minister for the Arts, statement on September 2nd, 2023, that the Minns Labor Government would carry out a “Heritage Revitalisation” to the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo. (Read here.)
He said that “The NSW Government is delivering on its election commitment to save the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo and preserve the Wran legacy.The Minns Labor Government is committing $250 million for a heritage revitalisation to the Powerhouse Museum Ultimo…The iconic and much-loved 1988 Wran building will be saved…”
They ask: ‘But can a leopard change its spots? The CEO has consistently displayed her lack of understanding of Applied Arts and Science and Museology and her preference for elitist fashion shows and late evening events completely unrelated to a museum’s real mission (see ICOM definition of a museum HERE ).
In contrast the Minister said he wants the revitalised Museum to be “…a democratic place…that the people of New South Wales have always known and loved…a temple to technology and science”…a place where families could take a short walk along the Goodsline to be alongside Locomotive No. 1.’ They suggest that: ‘If you have an opinion on this blatant contradiction between the Minister’s stated intentions and the MAAS CEO’s objectives or on any other aspect of the “Revitalisation” write to the Minister HERE.
‘Structural updates in Parramatta’
Infrastructure NSW and Lendlease report on developments taking place at the Parramatta site for the proposed ‘Powerhouse Parramatta’. They say: ‘Powerhouse Parramatta is the largest investment in cultural infrastructure since the Sydney Opera House, and the first major NSW cultural institution to be established in Western Sydney. Lendlease is responsible for the detailed design and construction of Powerhouse Parramatta.
Their summary includes: Latest updates; Key construction activities; Structural works ; Other work in progress; Upcoming construction activities: October to December; News and events; ABC News exclusive; Breaking Ground Program; More information.
To read the details Read here, and Here: INSW and Lendlease Parra construction and for ABC video, here: ABC video Parra construction
25 September, 2023
‘The Powerhouse Museum Parramatta receives $8M donation to support engineering and science in Western Sydney.’
In a Media Release from the Minister for the Arts, it was announced that:
‘Engineering and science education will benefit from an $8 million donation to the Powerhouse Museum in Parramatta by the Sir William Tyree Foundation supporting generations of students, particularly in Western Sydney. Sir William Tyree, who built an engineering and manufacturing empire in south-west Sydney, was a passionate advocate for education and giving back. This visionary donation from the Tyree Foundation will establish:
… an Australian Engineering Summit to showcase research excellence and innovation while engaging future generations to embrace the endless possibilities of engineering. Delivered by the Powerhouse annually, the summit will bring together engineering leaders from Australia and around the world and will feature keynote speeches, panel discussions, industry led workshops, and an industry expo.
… an annual, free, hands-on engineering school holiday workshops for Year 7 to 10 students from Western Sydney. The Powerhouse will collaborate with TAFE NSW to devise programs that encourage students to learn about leading new technologies across engineering and science.
… the Tyree Foundation Gallery, one of the most significant gallery spaces at Powerhouse Parramatta, will feature an impressive 2000 square metres of floor space and an 8-metre-high ceiling. The gallery will present world-class immersive exhibitions related to the world of engineering and science.’
Comments are documented from: Minister for the Arts John Graham, Chair of Sir William Tyree Foundation Robbie Fennell, Powerhouse Trust President Peter Collins AM KC, and Powerhouse Chief Executive Lisa Havilah. Read more Here; or Here Media release Parra donation
As well, among other announcements in the News From Powerhouse, email newsletter, the donation and its purpose is also discussed, as TYREE FOUNDATION GALLERY; VISIONARIES – SIR WILLIAM TYREE FOUNDATION.
Comments include: ‘We are thrilled to partner with Powerhouse Parramatta. This investment reinforces the Sir William Tyree Foundation’s ongoing commitment to developing the next generation of Australian innovators, engineers, and entrepreneurs. We are very proud to support students across Western Sydney and NSW to actively pursue engineer-related education and careers and to catalyse multidisciplinary collaborations right here at Powerhouse Parramatta.’ Robyn Fennell, Chair, Sir William Tyree Foundation.
‘The Tyree Foundation Gallery at Powerhouse Parramatta will present nationally and internationally important exhibitions that connect audiences with new ideas around engineering, technology and culture. The programs that Tyree Foundation has so generously supported will bring together educators, researchers, and industry leaders to create new pathways for young people across NSW into future engineering and science jobs.’ The Hon John Graham MLC, NSW Minister for the Arts. Read more Here, or Here: Tyree Foundation Gallery PHM news
18 September, 2023
‘Borsak Queries in the Upper House Raise More Questions’
Following the release of the Q&As (below), Save the Powerhouse (Facebook) group circulated very relevant summaries and further questions. Comments included:
‘But the meticulously-crafted answers received just raise more questions. Is the same team (museum management and trustees, Create NSW, Infrastructure NSW and Consultants), responsible for the $1.5 Billion Powerhouse debacle for nearly a decade, going to direct the Powerhouse Museum Ultimo “Heritage Revitalisation”? …How could the Minister be confident that this team could “deliver a dynamic applied…and sciences program, presenting exhibitions that showcase the Powerhouse Collection and attract international exhibitions…” within budget? Especially when the current management has consistently shown its disdain for Applied Arts and Sciences and its lack of Museum experience.
Is the current SSD (State Significant Development) application for a $500 Million “Renewal”, now defunct according to the Minister, going to be used for the “Revitalisation” project although the building envelope scope of work is totally different? … Are the broad consultations, repeatedly promised by the Minister, going to take place, if ever, only after the “Revitalisation” details are finalised and, as under the previous Government, when nothing is left to debate? Is the inadequate (see Docomomo’s submission of July 2022 http://tiny.cc/yp7bvz ) “Curio” CMP (Conservation Management Plan), which replaced the professional draft CMP from Alan Crocker, going to be revived? If so, who wrote the brief and when will it be released? Will the inadequate current heritage listing which only protects the original powerhouse buildings external walls and omits the interiors, the 1988 Wran extensions, the Harwood building and the collections remain unaltered? Will the Museum be closed (when? and for how long?) and large objects be moved for the “Revitalisation”? And, if so, why when experts advise that they could protected on site?
… The Minister announced that “INSW WILL procure qualified engineers…” Why did this decision take 6 months when it was obvious, well before the election, that the site needed a qualified engineer’s assessment after over a decade of gross neglect? The Minister confirmed that the Harwood building’s collection storage facilities will no longer be used and that the transfer of the collections to Castle Hill were now a “fait accompli”. He did not indicate however the future function of the building but said that HE IS ADVISED that “there are no plans to sell or lease the Harwood building or the Wran Building or any part of the sits” and that “there are CURRENTLY no plans for (UTS) to lease or purchase any Powerhouse facility”. What does this mean?
Well, Minister for the Arts, how do you answer these questions? Read more Here: Q&A Followup – Save the Powerhouse
Powerhouse Museum Ultimo: Questions and Answers in Parliament: Borsak to Graham
On 24 August, 2023, Robert Borsak MP, who chaired both Upper House Inquiries into the Powerhouse Museum management, asked John Graham, Minister for the Arts, many seriously significant questions about the future of the Powerhouse Museum. These questions cover issues that have been debated, and generally unanswered, for many years. By mid-September, both the Questions, and the Answers to them, became available in Hansard. The questions and the answers received are now available as one of the House Business Papers for questions 1147, 1148, 1149, 1150, 1151: starting Here.
For full transcript Read Here. Parliament – Questions and Answers Sept 2023
19 September, 2023
NSW Budget report, referring to Powerhouse Museum
Minister John Graham is reported in Hansard regarding the government’s proposals for arts and culture, including comments regarding current plans for the Powerhouse Museum. Within a longer statement, he said: ‘I turn to arts and culture matters. It has been a tight budget and there is a cost‑of‑living battle. In that context, the Minns Labor Government has delivered $1.2 billion into arts and culture and the experience economy. That is a remarkable investment. As I said, the proportion for arts and culture has increased significantly since the last pre-COVID budget. That is very welcome.’ He continues: ‘Museums have always been democratic places. That is the tradition we have built in New South Wales. The budget not only continues that tradition but also strengthens it. The Government is delivering on the election commitment to save the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo, committing $250 million to a heritage revitalisation. The Government wants the Powerhouse Museum that the people of New South Wales have always known and loved: a museum of applied arts and sciences, a temple to technology and science. Like the majestic Catalina flying boat Frigate Bird II, until recently the future of this beloved museum had been up in the air. On Saturday 2 September, the Minns Government ended what had been a sorry eight-year saga. The first plan that the former Government conceived was for the museum to be shuttered and moved. Then, when community outcry from across New South Wales took the former Government by surprise, it offered up the planned half a billion-dollar knockdown rebuild. It would have made the project the Allianz Stadium of the museum world. One thing that the former Government never quite understood was the passionate community support for that institution, not just from the local community but also from citizens around the State. It was a place where families from the outer suburbs of Sydney or from regional New South Wales could get off the train at Central, and within a short walk they could be in the Powerhouse Museum alongside Locomotive No. 1 or, indeed, launching into space. That is one of the reasons there has been such strong support. The $250 million heritage revitalisation is an example of the sort of approach we will take in government, and I am pleased to commend it to the House.’ Read more of the Statement Here: or Here: 2023 Hansard re Powerhouse
‘A long-term fiscally responsible approach to the State’s infrastructure program’
Within its overall infrastructure funding statement, the Budget noted: ‘In recent years, the State’s infrastructure program has continued to expand, white high inflation was driving up input prices and market capacity was highly constrained. The State has seen record levels of capital slippage (e.g., $6.8 billion in 2022-23). The program has stretched the State’s balance sheet, with the 2023 Pre-election Budget Update projecting gross debt to rise to $188.2 billion by June 2026 and interest expenses to $7.0 billion by 2025-26. In April 2023, the Government commissioned an independent expert, Ken Kanofski, to undertake a review of the State’s infrastructure program – the Strategic Infrastructure Review. The Review was commissioned in response to significant challenges facing the NSW infrastructure program, driven by substantial cost escalation, the ongoing impacts of COVID and the need for a fairer distribution of investment. The Review was tasked with identifying infrastructure projects and programs that should no longer proceed, be delayed or de-scoped, to get the State’s infrastructure pipeline back on stable footing. Following the Review, the Government has agreed to delay or descope projects worth more than $2.5 billion.’ This included reference to the Powerhouse Museum.
Read more Here: Budget Extracts Sept 2023
11 September, 2023
‘Media Release: Willow Grove’
Minister John Graham’s media release announces: ‘The NSW Minns Labor Government will not proceed with a costly rebuild of Willow Grove in Parramatta, following comments from Heritage experts that a rebuild would be an act of “fake heritage”. The former Liberal Government demolished Willow Grove in late 2021, with the promise of rebuilding the heritage mansion at an alternative site. It has now been revealed the former Liberal Government never allocated funds for the reconstruction. The former government never resolved an alternative site.
Moving forward the Minns Labor Government has outlined three priorities to address the Parramatta community cultural and heritage needs:
1. Supporting the new Powerhouse Museum at Parramatta to appropriately engage with the
heritage of their site.
2. Working with local community to consider the options to secure the Roxy Theatre for future
generations. This includes developing a comprehensive Final Business Case for reactivating
3. Seek advice from the heritage and local community stakeholders the best way for the
materials from Willow Grove to be used.’ Read more here: 230911 MR GRAHAM – Willow Grove
10 September, 2023
‘Willow Grove won’t be rebuilt in Parramatta, NSW government decides’
Housnia Shams, in ABC News, wrote that: ‘The NSW government has ditched a plan to rebuild the historic 19th-century Willow Grove house in Parramatta … Built between 1870 and 1880, the villa was torn down in 2021 to make way for the new Powerhouse Museum in Parramatta, despite opposition from community groups. Parts of Willow Grove, including over 90 per cent of the original bricks, the slate roofing, windows, the front door, timber framing and fence have been kept in secure storage. The building was set to be reconstructed at an alternative site under a proposal by the previous Coalition government, but Arts Minister John Graham has scrapped the plan, saying a rebuild would be a “terrible idea”. “It was a tragedy that Willow Grove was demolished, particularly against the community’s strong wishes to preserve it,” he said. “The former government did not allocate funds or find a site for reconstruction, despite their promises that Willow Grove would be rebuilt. Given the heritage and broader community are strongly telling us that attempting to rebuild the beloved Willow Grove would be a bad use of taxpayer money – that it would be a ‘fake heritage’ — and that there’s no money to do so, today we are drawing a line under this sorry saga… Mr Graham said the government would instead focus on other heritage sites in Parramatta, including the Roxy Theatre…The North Parramatta Residents Action Group (NPRAG), which led protests to save Willow Grove, welcomed the decision. “Thankfully sanity has prevailed, no Willow Grove Frankenstein will be resurrected,” NPRAG spokesperson Suzette Meade said. “It must not be forgotten that we lost Willow Grove due to the former government’s refusal to acknowledge the community and experts’ opinions. “How we honour its memory into the future must be driven by the community.” The government said it would seek advice from the heritage and local community stakeholders to determine the best way for the materials from Willow Grove to be used.
Read more, or Here Willow Grove ABC 10Sept
September 9, 2023
‘A terrible idea’: Minns government scraps rebuild of historic Willow Grove
Linda Morris wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald that: ‘The historic 19th-century villa Willow Grove, controversially pulled down to make way for the Powerhouse Parramatta and a flashpoint for public protests, will never rise again. The Minns government has jettisoned the former Coalition government’s planned rebuild of the heritage riverside home, which is lying in pieces in a storage facility in south-west Sydney … The announcement was welcomed by heritage advocates, including the North Parramatta Residents Action Group which had led the campaign and public protests, saying any rebuild would have amounted to “fake heritage”. “The Parramatta community does not support replica heritage buildings being the precedent for developments that are too lazy to incorporate our-fast disappearing heritage,” the group’s president Suzette Meade said.
The historic building was demolished in 2021 after an unsuccessful bid in the Land and Environment Court to save it and a union green ban was revoked. It was a condition of development consent of the Powerhouse Parramatta – to open in 2025 – that Willow Grove be rebuilt. Before the change of government, three new sites had been shortlisted – with the build at one time estimated to cost $10 million. Graham said Willow Grove’s significance as a key site of female and First Nations history, and in nursing and midwifery would be honoured differently with a book about the site’s broad history and interpretative text panels in the Powerhouse undercroft, an open basement space built to collect floodwaters.’ Among many other comments: ‘The rebuild was opposed by the National Trust, which had withdrawn in 2022 from a reference group formed to find a new site. “We don’t believe you can rebuild it in any true sense because any new building would have to meet new building code requirements,” Trust’s conservation director David Burdon said. “We’d essentially have a new building with some old pieces stuck on it, that’s the reality of it.” Read More: or Here: Willow Grove SMH 9 Sept
6 September, 2023
‘The Powerhouse Museum is Saved. Again.’
In a mass email circulated by the Powerhouse Museum Alliance, museum expert and member, Kylie Winkworth, makes an excellent summary of information associated with the reassuring announcement on 2nd September from the NSW Arts Minister, John Graham, that the significant 1988 buildings of the Powerhouse Museum will not be demolished. She discusses positive new directions that are possible for renovation and development in Ultimo, and further issues that must be addressed about the identity, management, program and presentation that best reflects this state Museum’s long-term purpose and profile.
She says: ‘The announcement by Arts Minister John Graham on 2nd September, 2023, that Labor is committing $250 million for the heritage revitalisation of the Powerhouse Museum is great news. It appears that the LNP’s destructive $500m ‘Powerhouse Ultimo’ demolition and redevelopment project is dead. Is it possible that the community’s near nine year battle to save the PHM is nearing an end?…
The Powerhouse Museum Alliance (PMA) is grateful for the common sense that Minister Graham has brought to this long-running cultural policy debacle. It’s not a cheaper Powerhouse that the Minns government will deliver, but the heart and soul of the real Powerhouse Museum, finally saved for the second time, to be revitalised as a museum, not a half empty function centre. Contrary to what the Opposition has said, the plans championed by Create NSW and MAAS would have halved the museum’s exhibition space and public domain. Instead of dedicated exhibition galleries all the gallery spaces would be available for commercial hire. The result would have been at best a part time exhibition facility with a narrow remit for fashion, design and creative industries.
… No wonder the leadership of MAAS hid the details of the project under a cloak of secrecy worthy of a national security project, not a public museum. After the former government promised the PHM was saved in July 2020, they embarked on a re-make of the ‘Ultimo Presence’ plans from the 2018 business case. It was a deeply cynical public deception, based on fake consultations and a determination to ignore community and expert views. …
There are still many questions and uncertainties over the future of the Powerhouse Museum, not least the restoration of the PHM’s name, brand and mission. There is no clarity yet on the future of the Harwood building, the museum’s conservation, storage, workshops and research centre. The government must abandon the secret deal with UTS and return the building to the museum’s control and operations. It is an integral part of the PHM’s history, heritage, design, functionality, and future opportunities.
The Powerhouse Museum Alliance looks forward to assisting the government in what we hope will be the visionary revitalisation of the PHM’s precinct, site, buildings and exhibitions.’
Read more: PMA The Powerhouse Museum is Saved Sept 2023
4 September, 2023
‘Things we need to know’
Tom Lockley, who has provided information Bulletins and Fact Sheets throughout the nine years of the campaign to save the Powerhouse Museum in its Ultimo site, circulates a summary of many of the issues from 2014 to the present, demonstrating that it is clear that background information, rationales for decision-making and details of planning and consultation, have been withheld by former government departments and related bodies, and kept secret from those who also need to know.
He writes: ‘Over the years, the Government has been required to release some information, but this has been manifestly unsatisfactory. Some information on basic matters is needed so that the Government’s decision-making process can be properly examined.’
Issues noted in his 2023 September summary, include: alternatives to the ‘move’ of the museum to Parramatta; release of all documents emanating from the Finance Ministry or the Treasury which supported the statements of Mr Baird as Premier (26 November 2014 and thereafter) that the sale of the Ultimo Powerhouse Museum site for ‘urban renewal’ would finance the ‘move’ of the museum to Parramatta; release of all public consultation and research done in many sessions; the Government’s statement that the purchase of the Parramatta Museum site by the government-appointed administrator (31 July 2017) was in accordance with the wishes of the previous elected Parramatta Council; this is clearly wrong, and we would like an acknowledgement of this fact; the decision-making process of the reprieve of the museum announced on July 4 2020, appears to be yet another basic decision made by a small group within the Government. There was no consultation, eg with the Trustees or the CEO, and apparently also no input from people with museum qualifications and experience; release of the decision-making process regarding the new emphasis on having ‘a museum dedicated to design and fashion’ announced on 15 June 2021; details of involvement of people with museum experience and qualifications in basic decision-making; explanation of why a Conservation Management Plan was not an integral part of the initial proposal of 26 November 2014 as required by the Burra Charter; a clear statement about the future of the remaining traditional features of the museum if the Government’s latest proposal proceeds. In particular, we would like assurance that the steam gallery – certainly the best such display in the Southern Hemisphere and one of the best in the world — should be retained in its present site, the first industrial power station in the world; the report that a statement from the museum that a minimum of $100 million was thought to be needed to replace the museum’s roof and make it safe. This has been greeted with incredulity. We would really like to see the full documentation of any basis for this claim! Indicative costs as guesstimated by architects and engineers who have commented on this matter suggest two million dollars at the most.’
Lockley concludes that: ‘Over the years information has been sought on all these matters, with no response. We have, however, had acknowledgement that from the DPC that the current fact sheet has been received and considered by the previous Government and this covers most of the issues raised.’ Read the full report Here: Things we need to know – Tom Lockley
5 September, 2023
‘Minister for the Arts back-pedalling on promises’
In ArtsHub, Gina Fairley asks: ‘Is the “revitalisation” of plans for Powerhouse Ultimo a sign of the NSW Government’s dwindling commitment to the arts?’ and continues: ‘Buried with a bunch of announcements on the NSW Government website was a rather staggering headline…‘The Powerhouse Museum Ultimo revitalised’, and suggests that ‘“Revitalised” has the ring of energised growth and renewal. While Powerhouse Ultimo is set for renewal, the Government’s announcement rather cloaks a slash of funds.’ She cites the media release which explains “…The $230 million balance from this decision will support the construction of new school and hospital projects as part of a new era of responsible long-term budget repair,” and asks ‘ “Revitalised”? More like scrapped.’ Apparently unaware of the many wider management and program issues, including heritage concerns about costly demolition of the 1988 buildings, and how the new decision has averted this, Fairley recalls that: ‘It was only nine months ago (December 2022) that the Government was celebrating the announcement that a team of architects … would “deliver a world-class museum for the people of NSW, and beyond”, and notes that ‘ArtsHub will be watching the development of this story.’ Read More: or Here: ArtsHub 5 Sep 2023
3 September, 2023
On-line record of responses to announcement:
Save the Powerhouse (Facebook and email) locates three on-line meetings with Arts Minister John Graham, and interviews with themselves (Patricia Johnson and Jean-Pierre Alexandre) and advocate Tom Lockley, recommending we watch here:
– ABC News https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-09-02/nsw-minister-for-the-arts-john-graham-on-the-powerhouse/102807760
– 9News https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_TulQiZBhgQ
– 7News https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1egWv_EKyCQ
Minister for the Arts, John Graham declared “This is great news for the Powerhouse Museum. We are delivering on our electoral commitments, we are saving the Powerhouse Museum, we are saving the Wran building and we are also saving more than $200 million.”Save the Powerhouse said “The main objective was to keep the building as it is with reasonable repair”.
3 September, 2023
John McDonald’s response to Saving the Museum
In his regular newsletter, art critic John McDonald writes about discovering ‘…that the NSW government had finally bitten the bullet and killed off the proposed $500 million vandalism of the Powerhouse Museum’s Ultimo site.’, ,,, that ‘First of all, this is great news. Secondly, the PHM has been “saved” before, and that only led to further duplicity and disaster. This new announcement is a test of the Labor government’s mettle, although it would be impossible for them to match the extraordinary hypocrisy and double-dealing of the previous regime.’ … He also observes: ‘For the moment there are two responses to the announcement that are worthy of attention. Firstly, Lisa Havilah, the CEO of the PHM operation, who has personally driven the emptying out of collection storage, with much reported damage to items – which she has publicly denied – says she “welcomes” the new plans. This is, I suppose, an inevitable response. One can’t speak out against one’s employer when they’ve made a big decision …. Nevertheless, the hypocrisy is staggering. Under Havilah, the collection has been treated with cavalier disrespect, the standout piece of evidence being the dinners and rave parties held in the main exhibition gallery where important items such as the Catalina flying boat have been damaged. She was also happy to close the museum for three years while the rebuild was underway, moving the curators to rented offices in Parramatta and Castle Hill, where they could “hot desk”, while wondering what to do with themselves all day. Finally there is the questionable obsession with “residencies” and “food and beverage” facilities. All of this is secondary – if not simply anathema – to the historical mission of the museum.’
‘As for the Coalition response, the Opposition spokesman for the Arts, Kevin Anderson, said: “This is a huge blow for the arts sector who will now have to settle for less.” … Apparently no-one has informed Mr. Anderson that the arts sector has opposed these schemes from Day One; has submitted countless petitions, objections, analyses and expert opinions… which were comprehensively ignored by the Coalition, who failed to produce a workable business plan and kept all their deliberations secret from the public.’
‘… The Labor announcement is indisputably good news, but there’s still a great deal that has to be done to sort out the white elephant that is being constructed in Parramatta; the fate of the Harwood Building, which is crucial to the PHM’s operations in Ultimo, and – most importantly of all – the kind of administration the PHM requires, “going forward”, as the cliché has it. .. If the PHM is to be revived, it requires more than a patched-up mess of half-baked ideas from the people who hastened to push through as much of their destructive program as possible while Labor hesitated to act… If a vote of no confidence were taken, from the public and within the institution, it’s easy to predict the results.’ Read Here: John McDonald 3 Sept
3 September, 2023
Minister defends cheaper Powerhouse renovation amid ‘budget challenges’
Andrew Taylor and Mary Ward write in the Sydney Morning Herald’s SunHerald, that: ‘The NSW government has defended its decision to scrap a $500 million redevelopment of the Powerhouse in Ultimo for a cheaper renovation, as the Coalition labelled the decision a tragedy and “huge blow for the arts”. Existing structural elements of the museum building including its 1980s Wran wing are expected to be restored and not demolished.’
‘Arts Minister John Graham on Saturday denied the announcement was a “watered down” solution for the museum, which was placed into turmoil in 2015 when then-premier Mike Baird expressed intentions to close the site and replace it wholesale with a Parramatta museum. “This is exactly what we promised: we promised to save the Powerhouse, we promised to save the Wran building, and that’s what we are doing here today,” Graham said. Graham said the plans both aligned with community expectations for the site and reflected current budgetary constraints.’
‘… However, the Coalition’s arts spokesman Kevin Anderson said the NSW government was walking away from an opportunity to build a new purpose-built museum on the site. “This is a huge blow for the arts sector who will now have to settle for less,” he said.
… Graham said the final redesign for the Ultimo site would be influenced by community consultation, and may still include a significant reconfiguration of the space.“The plan to open up the building to potentially face in other directions is still part of the discussion,” he confirmed. “But, appropriately, we want to take the time to sort through those details with the community.” In a statement, community group Save the Powerhouse Museum said the plans took the future of the museum in a very promising direction, and it looked forward to further discussions.
Graham denied the Ultimo site would be a secondary museum to the new Powerhouse Parramatta, which is scheduled to open in 2025. “Museum fans will have many to choose from in Sydney, as a result of these projects. They’ll each pick their own favourite, but I won’t be doing that,” he said.’ Read more Here: or Here: SMH 3 September
3 September, 2023
Minns government rejects ‘modest’ rebuild of Powerhouse Museum is a broken election promise
Following the government announcement on 2 September, Danuta Kozaki writes for ABC net news, that: ‘New South Wales Arts Minister John Graham has rejected suggestions they have broken an election promise over plans for the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney…The museum in Ultimo is set to get a more “modest” rebuild than planned under the former state Coalition government — with only half of the $500 million previously allocated to be spent. Mr Graham said $250 million will be used to give the 1988 museum a “heritage revitalisation” instead of knocking it down as previously outlined. “This is not a watered down plan. This is exactly what we promised,” Mr Graham said.” We promised to save the Powerhouse Museum, we promised to save the Wran building and we are also saving more than $200 million dollars with this decision. NSW families are facing rampant inflation, as well as rising energy and housing costs. This is a more modest proposal and suits the times.” ‘
…’ Shadow Treasurer Damien Tudehope said cutting the project was a “slap in the face” for the creative community and accused the government of following a pattern of slashing to pay for election promises.’
However, Graham confirms that the Ultimo site needs significant investment, and that: ‘Museum advocates, local members and community groups have been consulted, according to Mr Graham. But he stressed that was just the first step and other decisions needed to be made.’ Read here: and Here: 2 Sept ABC news
2 September, 2023
AMAZING LONG-AWAITED NEWS!!!
‘Minns government scraps Powerhouse Museum rebuild at Ultimo’
Received with great excitement by the many people critical over more than 8 years of the former government’s plans to demolish the Ultimo site of the historic Powerhouse Museum, Linda Morris reports in the Sydney Morning Herald, that ‘The Minns government has scrapped a $500 million rebuild of the Powerhouse Museum at Ultimo, opting instead for a $250 million “heritage revitalisation” and redirecting the savings towards new schools and hospitals. The decision is the latest pre-budget announcement by the NSW government reining in large construction project costs in an attempt to rebalance the state’s finances…
Arts Minister John Graham said the decision to upgrade the Ultimo museum instead of a complete rebuild was a prudent investment in a tough fiscal environment. Construction of the Powerhouse Parramatta site is on schedule to be completed by late 2024. “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,” he said…
It effectively draws a line under eight years of turmoil over the future of the Ultimo museum, dating from 2015 when then-premier Mike Baird flagged his government’s intention to close the site and relocate the museum to the Parramatta riverside. That decision sparked a long-running upper house inquiry and provoked public protests.
After a change of heart in 2020 on the Ultimo museum, the former Coalition government last year allocated $481 million to redevelop the site to replace the museum’s galleria and the Wran wing along Harris Street. Architects were appointed and development plans were unveiled last year for a six-storey annex containing a library, fit-for-purpose exhibition spaces for international blockbusters, and upgraded public circulation spaces. But the Coalition’s redevelopment plans came under fire from former staff and heritage advocates who argued parts of the existing building deserved conservation, and more sympathetic changes could be achieved at half the cost to taxpayers…
Under Labor’s new plans, existing structural elements of the museum building including its 1980s wing are expected to be restored not demolished. But no timeline has been developed for the works and their scope has yet to be determined.
Graham said consultation would now begin with key players to determine the details and timings of the revised renovations and whether the museum remains open beyond December.’ Read Here, and Here: SMH 2 Sept Morris re Minns
2 September 2023
Arts Minister’s Media Release
In Arts Minister John Graham’s Media Release, he announces all the points above, and confirms: ‘The NSW Government is delivering on its election commitment to save the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo and preserve the Wran legacy. …The Minns government will undertake further consultation with current staff as well as the arts and culture sector, business and creative industries groups, the education sector, peak bodies, expert advisors, local communities, and the public on the details and timing of this heritage redevelopment.’ Read here: 230902 Med Rel Minister Graham – The Powerhouse Museum Ultimo revitalised
Many questions remain:
PMA member Kylie Winkworth asks: ‘I hope the funding includes a proper exhibition renewal plan, and the reinstatement of many galleries that have been closed in the scandalous nine year run down of the PHM under the Liberal government and a succession of directors bent on driving the museum into irrelevance. But key questions remain unanswered. Are they still closing the PHM, evicting the collections, hiving off the Harwood building and leaving the current management in charge of the museum’s heritage revitalisation? And will the PHM keep the museum word in its name and renowned brand – as Labor promised?’
PMA member Grace Cochrane asks: ‘Will this encourage the Parramatta development to be a separate museum about Parramatta’s history and heritage, and a local art gallery (as with other city suburbs), and leave the Ultimo site to be the Powerhouse Museum’s state centre, and not merely an adjunct? We look forward to consultation that is more than box-ticking!’
1 September, 2023
Museum exhibitions: Information rather than ‘art experience’??
In recent years many concerns have been expressed by former staff and long-term interested audiences, about the noticeable decrease at the Powerhouse Museum, in information provided to contextualise new exhibitions and describe the objects on display. Whereas there used to be a very visible main theme wall panel, followed by sub-theme panels that explained groupings, with informative readable labels for each object, providing information about who, why, where, how and what it meant then and now, minimal information if any, is now given in many of the exhibitions. Sometimes there is only obscure access to information, on small panels, in unreadable locations, and in small print. Relevant to these concerns is the comment made in Richard Glover’s column in the Sydney Morning Herald (26 August 2023) about ‘The type-size in museums and art galleries’. This prompted a number of responses from former professional staff, and others, giving their views of what is now missing.
Read here: Issues about information
26-27 August, 2023
‘The Power of Place’
Writing in the Weekend Australian Review about the new Powerhouse Museum exhibition 1001 Remarkable Objects which opened to around 800 people on 25th August, Matthew Larwood reports on his earlier discussion with Leo Scofield, a long-term supporter of, and donor to the Powerhouse Museum, who was recently contracted by the Museum management to curate the exhibition, with considerable assistance from museum staff.
He wrote: ‘The Powerhouse Museum’s spectacular and tumultuous history has galvanised imaginations and, for 80 years, it has permeated the existence of one man… What you won’t find in the museum catalogue, at least not in the public one, are the trenchant letters to the editor from one Leo Schofield, of Potts Point. He has fulminated, frequently, at plans to destroy his beloved Powerhouse and move its historic collections to a new tower building in Parramatta. In a 2018 letter he couldn’t bide his contempt as the “myopic state government persists with its risible plan to relocate this august institution from its historic location in the heart of Sydney to Parramatta, whose locals are agog with indifference at the prospect”.
‘The Powerhouse evidently arouses strong feelings in Schofield whose connections with the place go back decades and run deep. He’s been an enthusiastic visitor, donor, fundraiser, trustee, champion and, yes, critic. He joined the protest on the Powerhouse forecourt, wrote the letters and bent the ear of politicians, begging them not to dismantle the museum. A well-organised campaign has helped save Ultimo from oblivion, with the result that both Parramatta and Ultimo will have branches of the Powerhouse total cost, some $1.5bn – although the battle continues to save key parts of the institution from the wrecking ball.’
‘Against this ongoing uncertainty, Schofield has been brought back into the fold. In what has the optics of a strategic move by Powerhouse management, he has been appointed guest chairman of a “curatorium”, leading a team of curators and designers to organise possibly the largest exhibition yet staged at the museum. The show, called 1001 Remarkable Objects, promises exactly what it says on the tin, bringing out 1001 of the eccentric, wonderful, rare and gorgeous things from the 500,000 objects in the collection.’
Larwood summarises the significant history of the Museum, and the many changes made along the way, including the former Coalition government’s proposal to close it in Ultimo and move it to Parramatta. ‘Several premiers, parliamentary inquiries and policy backflips later, Ultimo will be retained and refreshed with a $500m investment – but the 1988 Wran building will be demolished to make way for a new annexe with a library, exhibition spaces, a roof garden and accommodation for school sleepovers.’ He also notes that: The Powerhouse Museum Alliance has rejected the “wasteful and unnecessary” destruction of museum infrastructure after just 35 years, but there may be a reprieve: the newly elected Minns government is reviewing the extent and cost of the project, and it’s possible the Wran building could he saved. Still, if the upgrade works go ahead next year, in full or in part, it’s likely that 1001 Remarkable Objects will be the last major exhibition at the Powerhouse until at least 2026.’
But, Larwood asks: ‘Why would Schofield, such a vigorous critic of the Powerhouse in recent years, be drawn into staging an exhibition there? He says he took some time to respond when Lisa Havilah, chief executive of the Powerhouse, called to ask if he’d be involved. “It was, I suppose, a moral position,” he says. “I’d gone on bended knee, begging Baird not to pursue that idea of bifurcating the collections. At that time, it was pretty clear to most people that (removing the Powerhouse from Ultimo) was a developer-driven idea.”But as it’s panned out — which is the only thing that history does for you, irons out wrinkles — I agreed to take it on…’. 1001 Remarkable Objects is said to be the largest exhibition ever mounted by the Powerhouse. Schofield’s team of exhibition planners includes art and antiques expert Ronan Sulich, marketing specialist Mark Sutcliffe and Powerhouse curator Eva Czernis-Ryl. Theatre designers Damien Cooper, Pip Runciman, Julie Lynch and Ross Wallace promise to give it all a ravishing display.’ Read more Here: 26-27 August Westwood re Schofield
23 August, 2023
Parliament of New South Wales – Hansard Extract Robert Borsak PHMU Adjournment speech
Former chair of two Legislative Council Inquiries into the former governments destructive proposals for the Powerhouse Museum, The Hon Robert Borsak spoke in Parliaments, saying: ‘The future of the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo is dear to my heart, as well as to many good citizens of New South Wales. Planning for the Parramatta Powerhouse Museum was undertaken in 2015 under the previous Government. Planning for the Ultimo Powerhouse Museum was undertaken from June 2020 until late March 2023. Since the election, the current Labor Government has noted repeatedly that it wishes for the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo to become, once again, a museum of world class practice and standing. Under the former Liberal-Nationals Government, we experienced a litany of confusion, secrecy, contradiction and, at times, outright lies about the future location, continuity and purpose of the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo.
The much-to-be-desired success of the Powerhouse Museum in Parramatta in 2026 should not be at the expense of a destroyed or mothballed Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo and damage its world-class collections. It is now time to move forward and develop policies to support museums and galleries to ensure the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo can retake its place as a world-class, properly funded cultural institution that benefits all of the people of New South Wales.
The purpose, experiences and contents currently on offer from the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo appear to be of a very different nature and character to the previous world-class collections, permanent exhibitions, temporary displays and supporting educational programs. I believe there is an urgent need to review proposals for the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo, as well as its current management…. Despite what current management thinks, the Powerhouse Museum is not a part-time nightclub or partying venue. We urgently need to return to the classic museological approaches typical of a world-class museum, as opposed to the art installations and Carriageworks-type experiences—plus the part-time social and party venue—which appear to be either proposed or now the norm for the Powerhouse Museum at Ultimo.’ As well as documenting a number of instances where collection objects were in danger of damage, he concludes: ‘Supported by educational, engaging, family-focused, collection-based and interactive programs and experiences—underpinned by completely updated displays using cutting-edge technologies—the Powerhouse Museum at Ultimo can once again be restored to the iconic institution it once was. It can remind visitors of times gone by and the technologies that accompanied them while educating, engaging and inspiring tomorrow’s historians and technological innovators, in line with what the Hon. Chris Rath was saying.’ Read in Hansard here: or here: Borsak Parliament 23 August
Borsak Media Release, 24 August 2023: Borsak also circulated a media release, confirming:
‘Robert Borsak has highlighted the issues of the Powerhouse Museum Ultimo inherited from the former Liberal-National government… “We experienced a litany of confusion, secrecy and contradiction in relation to the future location, continuity and purpose of the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo”. The Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party believes the much-to-be-desired success of the Parramatta Powerhouse in 2026, should not be at the expense of a destroyed or mothballed Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo.
Since the election, the current Labor Government has noted repeatedly that it wishes for the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo to become, once again, a museum of world-class practice and standing. “It is now time to move forward and develop policies to support museums and galleries to ensure he Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo can resume its’ place as a world class institution” Borsak said’. Mr Borsak believes there is an urgent need to review proposals for, as well as the current management of, the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo.
Read here: Media Release Borsak
24 August, 2023: ‘We entirely agree with Borsak’
Following Borsak’s statements and Graham’s responses, Save the Powerhouse group wrote: ‘We entirely agree with Borsak and once more urge the Minister for the Arts, John Graham and Cabinet to listen to the many voices of reason calling for an urgent change of direction at the Museum, to return to its Applied Arts and Sciences vocation and to abandon the destructive “Ultimo Renewal” in its current form. We met recently with Evan Hughes, the Minister for the Arts’ Advisor, and Kate Foy, Deputy Secretary for Community Engagement at the Department of Premier and Cabinet, and took the opportunity of the half-hour session to summarise our requests for our Museum which were –
– No demolition of any part of the Museum
– No (temporary) closure
– No movement of large objects
– Keep the Ultimo entrance and forecourt
– Keep the Harwood Building for collections
– Heritage listing of the whole museum and collections and a professional Conservation Management Plan (CMP) as, for example, Alan Croker’s.
– Keep and engage competent staff in Ultimo
Read our meeting notes HERE: Notes for meeting with Evan Hughes
When we suggested that “three and a half months after the election nothing seemed to have changed” we received the reply that the facts that Stage 2 “Renewal” EIS had not been placed on exhibition and that the staff had not been moved to Parramatta were signs that things were indeed changing. We were also advised that the numerous “Catalina incidents” (see our previous post) were thoroughly investigated by the Ministry. In this context we find yesterday’s 60-guest dinner beside the Catalina (see Borsak’s speech above) extremely disappointing. In short, a very cordial but not very productive meeting. We understand that a similarly friendly meeting of the PMA with the same Authority’s representatives was equally inconclusive.
Read here: 24 August 2023 Save the P
August 12, 2023
Atmospheric Memory, ‘New show may make you feel like you’re being watched. That’s because you are’
Amid continuing public concerns about the possible still imminent closure of the Powerhouse Museum, and the demolition of the 1988 buildings, Cameron Bayley reported in the Sydney Morning Herald about a new exhibition, Atmospheric Memory, that combines early technology from the collection with that of the present day: ‘Tracking technology, facial recognition and more are all at play in Atmospheric Memory, the Mexican Canadian artist’s latest exhibition, which is designed to make air into something tangible.’ The exhibition also includes a significant early museum object: ‘The ideas link back to the work of Charles Babbage, the 19th-century British polymath credited with inventing the first computer. “In his Ninth Bridgewater Treatise he talks about this moment that I’ve always been fascinated with, which is that as we speak, we create a turbulence in mid-air,” Lozano-Hemmer says. “For [him] the atmosphere is a vast library that contains everything everybody has said.” Babbage wanted to harness everything spoken in the past. It may sound poetic, but encompasses the ugly side of history too.’ Among many others: ‘In the exhibition, you’ll find machines that turn speech into water ripples (Voice Tank), and one spectacular work that takes spoken words from the public and transforms them into three-dimensional water mist (Cloud Display).’
Read Here, or Here: SMH Atmospheric memory
August 12, 2023 ‘There’s no such thing as a neutral algorithm’: the existential AI exhibition confronting Sydney’
And Alex Gorman writes in the Guardian, that: ‘Artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Atmospheric Memory allows visitors to interact with generative tech – and become part of the show in unexpected ways.’ His new exhibition conceived with and curated by José Luis de Vicente, at Sydney’s Powerhouse museum, ‘required more than 60 people, from eight different countries, to mount.’ … ‘When Y2K seemed like the world’s most pressing technological concern, [he] was using a dictionary and a set of grammatical rules to teach a computer how to write questions.’ ‘The show’s premise stems from a paragraph in the Ninth Bridgewater Treatise, written by the computing pioneer Charles Babbage in 1837. Babbage proposed that the air surrounding us could be a “vast library” that, once attuned to properly, could offer perfect recollection, capturing every movement, moment and utterance ever passed. This notion is “very romantic and beautiful,” Lozano-Hemmer says, “but it is a very dystopian project.” In the exhibition’s first room, the core of one of Babbage’s mechanical calculators, Difference Engine No 1, is on display. The Powerhouse curator Angelique Hutchinson says looking at the steampunk device, about the size of a shoebox, can be an existential experience. “It is quite humble,” she says. But when you reflect on the predictions Babbage made, many of which came to pass, “it causes you to think about where we’re going to go next”.’ ‘Nearby is a series of conversation booths built by Lozano-Hemmer, where visitors can sit and watch the words from their mouths transformed into text as they speak. Whatever they say will be answered by a digital incarnation of Babbage, trained on the computer scientist’s texts, and powered by OpenAI, the technology behind ChatGPT.’
Read Here, or Here: Guardian 12 August 2023
2 August, 2023
Borsak and Graham: Legislative Council Hansard: Powerhouse Museum Collection
Former chair of two Select Committee inquiries about the future of the Powerhouse Museum, The Hon Robert Borsak, questioned the new arts minister, John Graham, about recent reports of incidents that endangered the Museums collection objects on display, in this case the Catalina flying boat Frigate Bird II, which had been lowered within reach of audiences. In his reply, Graham noted he had been assured of its safety, and also added: ‘Talking more broadly about the future of the Powerhouse, the Government has made clear that its expectation about the Powerhouse at Ultimo is that whatever the future of the physical building—the Government is going through a process to make its own assessment about that—it is important that it is a museum. Part of the commitment to it being a museum is a commitment to care for the objects that are being preserved and conserved there and are available to the public. I say to the member and, through him, to the groups who have raised those issues that an important part of the Government’s commitment is dealing with the issues in the long term. We want a museum there; that is what has made it special to the community. The Government’s expectation is that the standards that come with ensuring a museum is in place—that apply to protecting those objects—are upheld.’ Read here: or Here: Borsak 2 August
On 7 August, Save the Powerhouse group reported on this exchange, by email, also noting that: ‘Partygoers have not been kind to the Museum’s treasures, disrespectfully using the Loco No1 as a pub standing table (see photo HERE http://tiny.cc/f9o9vz ) and a number of “object incidents” to the Catalina plane have been reliably reported (see photo of a “late” party around the flying boat HERE http://tiny.cc/c9o9vz ) Following their report of Borsak’s questions, and Graham’s response, they add: ‘Save the Powerhouse have sighted 11 object incident reports of damage to the Catalina proving that the concerns were real. But in this case WHAT WILL THE MINISTER DO?’ Read more: Save the Powerhouse 7 August
4 August 2023
‘Powerhouse Parramatta to Open in Western Sydney in 2025’
Sam Gaskin writes in Ocula magazine, about plans for the museum development in Parramatta, saying: ‘Developers describe it as ‘the largest cultural development in Australia since the Sydney Opera House.’ Critics have called it an entertainment centre ‘masquerading as a museum’. Australian museum group Powerhouse Sydney is spending AUD $1.4 billion (US $920 million) on the development of a new museum complex in the western Sydney suburb of Parramatta.
Powerhouse Parramatta will feature seven exhibition spaces alongside learning and digital studios, a cinema, an 800-seat theatre, a rooftop garden, restaurants and cafés when it opens in 2025.
‘Simultaneously a centre for production, display and learning, we will celebrate the dynamic shift in how Sydney thinks about itself, its culture and its communities,’ said Lisa Havilah, Chief Executive of Powerhouse Sydney…. Havilah directed Campbelltown Arts Centre from 2005–2011 and Carriageworks from 2012–2018, both of which have strong emphases on contemporary art, before taking on her role at Powerhouse Sydney.
Plans for Powerhouse Parramatta have drawn a number of criticisms, including objections to the destruction of heritage buildings in Willow Grove and St George Terraces, concerns that the riverside site is prone to flooding, and accusations from a New South Wales upper house inquiry that the institution is an entertainment centre ‘masquerading’ as a museum.
Read more: or Here: 4 August Ocula re Parramatta
Planning Portal: Associated with this report, is the information on the NSW government’s Planning Portal: Submissions can be made before 14 September, 2023. Read Here.
[Of the Portal information, Kylie Winkworth asks: ‘Increasing the height of the western building by a floor and deleting two and a half floors of glazing in the eastern building, replaced by something called GRC panelling. Is this about saving money? It doesn’t improve the look of the building from Phillip St. Considering they cited design integrity issues when they deleted the proposed hoist to the upper floors for moving large objects into the P2 space, it seems a bit rich that now the glazing will be replaced by bland panelling while money is wasted on a glasshouse. This is code for another function centre and café on the top floor of the western building. Have they realised the business case doesn’t add up and they need more revenue opportunities? Then there’s the telescope on the roof of the eastern building in the centre of a CBD bathed in artificial night light. Maybe they could try opening the Sydney Observatory instead. We should be commenting on these modifications. Why is a cultural institution wasting taxpayer dollars on a roof top greenhouse? That makes roof top vegie gardens on both buildings. How many gardeners will they employ instead of curators?’]
29 July, 2023
John McDonald, newsletter
Art critic, John McDonald, writes in his regular newsletter: ‘There is a suggestion this week that the dreadful, wasteful, vandalistic, unpopular makeover of Powerhouse Ultimo – previously known as the Powerhouse Museum – is finally being rethought. Considering that these plans were going to cost the new Labor government more than $500 million, and deliver an institution with half as much exhibition space, in the teeth of massive community opposition, one wonders why it took so long to put the brakes on … Obviously the museum requires repairs and renovations, but the radical schemes proposed went far beyond what was necessary. No less alarming than the building issues is the Powerhouse’s change of direction, and the millions that have been spent clearing items out of storage in preparation for a rebuild that probably won’t happen. This was a blatant attempt to force the new government into endorsing the existing scheme – “We can’t back down now! We’ve spent millions moving the collection! It’ll cost millions to put it all back!” … In fact, there should be an independent inquiry into the entire Powerhouse debacle, which was conducted under a cloak of secrecy, defying expert opinion, public concern, and commonsense. There is no cultural or touristic logic to the plan. It only makes sense as a land grab. Those responsible need to be held accountable, whether they are currently employed on the project, or have already beaten a retreat.
It’s reassuring to learn that the scheme to send the curators to Castle Hill and Parramatta, where they would sit around in rented offices, ‘hot-desking’ for the next three years while building work proceeded, has been stopped – or at least paused. Had this gone ahead, it would have resulted in mass resignations, emptying the Powerhouse of corporate knowledge and expertise. New, young, malleable replacements would have been brought in to fill the gaps, and “Hey presto! Goodbye museum, hello contemporary art and fashion hub.”
Whatever renovation plans are ultimately pursued, there needs to be a renewed commitment to the Powerhouse as a museum, and to the “applied arts and sciences”, not simply fashion. Another email that arrived this week, described the brilliant new “food and beverage” initiative at Powerhouse Parramatta. In the words of CEO, Lisa Havilah: “This incredible opportunity includes retail food and beverage, Powerhouse produced events and programs, commercial hire and catering opportunities. It also includes hospitality catering services to a residential program which includes 30 short-term stay apartments..” If we needed further convincing that the Parramatta edifice is not, and never will be, a museum, here is the admission that it’s all food and beverage and accommodation. What an innovation! ‘ Read more: John McDonald 29 July
28 July, 2023
‘Powerhouse compromise could halt demolition, save $100m’
Following many letters sent by public to government ministers, and a long wait following the 2023 government election, Linda Morris reports in the Sydney Morning Herald, that: ‘The NSW government is considering a compromise plan for the redevelopment of the Powerhouse Museum at Ultimo that would spare its 1980s wing from demolition and save taxpayers more than $100 million. The Herald understands an options paper developed by Create NSW, the government’s arts agency, costs five different options for the museum and is due to be presented to cabinet’s powerful expenditure review committee over the coming weeks. Proposals range from “do-nothing” to the approval of the current $500 million redevelopment announced by the former Coalition government last December. A middle course option to retain the Wran building, completed in 1988, and build a smaller building on the museum’s Harris Street forecourt is preferred by some within the new Labor government….
Former president of the Powerhouse’s board of trustees, professor Barney Glover, urged the government keep to plans for a major refurbishment and realignment of the Ultimo site, even if revised, to maintain the Powerhouse as a world-class museum. “It is vital that this occurs to ensure the long-term future of the extraordinary Powerhouse collection including its fashion collection in particular,” he said. [PMA asks, how could he possibly still be prioritising this narrow version??] “Any consideration of a do-nothing option at Ultimo fails to appreciate the current state of the buildings, the additional significant maintenance required to ensure the site was safe and fit for purpose and the likelihood of the museum needing to close on the site even with maintenance funding within a few years. “I would strongly encourage the government to continue with the planned Ultimo project whether within the currently proposed funding envelop or revised but still ensuring the key expansion, refurbishment and realignment occur.”
The museum’s founding director, Lindsay Sharp, is among those who have called for the government to undertake a less expensive but “radical evolution” of the 1988 campus and exploit major advances in display and audiovisual design capable of taking the museum far into the future. Read here: and Here: 28 July SMH PHM Options
28 July, 2023
‘Cultural tapestry empowering arts in the west’
Parramatta Council’s Linked In post shows a 28 July report in the Australian Financial Review, about cultural and business developments in Western Sydney. The Council notes: ‘Spoilt for choice, Parramatta is a place where inquiry and research opportunities abound.
Pick up a copy of The Australian Financial Review today and you’ll find an insightful special report on Innovation & Research in Western Sydney, packed with great stories on ways we’re building an innovation ecosystem in Parramatta. Don’t miss the Industry Insight op-ed from City of Parramatta CEO Gail Connolly PSM. Special thanks to our partners who joined City of Parramatta Council in sponsoring this report: Powerhouse, Western Sydney University, and the University of Sydney.’
In the attached page in the Australian Financial Review, Anders Furze writes that ‘the new Powerhouse Museum looms large, but arts leaders in the west decry inequitable funding.’ After many examples of funding needs, he notes that ‘the local arts landscape is set for a major transformation thanks to the upcoming $550 million Powerhouse Parramatta project ….Lisa Havilah, chief executive of the Powerhouse Museum, says the scale will be important because the site will become the Powerhouse’s new home. ”It’s important for the community to understand that its not an offshoot of our Ultimo [site], It’s our new flagship museum”.’ Read Here, or Here: Australian Financial Review 28 July
[But Powerhouse Museum Alliance reminds us all that Parramatta does not yet have its own art gallery or museum, despite its significant local history and population, and that a state museum should remain with all its collection areas in its longstanding central city site. Recent advertisements and reports indicate that the ‘Powerhouse Parramatta’ will be an entertainment centre with (from recent examples) short-term exhibitions with minimal museum stories available in the displays.]
26 July, 2023
‘Willow Grove was Bulldozed to make way for food outlets and short-term accommodation’
Following the announcements about the ‘Powerhouse Hospitality Industry Briefing’ (see 25 July, below) Save the Powerhouse commented on email and Facebook that: ‘We always suspected it but it is now officially confirmed in a Government release (see below). The beloved heritage-listed Willow Grove Victorian Italianate Villa in Parramatta was bulldozed to make way for a food centre and short term stay apartments for an astronomical cost of $1B to the NSW taxpayer… Powerhouse Parramatta? And what about the Parramatta new institution’s “own identity and name” promised by the new Government?
It may be too late to change the commercial trend in Parramatta, and Willow Grove is gone forever. But we can still stop this process in Ultimo and keep our internationally respected Arts and Sciences Museum by telling the new Government to halt the toxic “Renewal” project.
The project will come before the Cabinet soon for a final decision, so write to the Ministers to voice your opposition.’ Read here: Save the P Culinary comment 26 July And read their letter to Cabinet here: Save the Powerhouse to Cabinet 13 July
25 July, 2023
‘Powerhouse Hospitality Industry Briefing’
Powerhouse (Museum?) circulated a news email which included an announcement: ‘Powerhouse has announced a unique opportunity for food and beverage industry leaders to partner with us to redefine hospitality. The retail food and beverage program will be concept-driven, collaborative, and embedded into the Powerhouse program of exhibitions and programs alongside major events and festivals. Powerhouse Parramatta will be the first NSW Government cultural institution to be based in Western Sydney and our retail, food and beverage offerings will be equally pioneering. Join us for the Powerhouse Hospitality Industry Briefing at 10.30am on Tuesday 8 August. This session will detail the opportunity to redefine the museum hospitality experience with one of Australia’s most exciting cultural institutions opening in 2025…. Following the briefing, an Expression of Interest process will seek proposals from industry.’ Read here: or Here: Powerhouse media release or Here: Powerhouse hospitality industry briefing
25 July, 2023
‘Parra powers to a top ‘foodie’ destination’
In a front page preamble to a Kitchen Confidential article in the Daily Telegraph, Karlie Rutherford writes: ‘Parramatta’s food scene is set to expand even further with the injection of a food and hospitality hub at the new Powerhouse Parramatta…Powerhouse CEO Lisa Havilah said: “Powerrhouse Parramatta provides an unprecedented opportunity to redefine retail food and beverage, and diverse … event experiences are integrated into the experience of a cultural institution.’ Read here: Daily Tele 25 July, Parramatta
25 July, 2023
The back cover of SMH Good Food Guide advertises: ‘Powerhouse hospitality and Industry briefing’, to be held on August 8. But NPRAG (North Residents Action Group) draws comments ‘Don’t hold your breath for the family friendly science and technology museum – the word museum has been deleted from the project altogether’. Read Here: NPRAG comment Parra Food
24 July, 2023
‘Nine out of 10 NSW heritage sites lack a condition rating’
(in print as) ‘Heritage watchdog’s database in woeful state’
In the Sydney Morning Herald, Linda Morris also follows up the recent ‘Performance audit: State Heritage Assets’ report, saying ‘The state’s heritage watchdog has been portrayed as weak and largely ineffective in a damning audit which found it had taken up to 17 years to assess properties for protection, and its records are so poor it knows little about the true physical condition of hundreds of historic properties in its inventory.’ She reports: ‘New heritage minister Penny Sharpe said it was clear there was a “lot to fix when it comes to heritage in our state” and blamed the agency’s failings on chronic underfunding over 12 years and a lack of interest in heritage by the previous government. “Heritage has accepted the findings of the report,” she said.’ And relevant especially to PMA’s concerns, she reports: ‘Suzette Meade, from the North Parramatta Residents’ Action Group, said any new heritage strategy needed to also look at the make-up of the sister Heritage Council and its listing committee. “Any new changes in NSW heritage policy can’t be progressed in a silo; it’s imperative that NSW planning legislation is reviewed in unison,” she said. “The DA for Parramatta’s light rail through the North Parramatta heritage precinct seemed to have been expedited compared to the lag in getting the Parramatta Female Factory nominated for UNESCO World Heritage listing.” Former trustee of the Powerhouse Museum Kylie Winkworth said governments should be model owners of heritage places. Instead, she said government had “turned a blind eye to heritage risks, delisted heritage items owned by government entities, and in the case of the Powerhouse Museum confected a partial listing – opposed by the eminent museum and heritage experts – to facilitate the wasteful demolition of a Sulman award-winning museum”. ‘
Read here, and Here: SMH Linda Morris 24 July
And in ‘Heritage watchdog weak and largely asleep on the job’, editor Bevan Shields wrote in the SMH Editorial, ‘For an organisation charged with protecting the past for the future, Heritage NSW seems to have difficulty living in the present. A report by the NSW Auditor-General has portrayed the state’s heritage watchdog as weak and largely ineffective… For its part, Heritage NSW accepted the audit office’s eight recommendations and has started to rectify databases and said changes and improvements to processes were already under way.’
Read Here, or Here: SMH Editorial 24 July
20 July, 2023
‘Riba launch Reinvention prize to encourage refurbishment over demolition’
Relevant to the critical NSW report ‘Performance audit: State Heritage Assets’ (see 27 June, 2023, below), it is pertinent to note that Roger Harrabin wrote in the Guardian that, in the UK, ‘The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) announced: ‘The Riba Stirling Prize for flamboyant new architecture faces a humble challenger – the Reinvention award for the transformation of second-hand buildings. The Royal Institute of British Architects has created the new prize to encourage architects to pour their creativity into refurbishing existing buildings, rather than demolishing them in favour of new-build… The new prize was championed by outgoing Riba president, Simon Allford, who said: “We have a collective responsibility as architects to minimise our impact on the planet’s resources and maximise the societal and economic benefits of our work. The inventive reuse of buildings is critical to reducing carbon emissions and, whilst often not the simplest solution, requires exceptional creativity and vision – I look forward to seeing some inspiring examples in due course.”’
Read Here: or Here: RIBA Reinvention Prize July 2023
11 July, 2023
‘Greens Deputy Mayor questions grant to partnership including Sydney casinos’
In writing about grants made to businesses around the Sydney Western Harbour precinct, Wendy Bacon and Clare Connelly write in City Hub, that concerns are expressed about the role of the Powerhouse Museum! They write: ‘City of Sydney approved a $50,000 Council grant to a business partnership that includes Sydney’s two casinos at its meeting in June. Deputy Mayor Greens Sylvie Ellsmore, who described the grant as neither “appropriate or ethical”, was the only Councillor to object to the grant. The purpose of the grant is to develop an “environmental, social and governance plan” for the Sydney Western Harbour precinct that stretches 7 kilometres from Walsh Bay around Darling Harbour to Blackwattle Bay in Glebe and includes several public parks and other public land ….’
Among descriptions of other grants, they note that City Council’s ‘Ideas and Innovations grants mostly go to small organisations. The emphasis is on sustainability goals. … The major partners have contributed funds but it is not clear how much or for what purposes they are being used. In addition to the big commercial partners, there are two publicly owned major partners – the Powerhouse and the University of Technology Sydney.’ The authors also report that: ‘However, some community advocates are planning experts are sceptical. Inner West resident and heritage and museum expert Kylie Winkworth, who was previously a trustee on the Powerhouse Museum is asking, “why does the WSHBID consortium need ratepayers’ money when it can clearly afford to fund the work itself? Grants funded by CoS ratepayers should be giving a leg-up to new businesses, not funding business development research for major companies and multinationals.” She also questioned why the Powerhouse is a major partner. “With a $1 billion project under construction at Parramatta, and a controversial $500m development at Ultimo, why is the Powerhouse Museum (PHM) involved with a consortium of casinos and property developers? If anything, property development interest groups have had too much sway over the fate of the Powerhouse Museum, lobbying for the disastrous ‘move’ of the museum to Parramatta. … The management of the PHM should be focusing on their core business running a major museum, and growing audiences and education outcomes.”
“Why would the Powerhouse (Museum) be on the board of what is a thinly veiled development lobby group, intent on controlling planning and development across a swathe of sensitive waterfront land? Is the Powerhouse Museum being redeveloped as a ‘creative industries entertainment venue’ to support the 24 x 7 entertainment and business ambitions of The Star and Crown Casino? …Is this why Labor has not cancelled the ‘Powerhouse Ultimo Renewal’ SSD EIS? “ Read more Here, or here: City Hub Deputy Mayor questions grant And Read Here for who is involved in the business territory:
8 July, 2023
Questioning proposed state arts funding…including the Powerhouse Museum
In his regular newsletter, art critic John McDonald comments on recent arts activities, including:
‘This week’s visit to Sydney Modern was for the launch of a NSW Government discussion paper, A New Look at Culture, presented as the first step towards a dedicated Arts policy. For me it was a first look at Arts Minister, John Graham, who seems the serious, committed type. It’s certainly a change from the flamboyant Don Harwin, who had his good points and his bad ones. If Don was an occasionally benevolent autocrat, Graham is a technocrat who believes in widespread community consultation in the formulation of policy. There’s a lot of talk about the “creative industries”, as the all-purpose economic justification for activities that should be justified solely because they are good for the soul. It helps to quieten the philistines when there is a dollars & cents argument involved. This is typical Labor Party procedure. It comes across as inclusive and responsible, but there is always the potential of things getting bogged down in committees, consultations, and exaggerated regards for every sensitivity, while budgetary considerations still determine major outcomes.
The press conference at Sydney Modern introduced us to a new Ministerial Advisory Panel, chaired by Opera House CEO, Louise Herron. … If you want to contribute, this is the link.
Even though I’m naturally cynical about committees, I’d urge everyone to make a submission, as
there are no grounds to complain if one declines to participate in the process. My own priorities are as follows:
Firstly, the government must take steps to properly fund and support regional galleries. These play a vital role in raising awareness of cultural matters in rural areas, and are engines for community building… In recent times a lot of money has been directed to the Sydney suburbs, for no better reason than the attempt to buy votes. While the suburbs shouldn’t be neglected there needs to be a more equitable rebalancing of spending.
The other major issue for the NSW government must be the ongoing disaster that is the Powerhouse Museum. With attendances at their lowest ebb since the 1960s; a $500 million remake underway that will only reduce exhibition space and visitor numbers; an expensive white elephant being raised in Parramatta; a plan for three years of shutdown, and a final bill that will nudge $2 billion, what’s to like? This is a catastrophe generated from scratch by the previous government, most likely as a land grab, that took no account of the museum, its heritage, or public and expert opinion. It was pushed through in the most ruthless and unethical fashion, and now Labor is left to deal with the mess. Decisive action is required, not further long drawn-out consultation, as there is no longer any leeway for delay. The current development needs to be frozen, and serious consideration given to the views of the Powerhouse Museum Alliance, the group that best reflects the interests of the institution and the community.’
Read more Here: John McD 8 July 2023
7 July, 2023
‘State’s first Arts and Creative Industry policy will be artist-led to grow the sector’
‘The NSW Government is calling on artists and other creative industries practitioners across the state to help craft the first-ever Arts, Culture and Creative Industries Policy for NSW.
Minister for the Arts John Graham today released a discussion paper, A New Look At Culture, which focuses on how to grow the Arts and Cultural sector – an employer of almost one in ten people in Greater Sydney – in a way that is led by the people involved in the arts and creative industries.
The discussion process seeks to understand what’s working, what’s not working and what fresh ideas will propel the sector forward. To achieve this, an extensive consultation process will be undertaken across the state, including at least 11 in-person townhall meetings from Bega to Dubbo, Lismore to Tamworth and across Greater Sydney, with meetings in Liverpool, Penrith and Newcastle, as well as online meetings.
The discussion paper outlines 3 considerations for the sector to respond to:
- A new look at people: How can we create better, more inclusive, support and pathways for practitioners in the arts, culture and creative industries?
- A new look at infrastructure: How can we create and improve sustainable access to spaces, programs and other support for all aspects of artistic and cultural activity?
- A new look at audiences: How can we grow local, national and international audiences for cultural experiences, for the benefit of our community and the broader economy? ‘
To read the media release and discussion paper, and make a submission: Read more Here. Or Here: NSW Govt new arts policy Also Here: Arts policy Discussion Paper
3 July, 2023
‘NSW Premier Chris Minns foreshadows infrastructure spending cuts, after 100 days in power’
Alexander Lewis records for the ABC, current information about possible funding cuts to projects initiated by the former government. He writes: ‘NSW Premier Chris Minns says a range of infrastructure projects will be put on ice, as the new Labor government tries to rein in spending and keep its election promises. Since being elected to lead the state 100 days ago, Mr Minns has painted an ugly portrait of the government’s books and claimed the state’s debt was on track to reach a record $187 billion. In a sit-down interview with ABC News, Mr Minns has foreshadowed spending cuts in his first budget, which will be handed down in September, to afford a four per cent pay rise Labor has promised to public sector workers. “We’ve already identified a range of infrastructure projects that we don’t believe are a priority right now,” Mr Minns said.’
However, he adds, ‘Mr Minns declined to reveal which projects would not be funded in the upcoming budget, but there have been some clues.’ But despite the pre-election support for reviewing the demolition of significant buildings at the Powerhouse Museum, this is not yet mentioned. Read more Here, or Here: 3 July Govt Spending cuts
27 June, 2023′
Performance audit: State Heritage Assets’
Margaret Crawford, Auditor-General for NSW, presents a Performance Audit for State Heritage Assets saying that apart from financial audits ‘…we also conduct performance audits. These examine whether an entity is carrying out its activities effectively and doing so economically and efficiently and in compliance with relevant laws. Audits may cover all or parts of an entity’s operations, or consider particular issues across a number of entities.’
Regarding the ‘Oversight and administration of state heritage assets’, on P.2, their Conclusion includes: ‘The Department of Planning and Environment (Heritage NSW) does not have adequate oversight of state significant heritage assets. Information gaps and weaknesses in certain assurance processes limit its capacity to effectively regulate activities affecting assets
listed on the State Heritage Register. These factors also constrain its ability to effectively
support voluntary compliance and promote the objects of the Heritage Act, which include
encouraging conservation and adaptive re-use. Heritage NSW has adopted a focus on customer service and recently improved the timeliness of its advice and decisions on activities affecting listed assets. But Heritage NSW has not demonstrated how its customer service priorities will address known risks to its regulatory responsibilities. It could also do more to enable and promote effective heritage management among state government entities that own listed assets.’
Read Performance Report Here: or Here: FINAL REPORT – State heritage assets Performance report
Read Overall state heritage assets Audit report Here.
Many correspondents have since noted issues in this report that reflect on decisions about the heritage listing of the Powerhouse Museum.
22 June, 2023
‘Paying for projects…’
Following Mookhey’s announcement (below), he elaborated more on ABC ‘Sydney Mornings’, where the focus was on the $7 billion of unfounded projects inherited from the previous government. Calls and texts were invited by interviewer Sarah McDonald, and in answer to an online question from long-term Powerhouse curator and supporter, Andrew Grant, ‘How about cutting back on the ridiculous overspend on converting the Powerhouse Museum into a fashion and design centre?’ Mookhey responded that ‘we are having a real good look at the entire construction pipeline including that project and are asking whether we are getting value for money….’ When McDonald asked ‘is it too late to get out of it?’ the answer was ‘no’, and he did not correct her when she asked that the project therefore ‘may not happen’.
But it is still not clear what will actually be decided. Grant notes that in his question he chose his words carefully to describe an ‘overspend’, implying what was needed was the reduction of the budget, not its deletion. Listen here, from 15 mins 30 secs to 16.30.
20 June, 2023
‘NSW tipped to stay in red as dark economic clouds hover’
Referring to CoVid costs, and other financial commitments made by the former government, Alexandra Smith and Michael McGowan wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald that ‘The NSW budget is poised to remain in the red and not return to a predicted surplus next year as Treasurer Daniel Mookhey used his first major economic update to signal tough spending cuts in a bid to ease inflationary pressures. Mookhey’s economic statement to NSW parliament on Tuesday painted a gloomy picture for the state’s finances, with the treasurer warning that the state had lurched from a once-in-a-generation pandemic into a once-in-a-generation cost of living crisis. “There are tough choices ahead, they will not be easy, but they cannot be avoided,” Mookhey said. “The Treasury thinks inflation will remain NSW’s preeminent economic trial. This government acknowledges we can do more. The next step in bringing inflation under control is to bring our own spending under control.”‘ Read more Here, or Here: SMH Treasurer 20 June
16 June, 2023
‘It’s just ridiculous’: Key unions demand premier scrap $500m Powerhouse redevelopment
Linda Morris writes in the Sydney Morning Herald that: ‘Two of the state’s most powerful unions have called for a halt to the proposed $500 million redevelopment of the Powerhouse Museum at Ultimo, and the reinvestment of the savings to top up pay rises for frontline health and emergency sector workers. The Public Service Association, representing 40,000 public sector workers, says it will press for Premier Chris Minns to personally intervene to shelve plans the Labor government inherited for the knockdown rebuild of the museum’s 35-year-old modern wing. The Public Service Association’s general secretary Stewart Little said his members, including more than 100 permanent museum staff, believed the project was an extravagance the state could ill afford at a time of crippling cost of living increases. He was joined in his criticisms by Health Services Union boss Gerard Hayes who said spending to redevelop and reconfigure the museum’s inner-city location made as much sense as knocking down and rebuilding the Sydney Harbour Bridge. “As a health service person, we are in very difficult economic times. Why would we be dealing with luxury wish lists when we are not dealing with providing the necessities?” Hayes asked.
… At the March election, Labor pledged to “save” the Powerhouse Museum at Ultimo as a “world-class institution” and is currently undertaking broad community consultation about the museum’s future. These reorient the museum’s entrance and demolish the museum’s galleria, home of NSW’s first train, Locomotive No 1 and the priceless Boulton & Watt rotative steam engine, and the Wran wing along Harris Street. In its place, a new six-story annex is to be built (containing a library and new fit-for-purpose exhibition spaces), which museum chief executive Lisa Havilah says is necessary to draw international shows and upgrade public circulation spaces.
After a meeting between the union and museum management last week, Little said the Ultimo museum remained on track to close its doors on December 31 for up to three years. “We were advised by management on Thursday that there was no change to the former government’s plans to substantially demolish the Powerhouse museum and move the collection,” he said. “The union is supportive of this government providing for much-needed maintenance, after a decade of financial instability, to get the Powerhouse Museum back to where it once was. “It’s been tragic to watch its decline. The collection should be kept at Ultimo, and if anything expanded. This is an iconic cultural institution with a unique history and from the union’s point of view we do not want to see the museum effectively taken down and turned into a fashion centre.’ … Hayes said: “You’ve got a perfectly built museum and the cost of knocking it down and rebuilding it and dismantling these big exhibition items and storing them to do the same thing . . . why don’t we pack up the Sydney Harbour Bridge and send it to Gladesville? …”
The Public Service Association is seeking to delay the departure of 58 staff members who are scheduled to leave Ultimo for the museum’s Castle Hill storage facility ahead of Ultimo’s from June 20 as the museum prepares for closure. Three weeks later another 76 staff will shift to offices overlooking the riverside construction site of the Parramatta Powerhouse, where core parts of the new building’s steel exoskeleton are going up. Staff say hot desk arrangements and facilities at the museum’s newly extended Castle Hill storage facility are inadequate for the intensive research work they perform. Soft forms of industrial action including a refusal by staff to relocate have not been ruled out. Read more here: or Here: SMH 16 June Unions protest
13 June, 2023
‘Construction milestone reached on largest museum in the state’
Ellie Busby reports in the Parramatta News that ‘The contentious Powerhouse Parramatta has reached a major construction milestone with the buildings huge steel exoskeleton now starting to take form….Recently visiting the site, which sits on the former home of the historic Willow Grove building, NSW Minister for Arts John Graham said Powerhouse Parramatta will be the biggest museum in NSW… Construction on Powerhouse Parramatta is anticipated to be complete by 2024.’ Read more here: Parra News 13 June
2 June, 2023
‘It’s time for another look at the Powerhouse Museum saga’
Arts and cultural critic, John McDonald, writes in his regular newsletter: ‘Labor came to power in NSW with a promise of ending the long drawn-out vandalism inflicted on the PHM by their predecessors. After two months in office there has been little indication from relevant ministers such as John Graham and Pru Car, that the government is following through on this commitment. Instead, there has been a great deal of prevarication, while the management of the PHM fast-tracks its destructive program.
It’s entirely predictable that members of the business lobby and sympathetic bureaucrats will tell the incoming ministers it’s impossible to stop these processes; that it will cost millions to get out of contracts; that the only way to go is full steam ahead; that it’s a great deal for the western suburbs. It’s predictable that PHM management will take every opportunity to suck up to the new government and make their case as forcefully as possible. Let’s put these claims against the counterclaims:
The entire redevelopment is massively unpopular. It serves the vested interests of a few, and effectively destroys a major public asset. Community opinion and expert opinion are solidly opposed – and have been for almost a decade!
If the project proceeds as planned, there will be three separate buildings under the “Powerhouse” label, in Ultimo, Parramatta and Castle Hill [and the Observatory]. The Ultimo site is currently being emptied of its collection in preparation for a rebuild that will remove fifty percent of current exhibition space. The Parramatta building, set in a floodplain, has had so many features excised it no longer meets international standards for a museum. It’s hard to say exactly what it actually is – aside from a kind of overgrown function centre. … a massive white elephant that delivers nothing to the vast majority of people of Parramatta. As for Castle Hill, it promises to be a glorified storage depot in the outer suburbs where the bulk of the PHM collection will be left to gather dust in perpetuity. It will double as a place of exile for most of the museum departments, such as conservation, curatorial, etc, that will be relocated to this impractically distant location.
There is much talk about “residencies” in Ultimo and Parramatta, but why? What is the point of the Powerhouse turning itself into a hotel for artists, designers and students while forgetting the core business of a museum – which is to preserve and display important items of cultural heritage.
… However many millions it will cost to stop and undo this ongoing catastrophe, this will represent a fraction of the cost of proceeding as planned. Once demolition begins in Ultimo, this heritage site is gone forever. As it is proposed to close the museum for three years while the work is being done, this already represents an enormous loss of revenue and a waste of human resources. What are staff members doing for the next three years? When the makeover is complete, attendances will never come close to justifying the expense.
Labor has spoken out about the Coalition’s mania for privatisation, but they should recognise that what is happening at the Powerhouse is little more than the privatisation of a major public asset by a small group of people with a particular agenda. An industrious member of the Powerhouse Museum Alliance has told me about a plan to have a new department called “Community Curatorial”, to be headed by one Ivan Muniz Reed, a co-founder of the independent exhibitions agency, The Curatorial Department, with Glenn Barkley, husband of Powerhouse CEO, Lisa Havilah. Mr. Muniz Reed’s big idea is the “decolonisation of the museum”. … I can only say it is a problematic, pernicious ideology cloaked in heroic colours.
… The turnover of staff at the PHM over the past year has been unusally rapid. … existing staff are too demoralised to speak about problems, feeling they will be victimised and sacked if they complain. The proposal to send everyone to Castle Hill and Parramatta … is hardly more than a way of forcing long-term employees to resign, so the culture of the PHM can be rebuilt from the ground up with fresh, willing drones. There’s no concern whatsoever about the knowledge and expertise that will be lost.
Dear Ministers: we stand on the brink of a cultural debacle of mammoth proportions that you have inherited from an irresponsible and secretive former government. It is overwhelmingly opposed by the community and by expert opinion. The museum with the largest and most diverse collection in Australia is being taken apart before your eyes, and turned into a contemporary art and fashion hub, with “residencies”. It is a national disgrace and an international embarrassment that suggests we do not care for our own heritage, and are not fit to borrow from other countries. The most urgent action is required. If the ongoing proposals are implemented in their entirety we will have created a black hole that will absorb ever greater amounts of public money, with scant capacity to generate revenue. Aside from sheer moral cowardice there is no reason whatsoever – be it cultural, economic or even popularist (it’s the opposite of popular!) – to continue down this path to perdition.’ Read more Here: J McDonald 2 June 2023
30 May, 2023
‘Powerhouse team: The cultural leaders shaping the museum’s public domain’
Helen Norrie writes in Indesignlive, about ‘The Powerhouse Parramatta’s Landscape Curatorium comprises a group of esteemed individuals advising on First Nations landscape design, farming, caring for Country, and more. Their goal? To assist in the development of the landscape design for the museum’s public domain.’ After documenting the history of the Museum from 1882, she adds: ‘In 1998 [PMA correction 1988] the Ultimo Power Station was transformed into the Powerhouse Museum, displaying parts of the collection that had been in storage for decades and providing a catalyst for a new urban network, as the nearby University of Technology Sydney campus developed. The proposal to relocate the Powerhouse to Parramatta and to sell the Ultimo site to fund the new building was met with a barrage of protests about the loss of a much-loved institution in the inner city, concerns about the technical issues of relocating the key large-scale exhibits and calls for the new development in the west to address the community of Parramatta more specifically. An expanded consultation process led to the decision to retain and regenerate the Ultimo site and to develop Parramatta with a specific agenda to connect to place and people.
A Landscape Curatorium has been established to assist with the development of the landscape design of the museum’s public domain, and an exploration of program, use, spatial design and planting strategies that can foster connections between people and place. It brings together collaborators and cultural leaders to explore the landscape brief in an expansive way, and to provide expertise in the detail design of the spaces. Read more Here, or Here: Powerhouse Parramatta Landscape curatorium May 30
16-18 May, 2023
Powerhouse Museum and Climate Change?
On 16 May, Climate Control News reported on an entry on the Powerhouse Museum’s website, that: ‘Powerhouse yesterday became the first museum in Australia and latest signatory of the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment. Through its renewal the museum is taking radical action to embed low carbon solutions into its infrastructure projects and operations across all Powerhouse sites, leading the way to net zero emissions by 2025. This aligns with the Powerhouse Climate Action Plan that is the pathway for the museum to achieve net zero carbon emissions in operations by 2025.
A key distinguishing feature of the plan is the centrality of the museum’s ‘Caring for Country Principles’, developed in consultation with First Nations communities on which Powerhouse sites are located. The commitment Powerhouse has made to World Green Building Council’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment includes reducing existing buildings’ energy consumption, eliminate emissions from energy and refrigerants, remove fossil fuel use drastically, and compensate for residual emissions. By 2030 Powerhouse will be operating climate positive across all sites.’
Powerhouse chief executive, Lisa Havilah, and Powerhouse climate action and sustainability manager Carmel Reyes, further discussed their plans.
Read Powerhouse Climate Action Plan: or PHM Climate Action Plan 2023
Read Climate Control News: or: 16 May Climate Control and PHM
HOWEVER, Read also: Comments from colleagues Comments re Climate 18 May 2023
16 May, 2023
Advertisement: Local Publicity Agency – Powerhouse Renewal
In a mailout seeking Open Tenders, the NSW Govt has advertised to appoint a local publicity agency to promote the current proposed Powerhouse plans. It says:
‘Tender Details: The Powerhouse is one of Australia’s oldest and most important cultural institutions. It is Australia’s only museum of applied arts and sciences with an exceptional collection of approximately 500,000 objects. The Powerhouse is undertaking significant renewal through the creation of Powerhouse Parramatta, expansion of Powerhouse Castle Hill, the digitisation of Powerhouse Collection, and the renewal of Powerhouse Ultimo. The Powerhouse renewal is focused on redefining museums and with a $1.4 billion dollar investment by the NSW Government is the largest cultural project in Australia.
To deliver this major renewal program, Powerhouse seeks to appoint a local publicity agency to collaborate with international communications agency Bolton & Quinn to:
- Promote Powerhouse as a significant global brand.
- Deliver significant Renewal stories across all Powerhouse sites.
- Profile strategic projects and programming across all Powerhouse sites.
- Focus on six primary communities requiring specialist cultural understanding.
- Deliver executive profile opportunities locally and nationally.’
It adds: ‘…Open Tenders – An invitation to tender by public advertisement with no restriction placed on who may tender. Tenderers will normally be required to demonstrate in their tender that they have the necessary skills, resources, experience, financial capacity, and in some cases licences, accreditations, etc., to fulfil the tender requirements.’ Read more Here, or Here: NSW Govt tender for PHM Publicity
[Note: Powerhouse Museum Alliance asks:
- Will the Ultimo State Museum site remain they key management location? Or is it to be a minor adjunct to Parramatta, which does not have the appropriate spaces for the broad collection, and should have its own local institutions.
- Where is the published program of exhibition and project themes for what is to take place in each site?
- Do they realise there is inadequate professional staff to properly interpret the collection?]
17 May, 2023
‘Firm decisions crucial to future of Powerhouse’
In his Opinion editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald, Editor Bevan Shields summarises the current situation: ‘A$500 million redevelopment of the Powerhouse Museum seems on hold as authorities return to their indecisive habits on what to do about the Ultimo institution. The people of NSW are adamant they want a museum on the site but years of confused policy risks stripping the Powerhouse of purpose and turning it into a second-class attraction as other Sydney cultural institutions bloom.’
‘Then-premier Mike Baird decided in 2015 that the much-loved complex, which includes the city’s former powerhouse and tram sheds and was converted to a museum as a Bicentennial project in 1988, would be relocated to a new $915 million facility in Parramatta and the Ultimo site redeveloped. After considerable public outcry, the Berejiklian government reviewed Baird’s decision in 2017 and determined it should stay put. The following year it reversed the decision and suggested closing Ultimo sometime between 2020 and 2021. In July 2020, it went back on its word to close the site and relocate the collections. In 2021, the Berejiklian government allocated $500 million to transform the Powerhouse precinct into a commercially oriented fashion and design hub.
The latest proposal has also been met with full-frontal attacks from conservationists, arts administrators and some who pushed for the museum’s establishment in the 1980s. They want the Ultimo site’s partial heritage listing to be expanded to its entirety, as recommended by the National Trust … Meanwhile, public confusion is being stoked by architects arguing the toss: one company that drafted a conservation management plan claimed the museum had low to moderate heritage significance; another architect, Alan Croker, said his pro-heritage listing report to the NSW government was buried because it would have scuppered the new development.’
‘… For its part, NSW Labor in the approach to the March state election affirmed qualified support for Ultimo as a world-class museum but admitted concern over the shift in focus from a science and engineering museum to fashion and design… Certainly, the way through the current confusion will be fraught … Perhaps the Powerhouse’s rebuild cost of $500 million can be revisited. After all, the cost of the Art Gallery of NSW’s monumental new Sydney Modern wing was held to $344 million and it is looking for 2 million visitors in its first year….The people of Sydney said years ago they wanted a museum on the Ultimo site. The challenge facing the Minns government is to clear the confusion that now overhangs redevelopment of an increasingly stale part of Sydney.’ Read more Here, or Here: Opinion SMH 17 May 2023
16/17 May, 2023
‘Plibersek, City of Sydney, enter row over $500m Powerhouse redevelopment’
Linda Morris writes in the Sydney Morning Herald that: ‘Prominent federal Labor minister Tanya Plibersek and the City of Sydney have weighed into the growing row over the future of the $500 million redevelopment of the Powerhouse Museum at Ultimo, upping pressure on the Minns government to hit pause on the knockdown rebuild of the museum’s modern wing.
… Plibersek was at the forefront of community rallies to save the Powerhouse at Ultimo seven years ago when it was to have been relocated to Parramatta, and the Ultimo site sold off. She told this masthead: “I want to see the site maintained and restored so it can be enjoyed by future generations. Before the NSW government decides to approve the removal of any of its history, they need to be sure it’s the right thing to do. Heritage listing is a matter for the NSW government but I am glad the new minister is bringing transparency back to this process.”
Plibersek’s intervention lays the groundwork for a rethink of the redevelopment, which could involve a more modest refurbishment at a reduced cost to taxpayers. Savings could potentially be redirected to western Sydney arts including Parramatta’s Female Factory, an important site of Australia’s convict history.
… The Minns government has yet to commit to the Powerhouse redevelopment and is consulting widely, including business groups that argue the redevelopment is needed to revive the Pyrmont precinct. “Unfortunately, the Powerhouse forecourt on Harris Street has stood like a barren wasteland for far too long,” said Paul Nicolaou, executive director of Business Sydney. “The planned $500 million investment is important for the whole Pyrmont precinct. Chinatown and its many wonderful businesses will benefit greatly from having a world-class museum nearby.”
On Monday night [15 May], the City of Sydney voted to call on NSW Arts Minister John Graham to review the project’s scope and all contractual obligations entered into by the previous Coalition government. Council also urged Graham to take “all possible steps” to ensure the heritage value of the site was respected and protected as part of any future scheme. The motion was sponsored by Labor’s Linda Scott and supported by Lord Mayor Clover Moore, both of whom acknowledged the strength of local community opposition to the redevelopment. …
[The motion was approved by Council: Read the motion HERE: Council motion 15 May and view Councillor Scott presenting the motion: Webcast Here: (Go to item 11.9) ]
‘The museum’s chief executive Lisa Havilah says the redevelopment is needed to expand exhibition spaces, mount and show travelling international exhibitions, and improve visitor experiences.
Controversy over the redevelopment reignited last month when a draft report by eminent heritage architect Alan Croker recommended significant parts of the modern extension be heritage protection. Croker’s contract was terminated last year before he could deliver his preliminary findings. The government’s arts agency denied it was because of the report’s content.’ Read more Here, or Here: SMH Plibersek, City of Sydney enter row 16 May
15 May, 2023
‘Questions in Parliament for the Powerhouse Plans’
In his Update Issue 494, Sydney Independent MP Alex Greenwich advises that:
‘Politicians need to stop treating the Powerhouse as a political football and start working towards the best outcome for the museum and the inner city. Since former Premier Baird announced relocating the museum to western Sydney and redeveloping the land, the future of this vital public institution has been uncertain. Recent plans for a design museum complemented with existing permanent exhibitions are even in doubt now that it was revealed the previous government changed heritage consultants when the expert advice received was in favour of keeping not demolishing the award-winning Wran Building.’
‘I’ve submitted questions in Parliament about the government’s plans for the Ultimo Powerhouse site and museum: HERE.
This link notes that:
57 – POWERHOUSE MUSEUM
Greenwich, Alex to the Minister for Transport representing the Special Minister of State, Minister for Roads , Minister for the Arts, Minister for Music and the Night-time Economy, and Minister for Jobs and Tourism
(1) What are the Government’s plans for the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo?
(2) What are the plans for the Powerhouse buildings?
(3) What are the plans for the Powerhouse operations?
(4) When will the community have a say on these plans?
Question asked on 10 May 2023 (session 58-1) and printed in Questions & Answers Paper No. 2
Answer due on 14 June 2023
He also refers to ‘Recent media reports question previous decisions on heritage values’ and ‘protection of the museum’s collection.’ (See news entries below from Sydney Morning herald and The Guardian).
15 May, 2023
Campaign Update: Bulletin 87
In his regular Bulletin, Tom Lockley writes: ‘If you want to save THE Powerhouse MUSEUM in its present building, retain the heritage of the Bicentennial celebrations and incidentally save a quarter of a million dollars of public money, please [sign] a petition being organised by Kobi Shetty, who has followed our great supporter Jamie Parker as MLC for Balmain. Please do it NOW!’ Here
Acknowledging that various committed groups had been working on this campaign for 8 years, he reports that: ‘John Graham, the NSW Minister for the Arts, met with Lionel Glendinning, Jennifer Sanders and Lindsay Sharp on Friday afternoon. Jennifer reports that ‘there was good and frank discussion across the key issues’, and it is great to see that at last, people with museum expertise are being heard. Many details cannot be divulged, but it is clear that our representatives presented a compelling case for the saving of THE Powerhouse MUSEUM along the lines indicated in the Powerhouse Museum Alliance manifesto…’ HERE:PMA Key Requirements to Save the PHM Jan 2023
As well, ‘…the new Government is still under pressure to continue with the current plans of the preceding Government. …The Powerhouse Museum Alliance concludes that ‘it is critically important that we continue to make a strong case for the Powerhouse Museum, the entire site including the Harwood Building, to be saved as promised. The program of work commissioned by the previous government is still progressing as reported in the media: the Development Application is to be submitted in a month’. The plan is for demolition is to commence at the end of the year, and the opening of whatever the final result will be some years hence. However, the Minister has promised that there will be no further degradation of the museum until he has the outcomes of a proper investigation of the situation. …Massive amounts of data are already available for analysis. Principally, the two legislative council Inquiries have demonstrated grave flaws in the process, but the Government has treated their findings and recommendations with contempt. Data has been gathered over the years in many ways, as is recorded in the massive Powerhouse Museum Alliance website and the Save the Powerhouse Facebook site. The Government archives are also available to the incoming administration. Read More here: Campaign Update 15 May
13 May, 2023
‘…a ruinous, massively expensive rebuild is under way’
Arts critic John McDonald includes in his regular newsletter, that ‘A shocking story in the Herald revealed that the Powerhouse is set to close for the next three years while a ruinous, massively expensive rebuild is under way. Former director, Lindsay Sharp, and others have rightly denounced this as untenable. To close a major museum for three years, sending the curators to offices in Castle Hill and Parramatta, dumping major parts of the collection any-old-where… only to re-emerge with a product that nobody wants at a final cost approaching $2 billion, is the most absurd act of cultural vandalism ever perpetrated by any government in this country. It was wholly the initiative of the Coalition, so Labor must be as good as their election promises and put a stop to this wildly expensive, incredibly short-sighted project. As it appears there is a concerted effort to push through with the plans, the new government has no time to waste making further inquiries. Do you have to inquire about a tsunami when it’s looming over your head?’ Read here.
12 May, 2023
‘Save our Powerhouse from dodgy redevelopment’
Greens MP for Balmain, Kobi Shetty, circulated a petition to save the Powerhouse Museum and wrote: ‘The Powerhouse Ultimo is an iconic cultural and historic landmark that deserves to be protected. Over the last decade the future of the Powerhouse has been in the hands of development-hungry politicians, and this local gem has only just survived thanks to key advocates and a massive community campaign. That is why it’s so disappointing that the new Labor minority government hasn’t halted the controversial $500 million redevelopment plans for next month despite strong community concerns. Our community has expressed concerns over the proposed demolition of state-significant sites, a dodgy heritage assessment process and the risks of damaging artefacts in the rebuild.’ She said: ‘I have made it a priority to meet with the Minister for the Arts as soon as possible so we can find a better solution for our community. Join me in calling on the minister to rethink the controversial redevelopment plans, stop the demolition of heritage sites and ensure a transparent planning process. Show your support here.
10/11 May, 2023
‘Say goodbye: Powerhouse Museum set to shut its doors for almost three years’
Linda Morris writes in the Sydney Morning Herald, ‘The Powerhouse Museum at Ultimo would likely shut for almost three years to allow for the knock-down and rebuild of the museum’s 35-year-old wing. Management of Australia’s leading science and technology museum will begin moving dozens of staff out of the Ultimo location from next month when an application for the site’s redevelopment could be lodged. A construction period of 30 months is estimated for the $500 million redevelopment, which will upgrade exhibition and circulation spaces and reorient the museum’s entrance towards the city. The museum was expected to close in December, with tenders to go out early next year, and in this scenario the rebuilt museum would not reopen until 2026. The broad timetable for the redevelopment was disclosed for the first time in a briefing called by new arts minister John Graham, who has ordered transparency around the planned rebuild.’
In opposition to current plans, ‘…the museum’s founding director, Lindsay Sharp, has called for the government to halt the redevelopment and consider undertaking instead a less expensive but “radical evolution” of the 1988 campus that would be capable of “taking the museum far into the future”. It would be possible, he said, to renovate and extend the museum for about half the cost of the planned rebuild without shutting down the site entirely and having to rebuild audiences once it reopens.’…”The government can get maximum, sustainable value for around half the cost. Truthfully, it would be a really exciting museum experience.”
‘Graham, whose government will have the final say if the project should go ahead, said the government supported a museum of the highest excellence at the Ultimo site that had “a clear and distinct identity, and which built on its traditional focus on science, engineering, transport, design, the technical arts, and education”. He added that the government remained “committed to the Wran legacy and transparency. We are working through the details of this significant project in an orderly manner, including upcoming community consultation in the coming weeks”.’ Read More here; or Read Here: SMH 10 May 2023
10 May, 202
‘Powerhouse Museum: whistleblower staff claim more exhibition items damaged or put at risk’
Kelly Burke follows up her report from 9 May (below) in The Guardian, writing that ‘Current workers blame policy of ‘open display’ for compromising safety of collection, in new allegations the museum rejects as ‘lies’… Powerhouse Museum staff members have raised further allegations of damaged exhibition items, as pressure rises on the NSW Labor government to intervene in the Ultimo museum’s future. In April, Guardian Australia reported claims that the museum’s 1950s Catalina seaplane was damaged with white spray paint late last year, after being lowered from the ceiling in August; and that a 20th century Bleriot monoplane was put at risk while the transport exhibition hall was gutted.… On Tuesday, Guardian revealed that another priceless antique was potentially at risk: the world’s oldest working rotative steam engine, the 1785 Boulton & Watt. The museum has denied these claims of damage and risk, saying that the safety of the collection has been ensured “at all times” and that “the care and preservation of the museum collection is our highest priority”.
‘Since then, more staff members have come forward with other instances of damage to exhibition items, including a Victorian-era indication board from Sydney’s Central station; a rare 1970s Mellotron keyboard; a dress designed by Ron Muncaster; and two works by HSC design students…. More exhibition items have been damaged, current staff members claim, in instances they blame on recent staffing cuts, an introduced policy of open display (removing protective barriers and “do not touch” signs), and the use of the space as a party venue.’
Kelly Burke continues with further details including comments from museum management and external specialists. Read more: or Here: Guardian 10 May, 2023
9 May, 2023
‘Cultural vandalism’: Powerhouse Museum’s landmark steam engine under threat, experts warn
Kelly Burke writes in The Guardian, that: ‘The world’s oldest working rotative steam engine could be at significant risk, experts say, if Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum goes ahead with plans to dismantle, store and then electrify part of the 1785 Boulton & Watt: a priceless antique whose components are “as fragile as 200-year-old glass”. The warnings about the engine – a gem of the museum’s collection – follow serious claims of neglect of other exhibition items which were recently raised by current staff and former board members, after Guardian Australia broke news of an allegedly “buried” report that could have thwarted its controversial $500m redevelopment.
On Thursday, the new Labor arts minister, John Graham, met with executives to thrash out the contentious future of the Powerhouse, Australia’s largest science and technology museum. Touring the institution, Graham was met by members of the Powerhouse Museum Alliance, a collective fighting to keep it intact. One member delivered a letter to the minister, calling on him to make publicly available all documentation by the previous Coalition government over the new $915m Powerhouse Parramatta, scheduled for completion in 2025; and the conversion of the Ultimo site into a commercially driven creative arts, design and events precinct.
Under that plan, the world’s oldest working rotative steam engine – the 1785 Boulton & Watt – will be dismantled and placed in storage before being reassembled at the redeveloped Ultimo site, where the power source that creates the steam will be converted from gas to electricity….’
‘In a statement, a Powerhouse spokesperson maintained that the steam engine would be safely dismantled and stored, as it has been in the past. “The care and preservation of the Museum collection is our highest priority,” the statement said. But experts have described the move as “extremely risky”. … ‘The Boulton & Watt has been part of the museum’s collection since its arrival in Australia in 1888. In the 1920s it was electrified, then restored back to its original steam operation in the 1980s, at a cost of about $2m at the time, according to the founding Powerhouse director Lindsay Sharp.’… And ‘University of New South Wales emeritus professor David Phillip Miller, one of Australia’s leading experts in technology of the industrial revolution, said that ‘dismantling of the Boulton & Watt – and introducing an electrical component – would be an act of “cultural vandalism” that formed part of a “greater travesty”: the dismantling of the Ultimo museum’s entire steam engine collection…’
“The working Boulton & Watt draws people from around the world,” said Debbie Rudder, who was previously the Museum’s curator of power technologies for 23 years. “Historians, industrial revolution enthusiasts, steam enthusiasts come from Britain and all round the world to Sydney to see it operating.”
‘The museum spokesperson said the Boulton & Watt had a history of being safely dismantled, stored and reassembled, both in 1888 when it arrived in Australia and in the 1980s when it was restored and housed in a custom-built space in the newly designed museum….But an April 2023 independent report, commissioned by the Powerhouse Museum Alliance, strongly advised against ever moving the steam engine again “unless absolutely essential”, due to “cumulative fatigue” of its fragile components that have weakened over time. The report’s author, Sydney mechanical and structural engineer Steve Muscat, told Guardian Australia: “It’s like [playing with] the tab on a can of coke. You can only do it so many times before the tab snaps.”… Similar advice was given to the museum more than 40 years ago. The UK’s world steam engineering expert Jonathan Minns travelled to Sydney in 1980, where he advised the museum’s then director Lindsay Sharp that once the engine was installed in its purpose-built space, it should never be moved again. “Jonathan was unequivocal,” Sharp said. The engineer, who died in 2013, warned him that components of the engine were “as fragile as 200-year-old glass”. Sharp said Minns repeated this advice in a report that current staff at the Powerhouse, some who are speaking to Guardian Australia, were unable to locate among the conservation archives. The Powerhouse’s executive did not respond to questions about the Minns report.’ Read more Here, or Here: Guardian 9 May 2023
8 May, 2023
‘Too soon to tell – is the Powerhouse Museum saved and what happens next?’
On his Blogspot Indefinite articles, cultural researcher and writer, Stephen Cassidy, provides links to a number of documents, saying: ‘Over the years I have written several articles about the decline of the once mighty Powerhouse Museum, one of the gems of Sydney and an internationally renowned institution. It was steadily undermined by a State government more at ease with pork-barrelling the suburbs it had long neglected than fostering a great museum and major tourist attraction. Rather than extending and upgrading the museum into the Western suburbs, it seemed intent on establishing a de facto entertainment and functions centre in Parramatta. Now, with a new State Government, that all may have changed.’
A former Membership Manager at the Powerhouse Museum, who regrets that this aspect appears to no longer exist, he adds: ‘Hopefully, with the election of the Minns Labor Government in NSW, there may be some hope of an end to this embarrassing debacle with the Museum, though there are no guarantees. I include extracts from a breaking update distributed on behalf of the broad alliance that has been battling for years to reverse this policy failure and halt the sad decline of the Museum. [Powerhouse Museum Alliance; distributed paper attached] I haven’t written about the saga for several years because I was so unhappy about the whole sorry business. …’
He continues: History of a train wreck Here are the three earlier articles I wrote about the Powerhouse Museum. The process they outline can best be described as a train wreck – apt given the long association between the Powerhouse and trains.
Better late than never – does Powerhouse Museum turnaround signal new promise?
Going, going, gone – the final spiral of a cultural icon?
The grand design of things – the lost unrealised potential of the Powerhouse Museum
Extract from update by Powerhouse Museum Alliance
An abridged and edited version of an update distributed yesterday, 5 May 2023, follows. It summarises developments so far and suggests the way forward.
Read Here for links to his Blog: or Read Here: Stephen Cassidy Blogspot
5 May, 2023
‘Powerhouse Museum: an 8-year update! What now? Issues, comments, suggestions …’Speaking for the Powerhouse Museum Alliance, Grace Cochrane wrote in a mass mailout:
‘This update is sent to hundreds of colleagues, both as individuals and in institutions and organisations across NSW, Australia and other countries, who have established important relationships with the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, and who have expressed concerns about our previous government’s plans to firstly demolish and move the Museum, and then ‘save it’ while vastly changing its role and program. You may like to follow this up, to further support the future of the Museum (see below). In summary:
– Yes, keep the main Museum site in Ultimo; Parramatta to have own institutions
– Yes, keep all buildings, and get state heritage listing for 1988 buildings and historic Harwood building
– Yes, as core business stay with ‘applied arts (industrial and decorative arts, crafts, design) and sciences’ (including industrial and technological) and social history, as always!
– Yes, encourage release of the secret design briefs and secret business cases
– Stop anything leading towards demolition in Ultimo; encourage only appropriate ‘renewal’
‘Just a few weeks after the NSW State Election (25 March, 2023), it is now possible to identify reversals that may be made by our new government, to the destructive plans for the Powerhouse Museum initiated by the previous government in 2014. Even though the Museum was ‘saved’ in its Sydney city site in 2020, it is still unclear exactly what its future role is, or what its relationship will be with the proposed Parramatta venue. We want it to remain with its original purpose, on its current site, in its current buildings – albeit with appropriate renewal to better access the collection through exhibitions and related events.’
The document continues with more details of issues and expectations, and links to members of NSW parliament for those wanting to pass on their concerns. Read Here: Mailout May 2023
2/3 May, 2023
‘Second report casts doubt on Powerhouse demolition plans’
In the Sydney Morning Herald, Linda Morris follows up previous reports, writing that a report by architects Robertson and Hindmarsh, for Heritage NSW, provided: ‘A second study challenging the plan to demolish the Powerhouse Museum at Ultimo has added to pressure mounting on the Minns government to step in and halt the $500 million redevelopment.
The Powerhouse Museum was named as an example of the state’s best-built heritage of the last quarter of the twentieth century, alongside 33 other buildings likely to be of state heritage significance in the report by architects Robertson & Hindmarsh. The report was commissioned to provide Heritage NSW with expert guidance about the comparative value of the museum’s modern extensions that were left off the heritage list in 2020 and other buildings including schools and office towers of the period.
The study’s findings add weight to the work of eminent heritage architect Alan Croker, who found the modern extension deserved to be conserved and protected…The Robertson & Hindmarsh report rated the Powerhouse on a shortlist of buildings deemed of architectural or design merit. Two of three appendixes are missing from the publicly available copy of the report in Heritage NSW’s digital library. But the Herald can disclose that the missing documents for the Powerhouse quote the museum complex as historically and architecturally significant for its reuse of existing industrial buildings in “one of Sydney’s largest and more successful architectural adaptions”.
… As one of the few remaining legacies of the former Wran government, Croker says he wants to be able to complete his draft conservation plan. “In order to protect its important values, whilst still allowing change, it is essential that no further works or changes be done on the site that could threaten or compromise these values until an appropriate and comprehensive set of conservation policies and guidelines for change are in place,” he said.
Architect of the 1988 adaption, Lionel Glendenning says the new plans effectively reduce the museum to the brick shell of the former power station, as if the Powerhouse Museum had never existed. He has urged heritage listing for the entire site and estimated the government could save taxpayers $250 million if it limited the scope of redevelopment and concentrated on re¬opening shuttered exhibition spaces, reversing unsympathetic alterations, completing overdue maintenance, and opening entry to the Goods Line.’…Heritage listing for the entire museum’s site was not supported in 2020. It was held that though the Wran building was innovative for its adaptive reuse of the site, it impacted the visibility and legibility of the state heritage-listed buildings within the site, including the former Power House buildings, and the Ultimo Post Office. (But PHM notes that the new proposed design ‘blocks completely any view of the Power House and takes over all of the Harris Street frontage including the forecourt – a brick box looking over Harris Street and the historic Vernon Post Office.’ ) Read more Here: or Here: SMH Second report casts doubt on Powerhouse demolition 3 May 2023
27 April, 2023
Sydney Powerhouse ‘a half-empty neglected mess’ amid redevelopment, museum staff claim
Kelly Burke reports in the Guardian that: ‘Staff and former board members at Sydney’s Powerhouse allege the museum’s collections have been neglected and put at risk of damage, as Australia’s flagship science and technology museum undergoes a controversial $500m conversion into a commercially driven creative arts and events space.
Guardian Australia has spoken to multiple members of staff who have have shared their concerns that the upkeep on the historic buildings in Ultimo appears to have been neglected and the quality of programming downgraded in order to smooth the way for its conversion into what the previous New South Wales government touted as a “creative industries precinct”.
In addition, staff, former board members and volunteers at the museum have alleged that objects in the museum had been placed at risk during major modifications to exhibition spaces and at parties and events held at the site, and that unrectified leaks in the building had threatened exhibits….
One former Powerhouse board member told the Guardian the museum had been reduced to “a half empty neglected mess”, while a written statement from the museum board’s former long-serving president, Nick Pappas, accused the former state government of conducting “a miserable land-grab under the guise of supporting the cultural needs of western Sydney”, resulting in the “unjustified and catastrophic destruction of a beloved and award-winning public edifice and cultural institution”.
In coming weeks, the majority of Powerhouse staff will be relocated from the Ultimo site to the institution’s storage facility at Castle Hill while a new Powerhouse museum is built in Parramatta – a $915m project scheduled for completion in 2025.
Yesterday, the Guardian revealed heritage architect Alan Croker’s allegations that the former NSW government had “buried” his company’s work on a conservation management plan (CMP) for the Ultimo museum after it found the entire site should be heritage listed.
Such a finding would have prevented the government’s plans to demolish at least one-third of the museum’s existing buildings and significantly modify others….
Dr Lindsay Sharp, who served as founding director of the Powerhouse in the 1980s before going on to become the director of the UK’s sprawling network of science museums, said he was astounded by photos he had seen of parties held at the Ultimo site.
“You’re looking at absolutely irreplaceable, iconic objects,” he said. “Of course there is a way of opening up exhibits for the public to get up close to, but it has to be done in a professional way. As a museum director, as a museum professional, you just don’t believe what you’re looking at here.”
The cavernous transport hall where the Catalina seaplane is housed was gutted in mid-2021, with most of the museum’s extensive transport collection – including an early 20th-century Bleriot monoplane, a 1904 motorcycle, a 1939 Chevrolet, a Victorian boneshaker bicycle and an 18th-century sedan chair – now removed.
Staff also shared photos of large glass and steel display cases being dismantled with angle grinders while prized exhibits, such as the fragile Bleriot, were left uncovered and risked exposure to industrial dust, which has the potential to damage machine parts and corrode surfaces.’ Read more Here; or Here Guardian Kelly Burke 27 April
27 April, 2023
Powerhouse Museum ‘Hidden report puts $500m project under a cloud’
Linda Morris reports in the Sydney Morning Herald that: ‘A $500 million redevelopment of the Powerhouse Museum at Ultimo is under a cloud after a long-hidden report surfaced that recommended state heritage listing of parts of the museum now slated for demolition later this year.
Arts minister John Graham has called for the government arts agency to provide him with a copy of the draft report by heritage consultant Alan Croker, whose firm’s contract ended shortly before he could officially deliver his final draft.
Croker found significant parts of the 1988 museum extensions deserved conservation and protection. Croker’s draft conservation management plan shows the site was of historical and exceptional cultural significance for its collection of 19th-century historic buildings on the site of the first power station constructed for Sydney’s electric tram network, and its later adaption in 1988 into a museum precinct. These findings were not included in the planning documents used to justify the redevelopment of the Ultimo museum for a new main entrance, reoriented to the Goods Line and new public square, rooftop gardens and multistorey annex running the length of Harris Street across its forecourt. The “renewal” plans are now being finalised by the winning architect team, Architectus, Durbach Block Jaggers Architects, Tyrrell Studio, Youssofzay + Hart, Finding Infinity and Arup.
The plans require the demolition of the arched galleria constructed when the former power station was converted into Australia’s iconic science, applied arts and technology museums. Croker’s firm Design 5 rates the galleria that references the Garden Palace, which burnt to the ground in 1882 and housed the museum’s foundation collection, as being of exceptional significance; the half-arched building on Harris Street, less so.
Croker’s contract was terminated by Create NSW days before finalising the report in April last year that confirmed the “Powerhouse Museum in its setting reaches the threshold for state significance”.
A spokesperson for Create NSW characterised the work of Design 5 as research and said the contract was ended on March 28, 2022, due to missed project deadlines.”Any inference that the contract was terminated due to the content of the research is false,” they said…Croker said he presented an initial draft in December 2021 to Powerhouse executives and staff for formal comment, and his contract was ended abruptly without ever receiving that response. Current design plans, he said, were based on an “incomplete understanding of the importance of the buildings and the museum on the Powerhouse site”. Graham said he had raised questions about “a second CMP” on the Ultimo Renewal project in Budget Estimates in September. “I have now begun being briefed on the matter,” he said. “I have requested the relevant documents be delivered to my office.” The nature of the contract, the content of the work, and motivations for ending it are expected to be carefully examined by his office. “I have also asked for advice as to what documents can be released publicly,” he said. Read more Here; or Here SMH Linda Morris Hidden report 27 April
26 April, 2023
Revealed: the ‘buried’ Powerhouse Museum report that could have stopped $500m redevelopment
Kelly Burke writes in the Guardian, that Alan Croker, ‘A prominent heritage architect alleges the NSW government terminated his contract and hired another company after he advised that the Ultimo site should be heritage listed. A heritage architect hired by the previous New South Wales government to consult on major redevelopments at Sydney’s Powerhouse museum is alleging that his research was buried. He alleges this was because it would have scuppered controversial plans to demolish much of the beloved Sydney institution.
Alan Croker, who has previously consulted on architectural landmarks such as the Sydney Opera House, told Guardian Australia his company, Design 5, drafted a conservation management plan (CMP)for the heritage significance of the Ultimo site in October 2021.
However, his recommendation that the entire site be heritage listed threatened $500m plans to turn the Powerhouse into a commercially-oriented fashion and design hub. The final report from a second company was published under then premier Dominic Perrottet in mid-2022. It meant the government could demolish most or all of what was constructed at the Powerhouse in the 1980s, when the former power station was converted into Australia’s largest science and technology museum….
Croker believes his CMP, a draft of which was handed to the government in April 2022, ended up “buried somewhere” because its findings were “not what the powers that be wanted to know”. His findings would have laid the groundwork to expand the heritage listing to the Ultimo site in its entirety, as per the recommendation of the National Trust. “It’s time somebody told the truth about what happened,” Croker told the Guardian. “This ongoing silence is not right.”…
Croker said communication with Create NSW stalled soon after he presented his findings in December 2021. He alleges that a series of public consultations, which were to be included in his report, were initially delayed, while requests for feedback to enable him and his staff to proceed to the next stage were ignored.” The silence from the Powerhouse Museum and the government became increasingly loud,” Croker said.
… Before it was elected in March, Labor promised to “save” the Ultimo Powerhouse and end the secrecy still shrouding many of the plans for the site. The new arts minister, John Graham, attributed the lack of transparency to the previous government’s “obsession with commercialisation and privatisation”. “We are going to be a lot more public about what’s going on there … it’s got to be a museum, that’s not up for negotiation,” Graham said three days before the March election. On Tuesday the minister said the allegations raised were concerning. “I’ve asked for advice [from various departments] on which of these documents can be made public,” he said.’ Read more Here; or Here Guardian Croker report buried 26 April
21 April, 2023
‘Crisis in our museums reaches far and wide’
Also as: ‘Sydney Powerhouse and APY Lands reveal crisis in our cultural sector’
Henry Ergas writes in The Australian, that the ‘destruction of Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum highlights everything that’s wrong with our cultural institutions’, saying: ‘… there is an urgent need for a proper review of the strategy, governance and future of our major cultural institutions. Nothing more starkly highlights the problems than the fate of Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum which, until not so long ago, ranked among the world’s greatest museums of the applied arts and sciences.
Now, eight years after the state’s LNP government triggered an endless series of abrupt policy moves and reversals by announcing that it intended to shut the Powerhouse’s Ultimo site, the museum’s treasures have largely been placed into storage – with several priceless items, including the Bleriot monoplane, which is the oldest historical aircraft in Australia, being severely damaged in the process.
Meanwhile, the very idea of having a museum of applied arts and sciences seems to have been surreptitiously jettisoned in favour of what can be described only as a cross between yet another contemporary arts centre, a fashion venue and a glitzy entertainment mall. There have been, for sure, moments of comic relief. It was, for example, heartening to hear the then arts minister, Ben Franklin, echo Andy Warhol’s prediction, made back in 1975, that eventually “all museums will become department stores” by stating that the Powerhouse’s new “core” would be a “precinct (showcasing) fashion, design, photography, film, broadcasting and First Nations”. “Gone are the days when museums and galleries are big rooms filled with glass cabinets,” asserted Franklin, who has clearly not wasted any time in the world’s leading scientific museums; and gone with them, it seems, is any mention of science and technology in an institution whose governing legislation is called the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences Act.
As for what is to come … somewhat unusually for the head of an institution that holds, in trust for the public, an extraordinary collection of historical objects, the hip CEO boasts of her willingness to “ignore the weight of history, language and architecture”. Ignore them she certainly has. Although the data is shrouded in secrecy, it appears that since January 2019, when Havilah came on board, the number of expert conservators has fallen by two-thirds; for the first time in decades, the museum lacks a specialist curator for engineering and transport; as for educational staff, whose tours were among the museum’s great attractions, their numbers have plummeted from 24 to three. Slashed too is exhibition space. The misnamed “renewal” of the complex at Ultimo – which amounts to a demolition – seems likely to halve the display area, while entirely gutting the site’s state of the art storage facilities. Nor is that loss offset by the new site at Parramatta which, despite its imposing size, cannot host or store large, museum quality, objects and exhibitions. As a result, what was a depot in Sydney’s outer suburbs is being “repurposed” into the Powerhouse Castle Hill that will hold – and occasionally exhibit – the collection’s magnificent transport and engineering objects at a site where visitor numbers are a minute fraction of those at Ultimo. All that is, of course, being done at Pharaonic cost – in the order of $1.5bn – although a sixth of that amount would have sufficed to upgrade the Ultimo complex, retaining, rather than destroying, the integrity of its Sulman award-winning building, which was specifically designed to display the Powerhouse’s works. Little wonder the cost-benefit appraisal justifying the massive outlays conveniently overlooked that option, which was the least costly and least harmful …
Topping off those creative efforts, which could have landed private sector accountants into the soup, the latest forecast claims the renovated Powerhouse will generate more commercial revenue each year than the National Gallery of Victoria, which is Australia’s most popular museum. That forecast is entirely fanciful; but what it reflects is a strategy of converting the Powerhouse into a function space and shopping centre, where the collection that has been meticulously built up since 1880 merely provides unusual adornments and striking accoutrements.
There are, nonetheless, some of us who cling to the view the Greeks and Romans held that the sciences are among the highest of the muses. …The founders of the Powerhouse understood that; infused with the spirit of the Enlightenment, they believed that truth and humanity were companions on knowledge’s endless frontier. And its founders also understood that enthusing tomorrow’s Australians with the lure of discovery was crucial to this country’s future. The institution they built, spanning all of “the useful arts”, was designed to promote that endeavour. Now it is being reduced to a parody of everything it stands for, with even the term museum being stripped from its branding.
It may be that this vandalism is an extreme case …But that it is being allowed to happen speaks to a crisis of cultural purpose, direction and governance. Our muses are ill; so too are many of our great museums. Unless they are cured, the harm will spread – and a wasteland of the Australian mind will spread with it.’ Read more Here: The Australian – Henry Ergas 21 Apr 2023 : See also over 300 comments following the article Here: Comments Ergas article 22 April 2023
April 15-16, 2023
‘Mission not accomplished’
Relevant to the circumstances of the Powerhouse Museum, Christopher Allen writes in The Australian about current issues in galleries and museums, that ‘We should not be content to leave our organs of collective memory to people who have forsaken the original purpose of these institutions.’ He continues, regarding national institutions, but also relevant to state institutions, that: ‘The federal government has at last announced much-needed emergency grants to avert disaster, but this does nothing to solve longer-term problems that arise from inadequate funding, institutional mismanagement, or frequently some combination of the two. Thus the enforcement of so-called “efficiency dividends” seems like a perverse approach to funding, and yet it has not prevented the proliferation of bureaucracy and what the anthropologist David Graeber has called “bullshit jobs”, too often at the cost of curatorial positions and expertise. These meaningless positions, concerned with “engagement” or “corporate development” and so on – which should be the director’s job – are also a response to government’s ill-conceived priorities (“key performance indicators”). The emphasis on visitor numbers in galleries, for example, can lead to populist programming and gimmicks to attract crowds at any cost. In all of this we seem to have drifted a long way from the original purpose of galleries and museums in particular…But returning more particularly to museums and galleries, it seems that we have rather lost sight of the purpose of these institutions. Too often they behave as though their mission was to provide a form of entertainment, which explains the populist bias towards fashion and design as well as the desperate chasing of trends in contemporary art. At the same time, they seem driven to impose their social ideologies on exhibitions, on programming and perhaps most of all on the permanent collections and displays. But neither populist pandering nor ideological indoctrination is the true mission of public museums and art galleries. Their primary duty, as places of communal memory and reflection, is to collect, conserve, research and exhibit works of art, cultural documents, and historical or natural artefacts. Exhibitions should be engaging, welldesigned and appealing, but they should not be populist; and they should be open to new readings and alternative perspectives, but they should offer these as possibilities rather than attempting to impose them as dogma… I already mentioned the way that curatorial expertise has been sacrificed for bullshit jobs, and this goes all the way to the top, and helps explain the weakness of our public gallery directors. Most of these people know little about art and are visibly more concerned with politics, fashion, money and ideological self-positioning than with the serious cultural role that they should be playing …The question, however, is whether we are content to leave our most important cultural institutions, our organs of collective memory as suggested above, to people like this. Reform will not be easy, because so many functionaries will cling to their positions until they retire, but it could start with conscious change at the level of boards and management. Otherwise, one may well ask why governments should be expected to increase funding for dysfunctional organisations.’ Read More Here: The Australian Christopher Allen 15 April 2023
10 April, 2023
‘Forget the bridge and Bondi Beach: Culture at heart of new tourism plan’
Also as: ‘Culture, not scenery, is NSW tourism’s new hot spot’
Linda Morris reports in the Sydney Morning Herald, on the new Labor Government’s proposals for cultural organisations. ‘Sydney’s musicians, galleries, museums, restaurants and theatres will be at the forefront of a new national and global tourism rebrand as the Minns government takes its lead from federal Labor and commits to “bringing cultural vibrancy back to NSW”. The state’s tourism pitch to international and interstate visitors will shift focus from the icons of the harbour, Bondi Beach and Sydney Opera House to experience-based tourism under the watch of incoming Arts and Tourism Minister John Graham…NSW will also get its own arts and cultural policy by year’s end, … with Graham declaring it one of his biggest priorities.
She notes in particular: ‘Graham has also flagged changes in priorities to the Powerhouse Museum at Parramatta and Ultimo, as Labor takes charge of the controversial museum project eight years after former Premier Mike Baird first took the idea to relocate the Ultimo museum to voters. That decision was overturned in the face of public protests, with the Powerhouse to now operate across the two campuses.
The $915 million Parramatta Powerhouse will be given a new name when the Minns government opens the building in the next two years. It will likely drop the use of the word Powerhouse altogether, so it can forge a separate identity from its sister museum. “We want Parramatta to grow with its own identity, its own place, its own name over time,” Graham said.
Labor will also abandon an unpopular split between fashion and design at Ultimo, and science and technology at Parramatta. It has not committed to the detail of the Coalition’s $500 million redevelopment at Ultimo, now in its design phase, which calls for the demolition of the museum’s 1988-built atrium extension to the heritage-listed buildings of the Ultimo Power Station and the old post office. “I’m very conscious [Powerhouse Ultimo] is a big part of the Wran story,” he said. “[Former NSW Premier] Neville Wran supported the arts and that institution and I’m conscious the redevelopment is controversial and has been kept secret for eight years. “We are going to be a lot more public about what’s going on there, what’s planned and I want to invite the public in on the conversation. I want a vibrant museum that is evolving over time, it’s got to be a museum, that’s not up for negotiation. Read more here, or Here: SMH 10 April Labor cultural policy
28/29 March, 2023
‘… Minns’ interim ministry swears in’ (28 March) and
‘Long time for Labor but they swear they’ll avoid the snags’ (29 March)
In the Sydney Morning Herald, Michael Koziel wrote about the swearing-in of ministers to office in the new Government. While counting is still taking place in some seats, he identified the ministers, and included comments made by the NSW Governor Margaret Beazley. As well, he noted:
‘Making brief comments to reporters outside, the 47th premier acknowledged votes were still being counted and said his cabinet knew there was a huge responsibility on their shoulders. ‘‘We don’t know the final composition of the next parliament, but my team and I are ready to hit the ground running, and we can’t wait for those responsibilities of office,’’ Minns said. The full Minns ministry will be selected in the coming days. Read here: or Here: Ministry 29 March
29 March, 2023
‘ALP behind in key seats as hopes of majority fade’
In the Sydney Morning Herald, as the COUNTCONTINUES, Matt Wade and Lucy Cormack, acknowledge that:
‘The Minns government’s hopes of forming a majority have faded as NSW Labor fell behind in the count for several crucial seats, reinforcing the role a historically large crossbench will play in parliament. Labor was ahead in 46 seats late yesterday, including the electorate of Ryde where it has a slender lead, but the newly elected government is trailing in a handful of electorates that it will need if it is to pass legislation without the support of the crossbench. A total of 47 seats is needed for a majority. As the count walked back Saturday’s early calls of a majority Labor government after 12 years in the political wilderness, Premier Chris Minns said he was still confident of landing 46 or 47 seats, insisting no deals had been made with the incoming crossbench.
‘‘We have had fruitful discussions with the crossbench, consistent with the principle that we took to the election that we wouldn’t be horse-trading on policy deals,’’ he said. ‘‘There hasn’t been and that’s consistent with my promise at the election.’’ Read more pge 4: or here: SMH 29 March
29 March, 2023
‘Chris Minns sworn in as NSW premier as Labor majority appears more unlikely after election’
Tamsin Rose writes in The Guardian, that: ‘Party remains two seats short of governing in its own right as three crossbenchers promise supply. Labor is unlikely to form majority government in New South Wales, after three further seats were called for the Liberals on Tuesday. The party is expected to lose in other tight races in the coming days. Failing to reach 47 seats could impact Chris Minns’s agenda, and he may need to work with crossbenchers to govern. While election analysts, including the ABC’s Antony Green, said otherwise, the newly sworn-in premier remained confident he would be able to form a majority or fall just one seat shy.
“We have had fruitful discussions with the crossbench … consistent with the principle that we took into the election that we would not be horse-trading,” Minns said on Tuesday. Read more, or Here: Guardian 29 March
25-27 March, 2023
Results of NSW State Government election
From a very early stage in polling counts, and with many more votes to be counted, it was clear that the NSW Labor Party had won the election. Many continuing reports were provided along the way… These include:
25 March, 2023 (updated 27 March)
‘Minns to be next NSW premier after voters savage Liberals’
Alexandra Smith writes in the Sydney Morning Herald ‘Chris Minns will be the next premier of NSW after voters savaged the Liberal Party in seats across Sydney, paving the way for Labor to govern in its own right for the first time in 12 years.’ Read here, or SMH 25-27 March
25 March, updated 26 March 2023
As it happened: NSW election results 2023 as Chris Minns defeats Dominic Perrottet to become next NSW premier
In ‘live updates’ Michael Kozier and Billie Elder record the progress of the election and evolving results in the NSW electorates. Read here.
27 March, 2023
‘From enigma to premier: How Chris Minns and Labor won the election’
Alexandra Smith identifies in the Sydney Morning Herald some of the perceived turning points in election issues. Read here. Or here: SMH 27 March, 2023 NSW Election
26 March, 2023
‘The people who will make up the next government’
Christopher Harris reports in the Sydney Morning Herald, that incoming Premier ‘Chris Minns has indicated that he will keep the same front bench he took to the election. These are the Labor personalities likely to make up the team.’ Among them is John Graham, who had spoken supportively about the Powerhouse Museum on 22 March (see earlier report):
‘John Graham is expected to be Minister for Roads as well as the Arts when the Minns ministry is sworn in. He has been a member of the NSW upper house since 2016. Graham grew up in government housing in Albury, moved to Newcastle and graduated from Newcastle High before completing a bachelor of economics at the University of Sydney. Before joining parliament, he worked in the higher education sector, was assistant general secretary for the NSW Labor Party and was deputy chief of staff to former NSW premier Nathan Rees. He was a vocal critic of the previous government’s lockout laws. He is married with two children.’ Read all here.
26 March, 2023
‘Comments on Museum issues for the new government, including the Powerhouse Museum’
In his regular newsletter, arts journalist John McDonald comments on a number of issues facing the incoming Labor government in NSW. Among them he notes:
‘A few days out from the election – and much to my surprise – the Labor Party made the bold announcement that it would put a halt to the Powerhouse debacle. … Labor has a huge task ahead if it means to make good on its Powerhouse commitment. First, it must halt the extravagant, inappropriate makeover plans for the building in Ultimo, and channel some of the money into intelligent maintenance and renovation.
The ghastly edifice in Parramatta which is well on its way to being built, must be cut loose from the Powerhouse, and given a new name, perhaps in honour of David Borger, who worked so hard to keep this disastrous project going when nobody else in Parramatta wanted it. (“Dave’s White Elephant” has a nice ring). Once again, money might be sensibly redeployed in giving Parramatta a proper art gallery, which is what it asked for in the first place. The final indignity is that those ungrateful Parramatta voters – who obviously don’t read the SMH – punished the Coalition in the election.
In relation to the Powerhouse there are dozens of things that need to be stopped, and dozens more that need to be done. You can read all about it at the PHM Alliance website. One thing that’s going to be both important and tricky, is to clean up the administration – meaning a complacent, supine top brass and trustees. Over the past few months we’ve watched the Powerhouse dump the word “museum” from its title and go headlong into contemporary art and fashion – abandoning everything that constitutes its unique historical identity. Along with the MCA and Sydney Modern, do we need another contemporary art museum?
One of the nastiest rumours was that the curators were going to be shunted off to Castle Hill, which would have meant about three hours daily travel for most of them. There’s also much blather about “decolonising the museum” – a modish term that should set off alarm bells whenever it is heard, as it serves as a guarantee of ideological narrowness, the closing down of debate, and the stupefaction of audiences.
I’m not suggesting that everyone associated with all those utterly irresponsible and foolish schemes promulgated under layers of secrecy and spin should be removed. They will simply have to change their tune and learn to kiss a new set of arses. Can they manage a 180 degree turnaround, with pike? If Labor follows through on its promises it’s a huge tribute to the tireless folk at the PHM Alliance, who never gave up hope over almost a decade of conflict with an arrogant and brutal government hell-bent on destroying a unique part of Australia’s cultural heritage. Medals should be awarded.’ Read all here. John McDonald 26 March
22 March, 2023
NSW Labor announces ‘Only Labor will save The Powerhouse Museum’
Shadow Minister for the Arts, John Graham, with Skye Tito, Labor candidate for Sydney and Philippa Scott, Labor candidate for Balmain, spoke to a large group of Save the Powerhouse, Powerhouse Museum Alliance, North Parramatta Residents Group and other supporters on the forecourt of the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo. They had circulated their plans for properly saving and renewing the Museum in Ultimo which included:
‘NSW Labor supports The Powerhouse Museum. We want a museum of the highest excellence at the Ultimo site which has a clear and distinct identity and which builds on its traditional focus on science, engineering, transport, the technical (and decorative) arts and education…. The NSW Parliament Select Committee on the management of the Powerhouse Museum has revealed the shroud of secrecy that the NSW Government has sought to apply across the operations of The Powerhouse Museum for the past 12 years. NSW Labor remains concerned about the focus on event rather than museum spaces in the Government’s plans. This reflects the Government’s obsession with commercialisation and privatisation. A NSW Labor government will release key details of the plans for the Ultimo and Parramatta sites that until now have been kept secret.’ As well, it notes: ‘NSW Labor champions major investment in the arts and culture in western Sydney and we acknowledge the value of the major investment in physical infrastructure that has taken place. The Powerhouse Parramatta deserves its own identity and name and to develop in relationship with its specific context.’ For full document Read here, with photos of rally: Labor media release 22 March 23
3 March, 2023
‘PHM “Renewal” timeline – contradictions and Backflips’
Save the Powerhouse reported in email and on their Facebook page, about the inconsistencies of the government planning process and ‘consultation’. They write, about recent consultation sessions:
‘Even if we’ve become used to the irregularity and secretive nature of the planning process for the so-called Powerhouse Museum “renewal”, the recent chain of events almost defies belief!
The process began conventionally back in December 2021, when a Concept Proposal (Stage 1) State Significant (ie considered specially “important” to the State) Development Application was submitted to the Planning Department by Infrastructure NSW Read here. This was then placed on Public Exhibition for several weeks in June and July 2022, a design competition was subsequently conducted, and a winner announced.(July-Dec). Nothing unusual there, and all within the “rules.” But this month, on:
– Tuesday 21 February – Stage 1 (Concept Proposal): the Response to Submissions, Assessment, Recommendation and Determination were all completed in a single day even though 88% of the 107 submissions received OBJECTED to the Project! Read here.
– Monday 27 February (only 6 days later) – Stage 2 (Detailed Design) (Read here) the SEARs step was completed and the EIS step started and
– Friday 3 March (4 days later): pre-election caretaker mode started when all NSW Government action is frozen –but not the public service which continues normally!
This sudden frenzy of activity, just before the start of the caretaker period is dangerous because it could open the way to irreversible decisions (such as signing unbreakable contracts) just before or immediately after the election.’
After reporting on questions asked, they concluded: ‘…according to our own observations and reliable reports, not more than a total of 20 people came to the entire consultation series despite a massive publicity campaign (full page newspaper ads, postcards and even door knocking) marking one more PR disaster and waste of public money, and providing yet another reason to choose a better option at the ballot box on March 25!’ Read here: Save the P Contradictions and backflips
As well, the Powerhouse Museum Alliance’s summary of Key Requirements to Save the Powerhouse Museum, was among papers handed out at the sessions. Read here: PMA Key Requirements to Save the PHM Jan 2023
29 February, 2023
Re the ‘Approval; ‘Campaign to Save Powerhouse Museum: urgent action’
Writing in his Bulletin 83 about ‘Australia’s major museum of arts and sciences in Sydney’s most evocative heritage building’, advocate Tom Lockley argues that current: ‘consultation and information sessions may be used to justify a Government application for a detailed Significant Development Application (SSDA). An SSDA essentially allows the state Government complete control over the project. This means that the Government might even make more irrevocable decisions about the fate of the museum before the ‘caretaker’ election period begins.’
He provides summaries of both the Government’s proposals for demolition and development on the Ultimo site, and well-argued alternatives. Also listed are links to relevant documents and reminders to take part in current ‘consultations’, including:
- If possible, attend the final ‘consultation and information’ at the Powerhouse Ultimo (500 Harris Street, Ultimo), Thursday 2 March: 5 pm-7 pm. It would be good if we could have as many people as possible attending at 6 pm.
- and / or email : firstname.lastname@example.org
- If you take part in the online survey https://swipengage.com/#/PHUR be sure to use the comments spaces to make your opinion clear, and we strongly recommend that you also send an email to email@example.com outlining your comments.
Read More Here: Campaign Bulletin No 83
23 February 2023
‘Minister has Approved the application for the Powerhouse Ultimo Renewal’
In an email circulated by the Department of Planning and Environment, it was announced that: ‘The Department is writing to inform you that the Minister has Approved the application for the Powerhouse Ultimo Renewal (SSD-32927319 ).’
It adds that ‘Further information can be accessed from the Major Projects Website.
Read more: 23 February 2023 Govt Approval
See also: Links to Major Projects Website, relating to the Powerhouse Museum:
Assessment requirements: for Powerhouse Museum
Planning portal for Powerhouse Museum
Takes you to Request for View to read Scoping Report:
Associated with, and following this announcement, many concerns are still widely expressed about the purpose, rationale, process and conclusions.
Read informed documents on our PHM website here: PHM Being Destroyed not Saved: Call to Action.
23 February, 2023
‘It’s Official: Powerhouse Ultimo’s Multimillion-Dollar Redesign Has Been Granted Approval’
Ben Hansen, writing in Concrete Playground, reported that the ‘Powerhouse Museum Ultimo is set to look a whole lot different thanks to a $500-million makeover — and the plan for the revamp has just been given the green light. The approval for the concept that won 2022’s design competition is the latest step towards kicking off construction on the project’
Powerhouse Trust President Peter Collins AM KC said: “We will now continue to consult with the community and stakeholders as we refine the final design of the museum and ensure the community provides input into the renewal during the next phase of the planning process.”
Hansen adds, following up earlier opportunities for ‘consultation’, ‘If you’d like to have your say, you can participate in the consultation on the design by completing the online survey before Friday, March 10.’ Read more.
23 February, 2023
Comments on ‘the Approval’
Save the Powerhouse group commented on Facebook that: ‘Following our complaints to the Department of Planning (our letters of 11th http://tiny.cc/n6n4vz and 18th http://tiny.cc/o6n4vz of February) and our publication of the 19th of February (“Is the NSW Government above the law?”), the Department has announced this morning that their SSD SSD-32927319 – Stage 1 Concept Proposal). This represents an advance of 3 steps of the DA process (Complete Assessment, Recommendation and Determination) in a single day and attempts to justify, after the event, the “Prepare for SEARs” current status of SSD-54612708 – Stage 2 Detailed Application https://www.planningportal.nsw.gov.au/…/powerhouse…
It does not justify however the current “Community Consultations” which started yesterday 22nd of February and will end on the 2nd of March, the day before the Caretaker Period starts.
Community consultation must only take place during the Exhibition period, when the public has been fully informed about the project by the SEARs, the EIS and the documents exhibited. All of these are still to be produced. Given that all planning decisions are legally frozen during a Caretaker Period this announcement may be disappointing but is certainly not the end of the fight to Save the Powerhouse. This will continue until the 25th of March – your opportunity to change the NSW Government. Read more: Save the Powerhouse comments on Approval
12 February, 2023
‘What’s in a name? Powerhouse drops the m-word from its title’
In the SunHerald, Linda Morris reports that ‘The word “museum” has been dropped from the Powerhouse Museum’s title in all external publicity under a $1.5 million-plus rebranding campaign and revamp of its visual identity. The shortening of its title on advertising banners and online is an attempt to reposition one of Australia’s oldest cultural museums as it prepares to operate across three sites: Parramatta, Castle Hill and Ultimo…But critics say the rebrand is an expensive waste of taxpayers’ dollars and proof that the museum now sees itself as an arts centre and presentation venue, not an institution committed to presenting, interpreting and conserving its priceless collection. Museum consultant and former Powerhouse trustee Kylie Winkworth said the word museum had been defenestrated from the organisation and building, “along with the membership program, family audiences and troublesome volunteers”.’
Morris also records that: ‘Melbourne design team Studio Ongarato was commissioned at a cost of $764,000 to develop the new visual identity for the Powerhouse [and that] Separately, digital agency Paper Giant has been engaged, at a cost of $800,000, to conceptualise, design and build a new website “that will provide global access to the digitised Powerhouse Collection and is a digital platform to showcase the practice of the museum, its exhibitions, programs, content and archives”. Separately, digital agency Paper Giant has been engaged, at a cost of $800,000, to conceptualise, design and build a new website “that will provide global access to the digitised Powerhouse Collection and is a digital platform to showcase the practice of the museum, its exhibitions, programs, content and archives”… The museum is now to be known across its three sites as Powerhouse Castle Hill, Powerhouse Parramatta and Powerhouse Ultimo. In the official staff style guide, a copy of which has been seen by this masthead, all references to the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS) have been retired from internal communications and external publicity.’
But …’ Winkworth said the contortions in language and semantics go back to management’s failure to develop a compelling concept and brand for its Parramatta development, which a parliamentary inquiry described as more entertainment centre than museum. “It won’t be called a museum because it won’t actually be a museum.” ‘ Read here: or Here: ‘What’s in a name’ SunHerald 12 Feb
Invitation: ‘Meet the candidates’ in Ultimo, 15 February
The Pyrmont Action/Friends of Ultimo groups, supported by Save the Powerhouse, invited people to meet local government candidates and discuss local issues, including saving the Powerhouse Museum. They said:
‘You are invited to the Pyrmont Action/Friends of Ultimo “MEET the CANDIDATES” Forum:
– WHEN: Wednesday 15 February, 2023, 6:30pm-8:00pm
– WHERE: The Station, 58 Bowman St, Pyrmont
Hear from the Sydney and Balmain electoral candidates
Make YOUR voice heard in the community Q&A session.
Read Pyrmont Action/Friends of Ultimo’s ELECTION MANIFESTO or: 230117 Election Manifesto
In the Manifesto they note: ‘that the priority item in the Manifesto is to “restore the Ultimo Powerhouse Museum to its traditional status as Australia’s leading Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences” which is a major community concern, by cancelling current plans to turn it into a glorified function centre focused on fashion – for half the cost.
Others are the Pyrmont Peninsula Place Strategy (PPPA), the Blackwattle Bay overdevelopment and school and public transport issues in our local area.’ Read the invitation here: Pyrmont meeting 15 Feb 2023
7 February, 2023
Radio Interview by Andy Park with Lisa Havilah, PHM
On ABC Radio National, Andy Park interviews CEO of Powerhouse Museum (MAAS) Lisa Havilah, and about her background, and current plans for the ‘renewal’ of the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo, and plans for Parramatta. He introduced her saying “… coming up in a moment you will hear from one of the most forward-thinking arts leaders in the country who is tackling the sometimes controversial project of renewing and expanding the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney Lisa Havilah…Well in one form or another the Powerhouse in Sydney has been an important institution for more than a century showcasing the best of science and the applied arts and making its mark on a generation of children just like me, who visited there on their excursions and walked amongst the giant steam engines and wonderful forms of transport in the transport hall. But it also became a political hot topic several years ago when the state government announced the Museum would be moving to Parramatta. Now that decision was later changed. In Parramatta will now be a second home for the Powerhouse with a major renewal also beginning for their original space in Ultimo. So what does it take to guide an institution through a time of change like that?’
A circulated transcription of the interview prompted many very critical comments about the both the questions and the responses. Read a transcription of the interview here, followed by a number of anonymous critiques of the proposal and arguments for continuing in what is seen as a very destructive way. Read interview and comments here: ABC interview with Havilah
12 February, 2023
MAAS CEO FAILS TO “SELL” POWERHOUSE RENEWAL POLICY
Save the Powerhouse group circulated their comments about the ABC interview (above), saying:
‘MAAS CEO Lisa Havilah’s remarks in an ABC interview …on February 7 were greeted by many with disbelief and derision. Introduced by RN’s fawning Andy Park as “one of the most forward thinking arts leaders in the country” (according to whom?) “…who is tackling the… project of renewing and expanding the Powerhouse Museum”… With her focus clearly on “Powerhouse Parramatta” , she firmly defended the NSW government’s flawed “investment decision to establish Powerhouse Parramatta right in the heart (of) western Sydney “ because “Sydney is shifting socially and culturally…(so that) we really see this investment decision by NSW government as a responsibility to rethink what Museums should be…for their communities and we really see this new approach to Museums now as community…knowledge holders.”
Save the Powerhouse identified a large number of critical issues associated with the rationale and procedures associated with the project. Read here:MAAS CEO fails to sell Renewal policy
24 – 26 January, 2023
Powerhouse Museum Ultimo: Community Consultation
Sydney Morning Herald, 24, 25, 26 January 2023, and Daily Telegraph, January 26.
The Powerhouse Museum published full-page advertisements on these days, saying of the ‘renewal of the Powerhouse’, that ‘the project has moved to its next stage in the planning process’. See advertisement here: PHM consultation advert. 24-16 Jan 2023
A digital Find Out More link opened up to the Museum’s website, which provided information about proposals and developments in Parramatta and Castle Hill, as well as the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo. Open here.
Considerable public concern is now being expressed, as over eight years of lobbying, community consultation has clearly not been taken seriously, and nor have the recommendations in two long-term government inquiries. Despite the decision in 2020 to ‘save’ the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo, while also proceeding with a new museum/entertainment centre in Parramatta, and transferring all the collection (and soon the museum staff) to Castle Hill, there remains NO CLEARLY DEFINED future for the Ultimo site.
So a major question remains: what is the consultation about? There is no public documentation of what was provided to the architects as content and purpose of the museum, and no rationale for destroying the award-winning buildings of 1988. Despite being a museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, it seems to be narrowed down to ‘fashion and design’, with a token technology presence. It is also noted that the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is for ‘the Powerhouse Ultimo Renewal of a Creative Industries Precinct integrated into the operations of the Powerhouse Museum’, not the Powerhouse Museum, ie: ‘The renewal will see Powerhouse Ultimo deliver a programming focus on design and fashion. One of the objectives is to enable and support development of the NSW creative industries….’
It is also not clear exactly what the very essential working area of the adjacent Harwood Building will contain, and it could also be rationalised that it is likely to be taken over by the neighbouring University of Technology Sydney (UTS)
The website includes two key paragraphs:
STAGE TWO STATE SIGNIFICANT DEVELOPMENT APPLICATION
‘In preparation for the lodgement of the second stage State Significant Development Application (SSDA2) to the NSW Department of Planning and Environment (DPE), community consultation on the Powerhouse Ultimo design will commence in February 2023. We invite the public to join us at public information sessions held at Powerhouse Ultimo where project team members will be present to discuss plans and respond to community questions and feedback. Sign up below to receive updates, including links to register for upcoming sessions.’
As well: ‘Foundation University Partner, the University of Technology Sydney, has committed $10 million to Powerhouse Ultimo, a significant investment that will help boldly reimagine the Ultimo precinct, realised through the landmark $480–500 million renewal of Powerhouse Ultimo. The institutions will work together to foster a dynamic creative industry ecology and expand the international profile of Australian design and fashion both nationally and internationally.’
So – is this more public box-ticking? Will they listen to anything we have to say: Go to the website here, for links to ‘more information or feedback content’.
7 February, 2023:
This was then followed on 7 February, by a further NSW Govt Powerhouse Ultimo Renewal advertisement seeking Indigenous consultation, saying:
‘Curio Projects (heritage consultants), on behalf of infrastructure NSW (the proponent), are commencing Aboriginal community consultation for the proposed Powerhouse Ultimo Renewal at the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo, NSW (see map below). We are writing to you in order `to compile a list of Aboriginal people who may have an interest in proposed project area and hold knowledge relevant to determining the cultural significance of Aboriginal objects and/or places’. Read here: Indigenous Consultation Ad 7 Feb 2023
1 January, 2023
PYRMONT / ULTIMO BRANCH LOCAL LABOR BRANCH DEMANDS PHM RENEWAL REVERSAL AFTER MARCH ELECTION
In a widely circulated message, Save the Powerhouse community group; reminds us that:
‘Branch Secretary Brian Yao reports that at its December branch meeting, the Pyrmont/Ultimo branch of the Labor Party voted unanimously for the reversal of the proposed “renewal” of the Powerhouse Museum.
The motion http://tiny.cc/qgr2vz, proposed by Bill d’Anthes, “calls on the Labor Leader of the Opposition, Chris Minns and the Shadow Arts Minister, John Graham to pledge that when elected to Government (in March 2023) to review and reverse the decisions leading to the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo being dismantled…”, that “the Powerhouse at Ultimo must be retained in its current form as a Museum of Technological Sciences and Engineering…” and that the Powerhouse collection currently in storage in Castle Hill should be completely returned.
Wishing all Powerhouse supporters everywhere a happy New Year and renewed determination to continue the battle!’