Moving Museums: Jennifer Sanders


When you search the internet for ‘museums that have been relocated’ and ‘museums that are being moved’:

  • The only references to a large museum being relocated are for the Powerhouse Museum! Lots of media and Government announcements.
  • The only other museum that turned up, large or small, is the Worldwide Arms Museum, a private museum in Vung Tao that is being moved by its owner to a more central site, close to the ‘major’ museums in Vung Tao. It has several favourable reviews on tripadvisor….

When you search for ‘art galleries that have been relocated’, the examples found are projects where the institution has moved to larger, more centrally located sites/buildings such as:

  • National Gallery of Art Toronto (1988) from smaller, unsuitable buildings to a central larger site and new building.
  • In New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art moved in May 2015 to a new Renzo Piano designed building on the High Line which ‘vastly increases the Museum’s exhibition and programming space’ in downtown NY. The Whitney is still in Manhattan and its former Marcel Breuer designed building in the Upper East Side has become a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art for their program of contemporary art exhibitions.
  • Still in NY, the Museum of Arts and Design evolved from the American Crafts Museum and in 2008 moved a short distance from opposite MoMA to 2 Columbus Circle to a building with larger, more flexible spaces and a much higher visibility fronting a significant public space.
  • And in LA, the Getty Museum moved into Los Angeles, so it could build a much larger, more easily accessible museum and cultural centre. It has of course kept its original building, the Getty Villa in Malibu, presenting its antiquities collection.

Successful alternatives:

The Cite des Sciences et L’Industrie in Paris WAS NOT a relocation but a new initiative to build a dedicated science experience centre for Paris. The Musee des Arts et des Metiers, which has one of the world’s best science and technology collections, remains in the former priory building in which it was founded in 1794. The Cite des Sciences was part of a larger scheme to renew the former abattoir building and surrounds at La Villette. The music museum, La Cite de la Musique, was also a key element in this project. It is now renamed as part of the new Philharmonie de Paris concert hall which opened in 2015.

The Cite des Sciences has been a success – not so sure about the music museum though the new concert hall will be a draw.

The accepted and proven successful model for energising urban areas/smaller cities by involving key cultural institutions is to have satellites of the main institution strategically developed in locations where there is a recognised ‘fit’ – a reason to be there – ie the community/ location and the museum’s purpose/collection can work together.

Classic examples are the Tate in the UK with its satellite galleries in Margate – (a Turner site and Tate Contemporary), Tate Liverpool, Tate St Ives and Bankside – Tate Modern for the big modern works.

Also in in the UK, the Science Museum has a series of campuses: the National Railway Museum, York; National Media Museum, Bradford; and Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester.

And underway is the initiative by Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, to energise and develop the London Olympics site – Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – as a new cultural and education quarter by involving the V&A, (a satellite), Sadler’s Wells, the University of Arts, London and University College London.  Also in negotiation for the site is the first international branch of the Smithsonian Institution, with exhibitions planned which will draw from all its various museums. Just google V&A and Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The British Museum has also expressed interest in opening a satellite at Olympicopolis as it is also known so as to be part of the regeneration project and display more of its collection to wider audiences.

The V&A vision for its Olympics site will complement the ‘parent’ V&A at South Kensington with more collection on show in exhibitions, more collection and archives accessible in visible storage; dedicated space to display and document digital design, major temporary exhibition spaces and studios for practitioners.

In Scotland, the V&A is opening the V&A Museum of Design Dundee – an international centre for design for Scotland being built as part of a wider initiative to revitalise Dundee and its waterfront through design-led programming and initiatives fostering tourism and business growth. The V&A London remains the core institution as these locally supported satellites broaden the museum’s influence and audiences.

Closer to home, Museum Victoria encompasses Melbourne Museum centrally located in Carlton Gardens next to the Royal Exhibition Building; Scienceworks at Spotswood incorporating  the historic Pumping Station and Melbourne Planetarium; and the Immigration Museum in the former Customs House.

Of course, the other primary way to build culture is to work from the ground up so to speak, involving the local community in the founding and development of the gallery/museum so that it best reflects their history and contemporary culture and, their aspirations.

There are many examples of successful community cultural development such as Bendigo City Art Gallery    a thriving, locally enriched institution but with an interstate and international reach and, closer to home, Campbelltown City Art Gallery, the Penrith Regional Gallery and the Lewers Bequest at Emu Plains, Casula Powerhouse and Hazelhurst Regional Gallery and Arts Centre at Sutherland – a brilliant regional gallery that reaches a wider than local audience through exciting programming and excellent partnerships.

One of the outstanding examples of a locally grown and nurtured museum is Brooklyn Museum founded in 1823 and with a history of aspiring to be one of the leading museums in America such that it now has one of the best collections in USA with art and artefacts from across the world. Housed in an imposing 1897 building by McKim Mead and White, which was revitalised in the late 20thC, it was conceived to be the focal point of Brooklyn’s main cultural, recreational and educational districts. Today it is a major drawcard bringing visitors across from Manhattan and beyond.

The Premier’s desire to build a ‘cultural beacon’ in Parramatta is laudable. However, as all these and many other examples demonstrate, this can be achieved without the relocation and demolition of the Powerhouse Museum at Ultimo. All the state’s major cultural institutions could contribute to the development of cultural infrastructure in Western Sydney, indeed further afield in New South Wales, by working in close consultation with various communities.  A museum is strengthened by the depth and breadth of its audiences and its benefactors and sustained by the permanency of its presence in the community.

Jennifer Sanders, April 2016