Rally paper 3: Expectations of audiences: Grace Cochrane

Grace Cochrane was one of four former PHM staff who spoke with others at the Save the Powerhouse rally, May 28, 2016.                                                    Photo: Rod Bamford

It is hard to believe that any government would want to be remembered as the one responsible for destroying so many things we all believe to be important. And yet, this is what the NSW government is doing.

We are living through its irresponsible destruction of the irreplaceable –
iconic trees, public open spaces, buildings and institutions – that should be protected and respected. The proposed total transplantation of the Powerhouse Museum is part of this destruction.

I want to talk about one critical reason to keep the Museum where it is:
the expectations of its audiences.

I can recognise many people here today who, like myself – and fellow-speakers Kylie, Debbie and Lindie – have previously worked in the Museum. From senior managers to volunteers, some have dedicated most of their careers to it. They are from a huge range of professional backgrounds and in their various capacities know the Museum extremely well – the extent of the collection, what it represents and how it needs to be managed and exhibited.

These people maintain connections that spread out from contacts in this local precinct, to networks of professional colleagues in museums, galleries, educational institutions and specialist organisations right across wider Sydney, throughout NSW and the rest of Australia – and in many countries overseas.

This means that they know who they are working with: apart from audiences with general interests, and students of all ages, they know those audiences with specialist concerns for science, technology, social history, decorative arts, crafts and design. These contacts include museum professionals like themselves, as well as collectors, donors, benefactors, researchers and writers – and contemporary designers, makers, scientists and engineers.

We know from our experience that these audiences expect to find such a major state museum in the central location where it has been active for so long. They expect the Powerhouse Museum to be here, alongside other state institutions.

Everyone understands that while museums can share aspects of their collection, they definitely can’t be totally picked up like a pawn in a game of monopoly, or a tree without roots, to be dumped completely out of context in a new location – especially into communities like Parramatta that need museums and galleries to tell their own stories and serve their own constituents.

But the government’s managers have not involved professional people who know the museum field, including those experienced in planning, costing and management. They pay lip-service to ideas of culture and society and collaboration, and focus on ill-informed ‘infrastructure planning’ through what are proving to be devious and even secret property deals, and wildly misinformed and inaccurate establishment and maintenance costings.

So what can we do?
We can support the Save the Powerhouse campaign, as you are doing today.
And we can support MPs Jamie Parker and Alex Greenwich’s campaigns to question the process and look at other options.

But we also have to convince others. Politicians are meant to speak for us, which means they are meant to listen to us.
You may like to check the website of a group called the Powerhouse Museum Alliance:
– on it we are posting background papers to provide information on some of the issues involved.
– and the site also provides links to enable you to write to the Premier, the leader of Opposition and other members of Parliament.
– and you can find out more information about this in the handout provided at this rally.

Good luck!