Concern grows over NSW Labor’s secret plan for Powerhouse Museum

January 9, 2024
Image: Save the Powerhouse/Facebook

The Chris Minns’ Labor government made the surprise announcement it was closing the Powerhouse Museum for renovations for up to three years just before the holiday period. It is scheduled to close on February 5.

The Save the Powerhouse (STP) group is concerned that Labor is going back on its promise to end the secrecy surrounding this much loved and internationally admired arts and sciences museum.

Arts minister John Graham promised after Labor’s election that it would end “the shroud of secrecy that the [Coalition] NSW Government has … applied across the operations of The Powerhouse Museum for the past 12 years”.

But with no consultation, Graham announced last December 4 that the museum will close “for building and conservation works expected to take up to three years”.

However, this timing is far from certain. Infrastructure NSW (INSW) and “Powerhouse” webpages both state that “timing for construction commencement and completion is subject to the outcomes of the planning and procurement processes”.

According to the STP, this “appears to mean that the Museum will be closed for much longer than 3 years”. It is concerned that the “timing for construction commencement” is not yet known, but the museum is closing in less than 4 weeks’ time.

“The Powerhouse is well loved and respected internationally as one of the world top Applied Arts and Sciences Museums,” the STP said, adding that successive NSW governments, including the present one which has only been in power for less than a year, have submitted it to “unprecedented assaults”.

A long-running campaign has been waged since 2015 to keep the museum open in Ultimo, even while a new one was being built in Parramatta. Finally, in 2020, the former Coalition government announced it had abandoned its plan to close Ultimo and would retain its building and operation across two sites.

“Graham promised to consult the community widely and transparently before any decision was taken. But he chose to announce instead that he would close the Museum for years without notice or reason,” STP said on January 9.

The museum’s still secret “revitalisation” project is estimated to cost $250 million. However, according to the budget papers, only $119 million over the next 4 years has been budgeted. The remaining $131 million is scheduled to be spent between 2027 and 2033.

STP said museum experts agree that maintenance and upgrades could be carried out while the museum remains open. “This would save tens of millions of dollars in collection transfers, with obvious risks of damage to invaluable objects.”

The INSW website states that “as part of the State Significant Development Application, consultation with the community will be undertaken”.

But this will be too late as the Museum will then be closed and the collections exiled, STP said.

[Sign the petition to keep the Powerhouse Museum open while renovations are being undertaken.]

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