The suggested relocation of the popular design museum, from Ultimo to Western Sydney, continues to spark debate.

The proposed move of the Sydney Powerhouse Museum from its current location in Ultimo to Western Sydney’s Parramatta continues to spark debate a year after the NSW Government first mooted the idea. 

“The government has made a top-down decision with no assessment or consultation, and as a result, the inner city will lose something it wants, and Western Sydney will get something it never asked for,” said inner-city MP Alex Greenwich in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald. More than 170 prominent figures, including Cate Blanchett and Marc Newson, have signed an open letter titled “Please Don’t Destroy the Powerhouse.” The letter argues that the current site in Ultimo is a “world class museum”, and that its creation was a “major investment for the people of New South Wales” that “will be squandered if the museum’s site is sold to developers.” 

The Museum has existed under various guises for over 125 years and has been housed in its current location, in an old converted electric power station in Ultimo, since 1988. The property boom in Sydney, which has seen house prices soar in recent years, makes the central suburb location of the Museum prime real estate and there have been strongly worded suggestions over the past year that the decision to move the Powerhouse has been motivated by the redevelopment opportunities vacating its current location would open up.

The debates began last February when the Sydney Business Chamber and the Councils of Parramatta, Penrith and Liverpool funded a report that revealed many successive governments in Western Sydney have underspent in the arts and entertainment industry. The report showed that just 1% of national funding, and 5% of NSW government arts funding, was spent in Western Sydney.

The Powerhouse Museum was suggested as a suitable candidate for relocation due to its troubled history of lacklustre building infrastructure, lack of sponsorship, and poor management track record. Many argue that moving the venue could boost Western Sydney’s growing cultural economy and also provide the Museum with a second chance. A spokesman for the Arts Minister Tony Grand said earlier this week: “Western Sydney deserves a state-of-the-art cultural institution, and that’s exactly what the government will deliver.”  

However, some feel that the booming diversity and younger demographic of Sydney’s western population is not a suitable place for a museum that houses historical exhibits such as antique planes and steam trains. Arts spokesman and Labor leader Luke Foley said in an interview with Fairfax Media that the move west is viable, but that “without real funding, arts in the region will continue to struggle.”

There continues to be a to-and-fro over other details of the proposed move. The Powerhouse Museum is currently home to more than half a million items covering pop culture, engineering design, science and technology, and there have been concerns voiced that the move could damage some priceless pieces. Those in favour of the relocation argue that the Powerhouse regularly moves artefacts between its two centres – in Castle Hill and Ultimo – and its item transport facilities are world-class. 

David Borger, Western Sydney director of the Sydney Business Chamber, wrote in an editorial piece for the Sydney Morning Herald that the final location has not yet been announced, but one of the possible sites is set on the banks of the Parramatta River alongside the city centre. He also reminded readers that the collection is owned by all Australians, not geographical divisions. “It would be a memorable experience to travel down the Parramatta River and disembark in front of one of Australia’s greatest cultural assets,” he wrote. “And everyone would be welcome.” 

You can read Borger’s full piece on the Sydney Morning Herald website. For more information about the Powerhouse Museum, visit their website.

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