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  • Jul 06, 2020

Powerhouse Museum To Stay In Ultimo In Last Minute Plan Change

Powerhouse Parramatta rendering by architects Moreau Kusunoki, Paris; and Genton, Sydney/Melbourne. Image via Powerhouse Museum

Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum will remain in Ultimo, contrary to 2015 plans to shut down the current venue and relocate to Parramatta, according to a joint statement on July 4 from premier Gladys Berejiklian and treasurer Dominic Perrottet. The museum will operate at both the current site and at the new Powerhouse facility being built at Parramatta.

Powerhouse Museum at Ultimo closed to the public on July 1, with the rest of the museum scheduled to close in 2021, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Perrottet cited Covid-19 as a major reason for the last-minute change in plans, saying that he hopes that the decision will support the local arts industry by creating much-needed jobs, and that the old site will “complement the new Parramatta centre.” The new facility, set to open in 2024, is being designed by architectural firms Moreau Kusunoki and Genton.  

The decision to move Powerhouse to Parramatta, which initially faced widespread opposition from the arts community and the general public due to the loss of a central Sydney institution, was part of a four-year plan to enhance the arts and culture infrastructure in western Sydney. The Ultimo site had been slated to sell for up to AUD 195 million (USD 135.6 million), which would have gone toward the museum's construction and relocation, which is expected to cost up to AUD 645 million (USD 450 million). Furthermore, the demolition of two historic sites in Parramatta—Willow Grove and St George's Terrace—to make way for the new complex, also received criticism. On June 30, the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) announced that these sites will not be destroyed.

The Powerhouse Museum has existed under different names since 1879, and opened in its current building in 1988. It is part of a trio of institutions under Sydney’s Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS), led by Lisa Havilah, who previously ran Carriageworks prior to taking the role of chief executive in 2019. The other platforms under MAAS are the Sydney Observatory and the Museums Discovery Centre. While primarily a museum of industrial science, Powerhouse Museum has also staged contemporary art exhibitions, including Guan Wei’s 2007 installation Other Histories, which reimagines 15th-century Chinese explorer Zheng He’s westbound voyage. More recent exhibitions include “Don’t Forget to Remember: Linda Jackson & David McDiarmid” from last year, featuring the two Australian artists, and “Spinning World” from 2018, showcasing a new work by Agnieszka Golda and Jo Law exploring traditional Japanese embroidery with new technologies. Its latest exhibition, “Maton: Australia’s Guitar,” on the country’s guitar manufacturer Maton, will open on July 25.

Fion Tse is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.

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