Apr 202015

maas basementThis could be interesting: The Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences (formerly known as the Powerhouse) is offering members a chance to go on ‘basement tours’ and see objects not normally on display.

These entertaining small-group tours will showcase the extraordinary treasures in our archive collection: from a costume worn by Johnny O’Keefe to Mawson’s Antarctic sledge to Babbage’s Difference Engine from 1822 (a pre-cursor to the first computer), and more!

You’ll be led through your chosen area with expert insight and commentary from our curators. The tours are one hour in duration and space is limited so choose the area you’d like to explore and book today.

There’s a reasonable range of tours on offer including: Arms & armour, Explorers, Australian innovation, and Science, Maths & Measurement. Tours cost $15 for members and $25 for non-members and, rather unfortunately, are only available for age 12-plus. There’s only one tour a month, so if you’re interested it requires some pre-planning.

Feb 272015

powerhouseI was sad to read this morning that The Powerhouse site, for what is now called the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, is to be sold, and the Museum relocated to an unspecified location in Western Sydney.

The given rationale, that this is a way to support arts and culture in Western Sydney doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. I’m all for Western Sydney having easy access to facilities, but I don’t notice much pressure to move the Sydney Dance Company or the Sydney Cricket Ground or Parliament House ‘closer to a third of the State’s population’. So either applied arts and sciences is patronisingly seen as more appropriate for the Western Sydney population, or the $200 million price-tag for the site overwhelms other considerations.

It’s also very noticeable that the one spot in the entire city that our public transport system is directed towards is the CBD – which is why most of the cultural and other institutions are there. This decision certainly doesn’t reflect the NSW government’s rhetoric of pushing of STEM education.

It’s hard, no impossible, to imagine London, Washington or Berlin moving their science museums or applied arts museums out of the central part of the cities. Why? Because they recognise the importance of a World-class science museum and they also recognise that, done properly, they are significant revenue earners.

To be fair, the MAAS, as I’ve been arguing for years, is not a World-class science museum and has brought its fate on itself through falling visitor numbers and relevance. It would be nice to think that the silver-lining here will be in the opportunity to build a new museum with up-to-date exhibits that work and a refreshed approach. I imagine all that will happen, but given the direction of the last few years I don’t imagine it will end up being the science museum I long for.

Feb 062015

thinkspace minecraftThere are some great looking coding opportunities coming up for kids at Thinkspace.

Thinkspace at MAAS – the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences that was the Powerhouse – has a long tradition of doing really innovative stuff and that seems to be continuing with some great after-school and weekend creative opportunities.

There’s After-school Creative Computing: “Book now for after-school courses (one afternoon a week for 6 weeks) that explore creative computing. Discover the basics of the programming language Python from within Minecraft. Building in Minecraft with Python makes constructing huge towers as easy as writing a few lines of code (ages 9+). Or try your hand at Scratch, a fun software for animation and game design!”

There’s weekend work on building with Minecraft, on circuits, and on green-screen filming. There’s also a Scratch family day for Museum members, although that currently appears to be sold out. The list of activities is long and varied.

Slightly confusingly, several of the events are described as ‘drop-in’ but they still require booking. So don’t assume you can just turn up.

It’s great to see Thinkspace leveraging all the wonderful work it has done on holiday programs into weekend and after-school activities. And equally great to see these new opportunities appearing for Sydney kids to learn to code and build.

It’s equally refreshing, by the way, to see some of this pitched at adult visitors. There’s no reason only kids should learn to code.

See the Thinkspace website for all the electrically-charged details.

Jan 152015

DSC_000001The Nicholson Museum continues to please with its latest exhibition.

I don’t know who came up with the idea of using LEGO to illustrate the ancient world at the Nicholson Museum, but I do know that it was a fabulous idea.

The Nicholson’s latest offering is LEGO Pompeii, and it’s great. I love the way that the creators have woven millennia of history into a single diorama. So daily Roman life rubs shoulders with archaeologists digging the ruins and even Dr Who subtly visiting. The use of LEGO makes the whole thing both intriguing and fun.

Of course the danger in this approach lies in losing sight of the reality. For example my Senior Junior Archaeology Correspondents were scandalised by the depiction of lava beneath the city streets which, as they were keen to point out, is not how the eruption occurred. But that danger is balanced by excellent poster-boards of information surrounding the LEGO exhibit.

Even without the LEGO diorama, the Nicholson is worth visiting for its small, but always fascinating, collection. Although the Nicholson is small, it continues to punch well above its weight with a creative and innovative approach to an ancient subject matter.

Their website has all the details on planning a visit.

See also: The Nicholson is a jolly fine museum.

Nov 212014

museum applied arts and sciencePart of Rose Hiscock’s vision as the new Director of the Powerhouse Museum includes: “A brand strategy is in development to articulate the positioning, brand values and visual identity for the Powerhouse’s network of venues.”

I’m guessing we’re beginning to see the product of that strategy in the latest missives from the Museum. Where the core branding used to be the Powerhouse itself, it now appears to be shifting to the underlying Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS). The Powerhouse is referred to as the somewhat unwieldy  “Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences’ Powerhouse Museum“. The seems to be a gentle shift, because the wording isn’t consistent across recent marketing materials, but it’s definitely there.

There’s a lot to be said for this approach given the underlying MAAS covers more than just the Powerhouse; the Sydney Observatory stands out. There’s a shiny website to describe what it’s all about at www.maas.museum. The MAAS 2020 vision is rather nicely set out there and all seems very laudable.

I can’t help but wish, though, as I do whenever I write about the Powerhouse that they would direct some time and effort into sorting out their current displays rather than focusing on exhibitions that may bring in paying heads but seem to have only a tenuous connection to their core purpose.

Nov 202014

powerhouse circusThe Powerhouse Museum has announced its latest exhibition with tickets on sale now for members.

The Circus Factory invites you to “Step into the ring of one of the most delightfully daring, spectacularly spectacular feats of showmanship, curiosity, absurdity and intrigue at Circus Factory”.

The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences’ Powerhouse Museum will explode over summer with Circus Factory, a program of spectacular proportions, featuring all the wonder of the circus with live performance, sideshow favourites, local and international exhibits and vintage toys and novelties.

Explorers of all ages will journey through a world of imagination and discovery, crafted in collaboration with renowned French scenographer Gérard Cholot and designer Alban Le Henry, testing their skill and showmanship. Visitors can:

  • Ride a fairground carousel that is 100 years old
  • Test yourself with the strongman and laughing clowns
  • See over 60 circus costumes and props featuring ringmasters, animal trainers, acrobats and clowns
  • Wonder at hilarious kinetic sculptures created by David Archer
  • See photos and objects never seen before from Australia’s very own Wirth’s Circus
  • Throw yourself into a carnival world created by French scenographer Gérard Cholot and designer Alban Le Henry

During school holidays there will also be live performances from acclaimed Australian contemporary circus troupe, Circa.
Although there’s free entry for kids, it costs $25 for an adult Powerhouse member and $35 for on-members. See here for all the hurdy-gurdy details.

Oct 292014

powerhouseThe Powerhouse Museum should not be moved to Western Sydney.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports this morning that Infrastructure NSW wants to move some or all of the Museum from its Ultimo base. The idea is to move it to somewhere in the Western Suburbs on the basis that most of the State’s arts funding goes into the CBD rather than out West where the weight of the population lies.

While I can’t say I’ve been in agreement often with the directions taken by the Powerhouse in the last few years (see here and here for example) I am in complete agreement that this is a really poor idea. The Museum’s Director, Rose Hiscock, rightly points out that “”You can’t just pick up a museum and move it.” My arguments with the Powerhouse have revolved around the lack of maintenance and innovative thinking which leads to Sydney not really having a viable science museum: A vibrant, educational and engaging science museum is one of the hallmarks of a progressive modern city. The idea of not having a real science museum readily accessible in the centre of the city is simply awful.

Hiscock suggests, rather than moving the Museum, using the opportunity to create a “a new interactive science centre as a secondary western Sydney location for the museum”. While a world-class interactive science museum is something Sydney really needs it’s hard to see why you would attach such a beast to the Powerhouse if it is sited in Parramatta. To set up an interactive science museum like the Exploratorium in San Francisco you need a big space and innovative thinking rather than iconic displays – so beyond shared back-office infrastructure it’s a little hard to see what the Powerhouse would bring to the party (although to be fair, if they let the Thinkspace people have their head good things might happen).

The Powerhouse should not be moved, it should not even be fiddled with or distracted from its main game which, at the moment, ought to revolve around getting its current activities right – until they can fix their broken educational displays, I have little enthusiasm for them doing anything else. According to the Museum’s latest annual report, 2012/13 attendance was down by more 17.6 per cent on its 10-year average. Moving the Museum wont fix that; changing it, improving it and fixing the bits that are actually broken will.

Put directly: Sydney ought to have a world-class science museum in its CBD. Realistically that has to be built around the Powerhouse and  resources should be put into making the Powerhouse great before anything is done that might dilute its efforts.