People keep asking why I’m not saying more about The Powerhouse being turfed out of central Sydney. The simple answer is that I’ve repeatedly said all that I can say over the last few years: the decision is short-sighted, political, and not worthy of a World-class city. This is a dumb decision and every new bit of information that comes out reinforces that as a fact.
I have had issues with The Powerhouse: I’ve been dissatisfied with its focus, its maintenance, and its short-sighted decision-making. But it’s still the closest thing Sydney has to a science museum. In a first world country awash with rhetoric about the importance of STEM, having an accessible science museum is crucial.
Now I get the argument that the weight of population is moving West. But here’s the thing, or things. First, the City is still the most accessible spot for all of Sydney: try getting to Parramatta from the Northern Beaches or Newcastle. Second, I don’t hear any similar suggestions that the opera or theatre should move to the West of Sydney: it’s funny how the need to move cultural institutions west should be so selective. And that ties to the final point: that most world-class cities have a science museum in their centre because they view science as important.
In a rational world the solution to all of this would be simple. First leave The Powerhouse where it is. It’s a tourist attraction, it’s accessible to Sydney and surrounds, and it’s in an incredibly appropriate building. Leave it mainly focused on displaying objects. Second, create a new museum of hands-on science exhibits in Parramatta – one that caters to younger people, is cheap to set up, and gives a much-needed proper science and innovation focus. If a model is needed look no further than the Exploratorium and the Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco.
None of this is complex – and therein lies the problem. Like so many issues today, this isn’t amendable to rational solution. Politicians have got an outcome in mind which is seemingly driven by a blind drive to short-term returns from selling the Powerhouse site and no rational argument is going to shift them – especially since the shock-jocks don’t seem to care about science museums in the way they care about the greyhound industry.
In a couple of years time we’re going to look back and lament what is undoubtedly an absurd decision. And then I’ll continue to say: I told you so. Until then, unless something changes, I can’t keep saying the same thing over and over again.