Will Powerhouse’s new direction make a better museum?

The Powerhouse Museum is restructuring, shedding 55 of its 270 staff in order to “consider its future and put a structure in place to achieve that”

According to the Herald, the Powerhouse’s director Rose Hiscock said, “We have briefed the minister [Nationals MP Troy Grant] about the need to work responsibly as an organisation and this decision will allow us to spend money on exhibitions to bring people through the doors.”

Here’s my problem with this: it appears to be part of the ongoing focus on exhibitions. There doesn’t appear to be a focus on making the underlying museum a fabulous, properly maintained place to visit.

Look I appreciate the need to make money to keep a place like the Powerhouse operating. But if all that the Powerhouse is focusing on is hosting marginally relevant exhibitions it might as well just be an exhibition hall. Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia, The Wiggles – I know they make money but what do they have to do with applied science and technology? The recent exhibition with the clearest tie in was Wallace and Gromit which was just so poorly executed that it was embarrassing.

Sydney doesn’t need another art gallery or exhibition space. There are many places that can host commercially exploitative movie tie-ins. What Sydney needs is a science and technology museum that’s properly maintained and driven with some vision – and that vision needs to be about the core property as much as ancillary exhibitions that pull people through the door but could happen anywhere. It doesn’t take endless amounts of money to make a museum successful; it does take imagination, and enthusiasm for the museum’s core business. Sure, more exhibitions may be a necessity, but they shouldn’t be what the Powerhouse is all about.

Will this restructure deliver that? Well, that remains to be seen. A great deal comes down to how you measure success – is it just about how the money is made, or is it also about how cleverly the money is spent? I’d love to be a fly on the wall and see what the Board of Trustees is actually aiming it. I continue to hope that someone will start thinking about how to do fabulous things with an amazing collection and an inspiring series of spaces.

See also: Will someone please show the Powerhouse where to put the batteries

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