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.