Powerhouse to head West

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.

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