Patrons enjoy one of the many interactive displays at the Powerhouse. Photo: Allison Hore

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By ALLISON HORE

Originally slated to be shut down in January, the controversial closure of the Powerhouse Museum’s Ultimo site has been pushed back again. The staged shutdown of the museum is set to begin in June next year.

In May, newly appointed museum CEO Lisa Havilah told the Sydney Morning Herald that she would prefer the museum remain open awhile to allow exhibition programming to continue at the Ultimo site.

“The project is very much on track but we are looking to keeping the museum open for another year or two to keep delivering projects and programs that will engage the community, but ultimately it is a decision for government,” she said.

And with the announcement of the new closure schedule it looks like at least part of the museum will remain open for another two years. The heritage Ultimo Power Station building, which the museum moved to 30 years ago, will be the first to go. It will close its doors to the public July 2020, while the 1980s addition, the Wran Building, which holds the main entrance and touring hall, will remain open for an additional 12 months.

NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet believes Sydney plays an important role in the tourism economy of the state. He thinks NSW would benefit from a “Minister for Sydney” who could sell the city to international stakeholders and raise its profile as a world city with global recognition equivalent to London or Paris.

“When Sydney goes well, regional NSW goes well and Australia goes well,” he said at a Committee for Sydney boardroom lunch last week.

“Everyone in NSW and Australia are shareholders in Sydney’s success. We shouldn’t be afraid to talk up Sydney – we have an obligation to invest in it as Australia’s only truly global city and our nation’s gateway to the world.”

Closing venues deters tourists

Perrottet said Sydney was a “revitalised city” with major development projects underway, including cultural venues like museums. But with a major CBD cultural attraction closing its doors, what will that mean for attracting tourists to the area?

While tourism numbers overall have been dropping, several exclusive exhibitions, including last year’s interactive Star Wars’ show, saw visitor numbers to the venue increase.

In 2017 almost 660,000 people visited the Powerhouse Museum, a marked increase from the 560,000 visitors in 2016. Even with closure of the Ultimo site delayed, there are still 2 years between its closure and the projected 2023 reopening in Parramatta.

And the Powerhouse Museum isn’t the only major museum space in Sydney closing its doors. In less than a month the Australian Museum is also set to shut down – not permanently – for a 12 month revamp estimated to cost around $57.5 million.

The museum will close from the 19th of August for the upgrade, which is part of ‘Project Discover’, a series of renovations across the venue. The revamp will see the addition of new spaces for touring exhibitions and more spaces for the museum’s education programs to be delivered. The upgrades also include a second cafe, a gift shop and an expanded members’ lounge.

Around $50 million for the Australian Museum upgrade will come from NSW Government funding, the remaining $7 million will have to be raised by the museum. The Australian Museum is expected to reopen in its existing site in August next year. From early 2021, the newly upgraded exhibition space is set to host the Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh exhibition, dubbed the “most significant collection of artefacts to leave Egypt.”

The annual Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year exhibition, which is usually held at the end of August at the Australian Museum, will instead be hosted at the Powerhouse Museum this year. The museum’s education outreach programs will also be run in the Powerhouse for the duration of its closure.

Parramatta site designs underway

Meanwhile the plans for the development of the Parramatta site continue. The design competition for the building, which the NSW Government opened to local and international architects, attracted 74 expressions of interest from design firms from 20 countries.

Arts Minister Don Harwin said that the level of interest received from designers, “has more than justified our excitement in moving forward with this Western Sydney project.”

The six finalists chosen from the competition received an honorarium of $150,000 from the NSW Government to develop their design concepts, which will be shown to the public in a physical exhibition and online gallery. The winner is set to be announced later this year.

Museum management is also still searching for an appropriate temporary home for some of the larger items in the museum’s collection, including a historic steam engine and locomotive.