BY LANI OATAWAY
Just days after locals rallied against the Powerhouse Museum’s move to Parramatta, the City of Sydney voted to drop it from its Cultural Ribbon.
At the council meeting on Monday 13 December, the council adopted a new Cultural Ribbon Strategy which states, “The Powerhouse Museum site in the Darling Harbour Precinct has been omitted from the Darling Harbour/Cockle Bay area as part of the Cultural Ribbon.”
Convener of the protest Patricia Johnson from Save the Powerhouse was shocked at this decision in the face of the Lord Mayor’s representative Councillor Jesse Miller attending the protest on Saturday advocating for the Museum’s place within the Cultural Ribbon.
Labor Councillor Linda Scott was surprised by the vote, arguing the importance of the Ribbon as a crucial part of the city’s cultural policy.
“For the Lord Mayor and her independent Councillors to take the Powerhouse Museum out of the City’s Cultural Ribbon, at a time when the Liberal State Government is planning to sell the powerhouse museum, sends a dangerous message.
“Yet again, Lord Mayor Clover Moore is all talk, no action,” she told City Hub.
But the City of Sydney claims the Cultural Ribbon is merely a small subset of their greater creative policy for the city, and says the Lord Mayor would not act against her existing support of the Powerhouse staying in Ultimo.
Cr Miller told City Hub the vote unanimously agreed on a broader plan that links cultural institutions together.
“The whole idea of the Cultural Ribbon is just playing politics. There is a strategy, and within the strategy there are a bunch of walks,” she said.
“All we voted for was to endorse a cultural strategy which highlights a whole lot of cultural institutions. It is misleading to say we excluded the Powerhouse in any shape or form.”
Meanwhile, on Saturday 10 December, politicians and protesters gathered in front of the Powerhouse Museum on Saturday 10 December to rally against its removal.
A group of over one hundred people attended the protest including leading museum experts, business representatives and community groups, organised by action group Save the Powerhouse.
The Federal Member for Sydney, Tanya Plibersek, opened the rally.
“This is the very definition of short-sightedness. It’s short sighted because it doesn’t add up financially and it’s short sighted because it doesn’t add up culturally.
“Moving this fantastic museum to Parramatta’s going to cost a hell of a lot more than [Mike Baird] ever thought, or that he is prepared to admit. We’re talking about a billion-dollar cost to close a museum. How can that be sensible?”
The parliamentary inquiry into museums and galleries heard the Powerhouse Museum’s director, Dolla Merrillees, admit the cost of the move is unknown.
The Premier of New South Wales, Mike Baird, has promised the cost of the mammoth project will be finalised by the end of the year.
But Greens Member for Balmain, Jamie Parker, was critical of the overall profit from the Powerhouse move.
“It will cost upward of one billion dollars to move the 500,000 or so items that are here. And the profit – the amount of money they would make from this site – is only in the order of a few hundred million dollars.
“So this government is essentially saying we will commit over half a billion dollars to destroy a museum here and build an inferior museum in Parramatta – that’s not acceptable.
“What they see is real estate. They see this as another opportunity for more revenue for government,” he told the crowd.
The protest called for a new state of the art cultural centre to be erected in Parramatta, as opposed to a copy and paste of inner Sydney’s culture.
This plea was echoed by President of the North Parramatta Residents Action Group, Suzette Meade, who desires a complex that reflects the area’s historic and cultural landscape.
Ms Meade said to the gathering, “We don’t want second best for the west. We want great. We don’t want the Powerhouse, you can keep it! We support communities keeping their own cultural facilities.”
Ms Meade called the Powerhouse move a missed opportunity for Parramatta, pointing out a museum focused on migration or indigenous excellence as a more appropriate option.
“We have so many narratives to tell, we don’t need anyone else’s stories…. The Fleet Street heritage precinct is what Parramatta needs, Powerhouse is what Ultimo needs,” she said.