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Good for Sydney: Fashion Industry Welcomes $ 500 Million Reinvention of Powerhouse Ultimo | Museums

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AAustralia’s fashion and design industries have welcomed the NSW government’s plan to transform Ultimo’s Powerhouse Museum into what has been described as the biggest investment in arts and culture since the construction of the Opera.

The NSW government said on Tuesday it would spend between $ 480 million and $ 500 million to turn the Ultimo site into a fashion and design hub.

The future of the downtown suburban heritage building has been uncertain for years. In 2015, then Prime Minister Mike Baird announced that the building would be sold to apartment developers, with all of the museum’s extensive collections being moved to a new site in Parramatta. After five years of controversy and fierce opposition from the community, the government of Gladys Berejiklians abandoned these plans in 2020, but maintained its commitment to a second Parramatta site.

The models pose with designers Luke Sales and Anna Plunkett (left) Camilla Franks, Jordan Dalah, Jenny Kee, Bianca Spender, Alexandra and Genevieve Smart and Julie Shaw at the Sydney Powerhouse Museum on June 15, during the announcement of a new state investment.
The models pose with fashion designers Luke Sales and Anna Plunkett, Camilla Franks, Jordan Dalah, Jordan Gogos, Jenny Kee, Bianca Spender, Alexandra and Genevieve Smart and Julie Shaw at the Sydney Powerhouse Museum on Tuesday, during the announcement of a new state investment. Photograph: ALyx Gorman / The Guardian

On Tuesday, NSW Minister of the Arts Don Harwin announced that this year’s state budget will contain the first installment needed to fund the building’s full renewal.

Design and fashion will be at the forefront of this museum in the future, Harwin said, while the Parramatta site itself a point of contention, with questions raised about the viability of its location and a alleged lack of consultation with the traditional elders will mainly focus on science and technology. The Powerhouses collection has more than 500,000 objects, 90% of which have never been seen by the public. It will change everything.

Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences trust chairman Peter Collins compared the Powerhouses collections to those of the V&A in London and the Smithsonian in the United States, saying the renewal would pave the way for generations to come.

A competition will be launched to determine the design of the rejuvenated building at Ultimo. Harwin estimated that coming up with the design, getting development approval, and appointing a builder would take almost a year. Once we’ve picked a constructor, lock in a good timeline, he said.

The government intends to keep the Ultimo Powerhouse open throughout this process; they will begin major works that will not interfere with the daily operations of the museum until after the completion of the Parramatta site. It will be a few years before it is finished. We want to avoid the closure of both museums as much as possible. Well, minimize when that happens, Harwin said. When the project is completed, it will mean that Sydney will have two world-class museums.

Sydney Deputy Mayor Jess Scully was impressed with the investment in arts and culture. I’m kind of amazed and really excited that they see how much this contributes to the culture and the economy, she said.

It’s so exciting to see a community campaign that worked. The people stood up and said no. That they liked the power plant, they believed in its potential. People fought to keep the plant here and it worked. The government came back, they caught up with the people.

Powerhouse CEO Lisa Havilah in the basement of the Powerhouse Museum with artifacts from an upcoming exhibit, Clay Dynasty, which opened on May 28, 2021.
Powerhouse CEO Lisa Havilah in the museum’s basement with items from the Clay Dynasty exhibit, which opened on May 28. Photograph: Carly Earl / The Guardian

Powerhouse chief executive Lisa Havilah said the investment would make the museum and the city more competitive when it comes to hosting large international exhibitions. This has always been a sore spot for the powerhouse, which for many years did not have the climate control and staging facilities necessary to attract global traveling exhibitions.

We can really be at the forefront of rethinking what an exhibit experience is, Havilah said. She also noted that the renovated compound would contain a 60-bed residential academy to enable students from schools in the regions to undertake intensive applied arts training, as well as subsidized workspaces for designers to fabricate and create.

Anna Plunkett, half of Australian fashion designer duo Romance Was Born, has first-hand experience working at the Powerhouse as a Creative Industries resident. She said spending time in the basement that houses the Powerhouses collection has been creatively invaluable. People don’t really know the extent of it. Being able to access it, ask questions and see it in real life is so exciting.

Devoting a museum space to fashion makes economic sense; Plunketts’ work with the National Gallery of Victoria has attracted significant audiences. People are waking up, I think the McQueen Show at the Met was the best-selling exhibition of all time. Fashion crosses so many borders, it is so desirable and it creates so much space to cross genres and tell stories.

Of the announcement, Plunkett said: It will be so good for Sydney. We have nothing with fashion.

Although fashion and design is centered on the Ultimo site, the museum will always retain some of its other key works, including the Boulton and Watt, the Catalina seaplane and the No.1 locomotive.

The Catalina Flying Boat, an 8.5 ton aircraft suspended from the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney
The Catalina seaplane suspended in the Powerhouse Museum. Photograph: William Robinson / Alamy

In 2018, a report commissioned to move the complete collection of the museum costs estimated at around $ 65.7 million, with objects such as the flying boat Catalina, an 8.5-ton plane currently suspended from the museum’s ceiling, posing a particular logistical challenge.

While he would keep nods to the past, Harwin said the sites flip-flop will not just be metaphorical but physical. It will actually turn [the building] around, so it faces east of the city and south along the freight line to the central station.

Scully praised the move, which she said would resolve a disconnect between the Ultimo district and Haymarket, while making the museum entrance a much nicer place to linger.

While the city of Sydney has yet to formally participate in the rejuvenation project, Scully said she was excited about the future of the sites. What this tells me is that it’s always worth fighting for the things you love.

I don’t know if I could have imagined that. I could see the potential back then, but it happened almost so quickly. I mean six years is not quick, but it is in terms of government.

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