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Powerhouse new partnership with

Samantha Hutchinson, New-look Powerhouse gets a timely funding boost, Australian Financial Review, 14 February 2024

NSW Minister for Arts and Tourism John Graham, ING Australia CEO Melanie Evans, Powerhouse Chief Executive Lisa Havilah – photo Zan Wimberley.

The Powerhouse Museum has formed a partnership with ING Bank to bring exhibitions and a rooftop pavilion to its striking new building in Sydney, as part of a plan that aims to persuade people to look up from their phones and engage with new ideas.

The $4 million partnership struck last week between the public museum and the Dutch-based bank is regarded as a coup for the Powerhouse, which will help broaden the reach of its education programs and the raft of programs it offers to cover sustainability, well-being and financial literacy.

“In a time where it has become increasingly hard to get anyone to lift their eyes from a screen, museums offer the ability for all of us to immerse ourselves in new ideas and new stories [and] to step outside of our lives,” Powerhouse chief executive Lisa Havilah told The Australian Financial Review.

It is also a major win for the museum in a competitive corporate fundraising environment in which consumer-facing brands typically favour sports teams and stadiums to sponsor over cultural institutions and pursuits.

Of the $1.52 billion donated by Australia’s Top 50 corporate philanthropists in 2023, more than 30 per cent of funding was directed to social and public welfare, followed by 21 per cent of funding which went to causes associated with health. Sixteen per cent went to environmental causes.

Just 3 per cent went to cultural institutions and initiatives.

“It is less common,” Ms Havilah said of banks gravitating towards museums and arts institutions. “Generally, retail banks have moved more towards sport. However, while sports sponsorship offers broad appeal, partnering with a cultural institution … provides a unique opportunity to connect with communities on a local level through … programs that have real impact.”

Powerhouse Museum chief executive Lisa Havilah (left) and ING chief executive Melanie Evans inside the new Parramatta museum’s striking exoskeleton. Kate Geraghty.
Australia’s largest companies are increasingly choosy about how their partnership dollars are directed, with an emphasis on absolute brand and mission alignment or return on investment.ING chief executive Melanie Evans said the Powerhouse partnership was driven by the goal of supporting a cause that fosters community and sustainability. The bank is chasing a goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, in a push that also extends to financial sustainability.

“This is a more meaningful fit for us,” Ms Evans said. “It will be a phenomenal public space where innovation will thrive, while fostering research and discovery.”

Located in a rooftop garden on the top of the museum, itself distinctive for its striking white exo-skeleton, the pavilion will support learning programs and workshops that connect communities with biodiversity, conservation and caring for diverse environments.

It will also operate alongside a community wellbeing program sponsored by the bank to promote sustainable practices including financial literacy, planning and wellbeing.

The cash injection comes at a pivotal time for the museum as the opening of its $1.4 billion facility at Parramatta in Sydney’s central west approaches, and it grapples with capital funding cuts in the Minns government’s first budget.

NSW Arts Minister John Graham in September revealed plans to drastically scale back a $500 million redevelopment at the Powerhouse’s Ultimo site, in favour of a more modest “heritage revitalisation” priced at $250 million. Mr Graham said the decision would pave the way for savings to be redirected into new hospitals and schools.

While the museum is regarded as one of the better-capitalised public arts institutions in NSW, people close to the executive and board, as well as those in philanthropic circles, are blunt about the challenges the sector is facing to raise cash while discretionary budgets are tightening.

The Art Gallery of NSW has attracted sponsorship from ANZ and Optus as presenting partners, and from the Arab Australia Bank as a corporate member. The Museum of Contemporary Art, meanwhile, is predominantly tourism focused, with Qantas as its official airline partner and cruise line operator Oceania Cruises as a major partner.

Inside the Powerhouse stable, which includes the Powerhouse Ultimo, the Sydney Observatory, Parramatta and a sprawling storage facility, gallery and research space in Castle Hill, sponsorship is dominated by philanthropic family offices as well as universities. At Parramatta, the Walker Family Foundation, the Vitocco family and the Tyree family are principal benefactors, along with Western Sydney University.

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