Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Revitalising the Powerhouse

Gina Fairley, ‘A power-packed transformation’, ArtsHub, 2 September 2014

Bold vision and ambitious international partnerships will reclaim the Powerhouse Museum’s status as a world leader in applied arts and sciences.

It is a rare moment for an institution to reinvent itself – its public access, its name, brand, how it uses its collection, its staffing structure, not to mention taking on a new visionary executive management.

Sydney’s Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS) is doing just that.

Last week it announced its 2020 Vision strategic plan alongside a multi-year exhibition program (2015-2017) saluting a long-term investment in driving the future of Museum – and our perceptions of it.

It is a big challenge. Many of us are stumbling over who is MAAS, let alone visiting one of their venues.

MAAS comprises the three sites: the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney Observatory and Powerhouse Discovery Centre.

And while Powerhouse Museum is the flagship, it has dwindled from public attention over the past decade. Market penetration is low, with only 9.6% of Sydney residents, 6.9% of NSW residents and 7.4% of the Sydney education market using the Museum.

The Strategic Plan claims it will reverse that declining audience trend, aiming for a 100%-plus growth in the next five years.

How will they do it?

Director of MAAS Rose Hiscock said: ‘It’s time to wake up. Our aim is to be a thriving hub for curiosity and creativity, loved locally and acclaimed internationally.’

Of priority is the renewal of the gallery spaces, to build a consistent identity for our Museum, a focus on growing audiences, and to regain the Museum’s reputation and global standing.

‘There are only a few museums of applied arts and sciences in the world – a title we will reclaim,’ said Hiscock.

Hiscock said: ‘Our relationship to this city is increasingly important to our focus; we can no longer turn our backs to it. This part of the city is changing radically’ The Powerhouse Museum will create a new entry to connect with the Goodsline opening in the coming months (modelled on New York’s Highline), and the Observatory will connect more closely with Barangaroo as it is developed.

‘We will align our staff to our vision. We will actively choose people with a nimble approach to arts. We are halfway through that process, and we are on track and on time,’ reported Hiscock.

Given this strategic plan was launched within days of the Australia Council’s, the comparison is astonishing in terms of the dynamic energy, articulation and passion to embrace an audience and carry them through that journey.

NSW Minister for the Arts, Tony Grant, said: ‘The Powerhouse Museum is moving in the right direction.’

Despite being a self-confessed Melburnian, Hiscock said: ‘The energy and commitment of the government to transform the State is quite inspiring.’

The 2015-2017 program in brief:

Central to the vision is the Recollect series, which is about rethinking and improving access to the Museum’s collection of about 500,000 objects, ‘and we are talking big objects like trains and the monorail,’ said Hiscock. ‘We want to show it!’

‘Our job is to put some framing around that diverse collection – pull in different markets with different exhibitions,’ said Hiscock.

With two to three internally curated exhibitions planned annually, this series started in August with Auto Obsession. ‘Cars – It is symbolic of an organisation on the move,’ said Hiscock.

Read more here.

Council of Australasian Museum Directors c/o Lynley Crosswell, Museums Victoria, GPO Box 666, Melbourne VIC 3001, © CAMD 2023
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