A museum’s role in the community should be a vitalising force.
– Arthur Penfold, 1945
The Powerhouse, through its renewal and across its platforms, will redefine museums in the 21st century by renegotiating the terms of engagement with communities, radically returning to and reckoning with its legacy as a museum of industry and fortifying its vital role in the cultural and economic ecosystems of NSW, Australia and the world.
In 2022 the Powerhouse, one of Australia’s oldest and most important cultural institutions, continues the delivery of its expansive renewal program across its five platforms:
- Powerhouse Parramatta – building our new flagship in the fastest growing and most culturally diverse communities in Australia
- Powerhouse Ultimo – transforming the much-loved Powerhouse to deliver international exhibitions within a dynamic creative industries and technology precinct
- Powerhouse Castle Hill – expanding Collection storage, creating new public exhibition spaces and establishing world-leading collection management capabilities
- Sydney Observatory – restoring and enhancing this national heritage icon
- Powerhouse Digital – creating space to tell stories and provide new levels of access to the Powerhouse Collection of over 500,000 objects.
The Powerhouse will acknowledge Country, Always, embedding First Nations ways of knowing and self-determination across the museum and building enduring relationships with traditional owners and communities. The Powerhouse will define the renewal of each platform according to its location: sensing and responding to Country, respecting the cadence and context of place, reflecting the economies and industries of each precinct and recognising the unique cultural and social histories that make each platform distinct.
Since its inception, the Powerhouse has been intrinsically connected to community and industry. By folding time, reinforcing the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences Act 1945 and reckoning with our history, we recognise the Powerhouse as “a vitalising force” (Arthur Penfold, 1945), “known for its unique reputation for the services it renders to industry” (Arthur Penfold, 1937) and “of interest and lasting service to the mass population” (The Technological, Industrial and Sanitary Museum Annual Report, 1881).
While the Powerhouse Collection and museum legacy concern the industrial revolution and processes of modernisation of the 20th century, our remit – as legislated in the Act of 1945 – is to the development of industry. In the 21st century, the industries that drive our society are completely different to those of the past. The Powerhouse is a contemporary museum of industry – one of doing and practice, “ready for use” (C.R. Buckland, acting secretary, 1880).
The Powerhouse Program (all activities of the museum – including but not limited to curatorial, conservation, registration, exhibition-making, learning, workshop, research, image-making, communications and marketing, design, visitor services, development, hospitality, and retail) is a network of relationships, connecting expertise, knowledge, and practice at the service of stories. The Powerhouse facilitates seamless collaboration. It is porous, making no distinction between internal and external collaborations.
The ambitious and unrelenting Powerhouse Program will create space for diverse and untold stories of the applied arts and applied sciences (and their contribution to industry) as they apply to those communities’ histories, lives, and futures. These stories will intersect with and animate the Powerhouse Collection.
Through the reimagined Powerhouse Castle Hill, Powerhouse Digital, and the Powerhouse Program, the Powerhouse Collection will remain vital and relevant to the Program. Direct access, unprecedented engagement via research and residency and increased public circulation across expansive exhibition spaces make the Collection more accessible than ever to communities.
Through its renewal, the Powerhouse will be essential to the communities it serves – a real cultural and economic asset. Those communities, including partners and industry, are more than stakeholders, audiences, or consumers – they are collaborators and co-creators in this renewal. The renewed Powerhouse will create ripples of economic and cultural prosperity for the community emanating from its multiple platforms and resonating for generations.