Nothing to gain from museum move.
Newcastle City Council’s first public forum over the proposed illogical shift of the Regional Museum to the Honeysuckle Workshops site began with a twofold explanation for the move. The Council wants to create a cultural precinct in the centre of the City and BHP wants to leave a permanent record of its history here. Let’s accept that BHP will give a large unencumbered sum (speculated at nine million dollars) to leave a lasting legacy from the company’s involvement in the region by establishing a museum that will evoke Newcastle’s rich industrial heritage. Logically it would be expected to build the museum out at the old steelworks site around the physical legacy it has left. Not only are many of the heritage items in situ but the brutal, desolate nature of the site and the awesome scale of the buildings makes a visit one of the most memorable experiences in this region if not anywhere. This is unlikely to happen as the hypothetical sum of nine million dollars looks like pocket money against the estimates quoted to clean-up the site to a state suitable for public access. Why have the Honeysuckle Workshop buildings been chosen? Put simply: because no one wants them or knows what to do with them. Honeysuckle Development Corporation (HDC) has proved utterly incapable of attracting commercial interests while refusing to commit to cultural or community use of the buildings. Admittedly, often because Council feared it would end up with them dumped on its maintenance budget. The Council’s proposal for a cultural precinct is hardly a new idea. In 1996 HDC and NCC commissioned reports and business plans which they had ratified at public meetings to establish a Visual Arts Centre in the Sawtooth Building as the hub of a cultural precinct. These reports demonstrated the viability of the project for initial cost of $800,000 and a Council contribution of around $50,000 a year. Obviously, if the desire for consolidation of the cultural precinct is the sole motivation this can be achieved for a fraction of the cost by establishing a multi-purpose Visual Arts facility incorporating contemporary art, craft, new media and touring exhibitions. Thus leaving enough money for an extension to the current Museum and perhaps even an access road through the old BHP site stopping off at the Salamander or original blast furnace. In a proper cost benefit study it may well be found that rather than concentrating them in the City centre. such geographic diversification of cultural/heritage assets may increase their social and economic value. Not that this outcome would be attractive to BHP for the central location of the Honeysuckle site and a new identity for the Museum will give badging it as BHP’s own a marketing impact impossible with a BHP extension to the current Museum. Every corporation wants its value for money spent on promotion and so it should be. But being a good corporate citizen also requires responsibilities. When this process began in August last year, the first point of consultation should have been the genuine stake-holders in the cultural life of the city, the enthusiasts who built the Museum, the practitioners, those arts industry professionals without vested interests and above all the Newcastle public. Ross Woodrow Newcastle University academic, artist and member of the Newcastle City Council’s Arts and Cultural Development Panel.
MONDAY 8 FEB.
PRE2009-Fine Arts (incl. Sculpture and Painting)