|CLICK HERE TO GO TO SOURCE|
A SMH EXCLUSIVE:
The Powerhouse Museum has been prostituted in pursuit of misguided populism, says one of Australia's leading arts figures.
Leo Schofield also said millions of dollars had been wasted on renovating the building, in a withering attack on the management of the museum at Ultimo.
''As a former trustee of the Powerhouse Museum I am appalled at the recent history of this once vibrant institution and the whoring of a great and eclectic collection in pursuit of misguided populism,'' he said.
Schofield's scathing comments came as Arts Minister George Souris announced on Wednesday that Rose Hiscock would replace Dawn Casey as director of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, which includes the Powerhouse and the Sydney Observatory.
But Ms Hiscock would inherit a troubled institution, said Schofield, who was a trustee for nine years.
Schofield's views are rejected by Shirley Alexander, who became a trustee in 2007 and is deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Technology, Sydney.
''I think there are some people who will never agree that something deemed to be popular is the right thing for a museum,'' she said.
''We cater to all audiences, not just the elite.''
Schofield is also critical of the museum's facelift that resulted in a gallery devoted to design being replaced by a temporary touring exhibition space and upgrades to the entrance, cafe and shop. ''Millions have been wasted on rejigging what was a perfectly fine building and the choice of recent directors has been questionable,'' he said.
Schofield said the museum's reputation for collecting and exhibiting contemporary design had been harmed during Dr Casey's five-year tenure. Exhibitions on popular culture such as the Wiggles and The Chronicles of Narnia had come at the expense of decorative arts, crafts and design. ''What has got my dander up is the complete destruction of the design section of the museum,'' he said.
Tasmania's Museum of Old and New Art and the refurbished Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery showed it was possible to elevate public taste, not debase it, Schofield said.
Schofield has been critical of Dr Casey, claiming in 2010 that many long-term museum supporters and donors viewed her appointment with ''considerable trepidation''.
''The institution is designated as a museum of applied arts and sciences but, bit by bit, the applied and decorative arts are being de-emphasised and the program of exhibitions dumbed down,'' he said in 2010.
A former director of the Sydney Festival, Schofield said: ''The tsunami of goodwill that once flowed to this institution has dwindled to a trickle''.
His criticism was echoed by the NSW Auditor-General, who gave a harsh report of the museum's performance in 2011.
The report found there was a ''dramatic decrease'' in the number of exhibitions held, while its Top Secret and ABBAWorld shows were so unsuccessful that the museum removed admission charges.
In contrast, Harry Potter: The Exhibition, which opened in November 2011, drew large crowds and helped contribute a profit of $2.7 million to the museum in 2011-12.
Professor Alexander said the renovation was prompted by visitor feedback that the museum was hard to navigate. ''We put a lot of money into re-engineering the space and fixing signage so when visitors come we want them to have the best possible experience,'' she said.
She said Dr Casey had addressed the lack of attention to science, innovation and engineering with new shows.