NSW Premier skewers democracy again in service of developers

On Monday, the NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, below, abandoned all pretence at community consultation in government planning decisions. Hours before the second community consultation about the future of the Powerhouse Museum, Ultimo, was due to begin, she announced that a new facility would be built on the old DJ’s carpark site on Parramatta River, above, to be purchased from Parramatta Council at a cost of $140 million. “Any future redevelopment at Ultimo would potentially include residential units, while retaining an arts and cultural presence,” she said. The interests and values of the Rum Rebellion had won again.

This was no longer the pretence at community consultation, conducted by the same people, over the future of the North Parramatta Heritage Precinct four years ago, when participants were encouraged to think widely and creatively. By the second session the results had been distilled into one option of choosing where to place potential buildings.

As it was, my heart sank as we read the two key questions in the first consultation. This was the Museum of Arts and Sciences (MAAS) Project Public Meeting (Parramatta), organised by the Department of Planning and Environment with MAAS, on Wednesday evening, July 26. About 100 people grouped around tables had one and a half hours to respond –

Question 1: What would you like to see, do and experience at the new Museum in Western Sydney? What would make it an exciting place for you and your family/friends to visit?

Question 2: If some Powerhouse Museum presence stays at Ultimo, what would you like to see, do and experience?

Once again the parameters of community involvement were strictly limited. There had been media reports that former Premier Mike Baird’s developer driven thought bubble of selling the Powerhouse Museum, (SMH photo right, by Louise Kennerley) and relocating it to Parramatta had not withstood financial scrutiny and community pressure was forcing a rethink. In booking for the free event, people were invited to submit three key questions they would like answered in the consultations.

Mine were along the lines of questioning the assumptions on which the project was based:

  • Why dismantle a popular and well established cultural institution in the heart of Sydney?
  • Why move it to a small flood prone site on the bank of the Parramatta River?
  • Why not consider a museum for Parramatta that relates to its rich indigenous past and early colonial history already holding national and World Heritage values, like the North Parramatta heritage precinct?

It wasn’t long before it was clear that many others were questioning the same assumptions and offering a range of alternative proposals.

Organisers stated ,”The new museum will be designed with community input and will be on the cutting edge of science and innovation. To deliver the best possible museum, a business case has been established to ensure all options are investigated, tested and analysed. Community consultation is an important element of the business case and local community members are invited to be part of the conversation.”

People certainly responded: Why, if you are going to spend $500 million delivering the museum to western Sydney, spend $100 million purchasing the Parramatta River site and another $100 million on flood proofing it, before you even begin building a new museum? You could do so much more with that money. Parramatta is difficult to access from many parts of western Sydney and now with new road tolls and poor public transport, it’s not going to get any easier. Why the rush? The government wants the business case for the project to be submitted to cabinet before the end of the year. For such a major institution, why not spend time engaging community and experts in conversation from the ground up?

Why not operate like the Smithsonian Institution which now has 19 museums and the National Zoo across the United States? “Congress authorised acceptance of the Smithson bequest on July 1, 1836, but it took another ten years of debate before the Smithsonian was founded. Once established, the Smithsonian became part of the process of developing an American national identity—an identity rooted in exploration, innovation, and a unique American style.”

In western Sydney, MAAS could operate like Western Sydney University with its network of campuses across the region. Indeed it could be linked to the university and work with the existing arts centres serving different parts of the region. An excellent example of such a productive collaboration was last year’s Gravity (and Wonder) exhibition, left, at Penrith Regional Gallery. What about the new technology park planned for Luddenham and links to the Blue Mountains World Heritage Centre?

On the “community” consultative process alone, there were plenty of questions: Where was the cultural diversity among the participants, which is such a feature of Parramatta, let alone the region’s population? Where were the young people for whom the future museum is so important?

The deadline for responses about the MAAS  project is August 18. You can reply to the question: “Is there anything else that should be taken into consideration when developing the business case?” https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/536XXPF

Highlighting the state government wish for haste was the Parramatta City Council meeting on Monday, July 10, conducted by administrator Amanda Chadwick and attended by 200 people. Twenty speakers were registered for the public forum including Better Planning Network, National Trust of Australia, Australian Institute of Architects, Saving Sydney’s Trees, Parramatta Female Factory Friends, ParraGirls, Darug Elder Kerrie Kenton and North Parramatta  Resident Action Group, left.

Present also was Sydney Morning Herald columnist, architectural critic and former Sydney city councillor Elizabeth Farrelly. She couldn’t suppress her chortles at the absurdity of the administrator’s role. Every time the administrator Amanda Chadwick said a motion was before council, followed by “I have resolved . . .”, her smiles broke out afresh. Her report the following Saturday was scathing –

“Oh, and the item on everybody’s lips: the new development control plan enabling UrbanGrowth’s massive, 20-storey resi-velopment of the area euphemistically dubbed the Parramatta North Urban Transformation Precinct. Our finest treasures reduced to that. PNUTP. More than a thousand public objections. Twenty impassioned speakers. The screens scroll. RESOLVED CHADWICK.

“Why cram so much in? Why vet speakers? Why ram this through when national and perhaps world heritage listings are expected any week?

“Could it be because this was the last ordinary “meeting” before democracy returns in September? Is this how we do things now in Sydney? Is this “inclusion”? Approved voices only? Excuse me, Big Sister, but how exactly is this different from tyranny? From Big Brother’s deliberate erasure of history? How is “inclusive, resilient” (Parramatta promotional buzzwords) not classic doublethink?

“It’d be funny if it weren’t so dangerous, running hand-in-murderous-glove with the wholescale destruction of everything . . . ”

The only speaker in favour was the head of the UrbanGrowth team planning the North Parramatta transformation. She stated that people were stopping her in the street saying yes, yes, yes. That was undoubtedly happening at the archaeology open day, when the focus was on the history and heritage and not the proposed development to come.

Conflict over the national heritage site continues to escalate. NPRAG president, Suzette Meade, left, wrote yesterday – “Thanks to our continued relationship with University of Sydney’s Professor Peter Phibbs from Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning we were able to secure two events to be included in the University’s Festival of Urbanism.

“Urban Growth tried very hard to dissuade the university from holding a tour on the site claiming it was a construction site and unsafe, and then followed that up with an offer to hold the tour  themselves and provide free lunch for tour goers. The university stood their ground and secured Dr Terry Smith local historian and myself to provide a two hour tour of the Cumberland Hospital Precinct to architects, planners and industry specialists.

“We had also included a discussion on the future of the Heritage Precinct, this was passed on to the Western Sydney University to hold at the Female Orphanage/Whitlam Institute.   Unfortunately we were told there was no room for NPRAG to speak and then advised Urban Growth NSW were invited to be keynote speaker.  We continued to push the university hard for equal representation and negotiated to allow a ‘community member’ to speak at the event.  Speaking will be long time advocate for the precinct and former NPRAG committee member Jason Burcher.”

Better news from the Premier on Monday was the announcement of $100 million for the redevelopment of the Riverside Theatres. There is no doubt that this commitment is the result of years of negotiation between Parramatta Council and the state government, following the enormous success of the theatres under the direction of Robert Love.


A dance of many dimensions whirls around arts and sciences

1-PRG - Gravity and Wonder - Solar EclipseThere is a dance of many dimensions occurring around arts and sciences in the region. In the meantime, thank you to those who responded to the last post. A loss of internet and phone lines for six days and continuing household sickness has delayed follow up, but it will happen.

Reaching for the stars is just one element of a full program of activities for families, students and specialists to accompany the Gravity (and Wonder) exhibition opening at Penrith Regional Gallery, this Saturday, September 3, at 4pm. Topics will range from the impact of gravity on gardens to the glories of the night sky through the Western Sydney University Observatory telescope. Among the images on display will be the 1922 image, above, of a solar eclipse, part of the Museum of Arts and Sciences collection. The exhibition will be opened by Professor Barney Glover, vice-chancellor of Western Sydney University and president of the MAAS Board of Trustees, responsible for the controversial planned move of the Powerhouse Museum from Darling Harbour to Parramatta.

PRG - Powerhouse-Observatory_credit-Prudence-Upton-016-300x300On Sunday, September 11, there will be an adult and family day of exploration in the gallery gardens. Among the attractions will be Sydney Observatory gravity model demonstrations, left, and a conversation with landscape artist and host of ABC TV’s Gardening Australia, Costa Georgiadis, below. Costa’s conversation with David Duncan and Peter Western will take place in the gallery’s beautiful succulent garden. They will discuss the unique and curious elements of gravity and PRG - Gravity and Wonder - costa_large-300x300gardening.

Gravity (and Wonder) will present an all day Gravity Geeks Art + Science Symposium at Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre, November 5. Artists and STEM researchers, educators, students and audience will come together in discussion and demonstration. The work of artists who collaborate with scientists in illuminating scientific concepts and related research concerning gravity will be presented.

Managed by Museums and Galleries of NSW and assisted by a Dobell Exhibition Grant, the Gravity (and Wonder) program will include star gazing from Western Sydney University Observatory and from the gallery gardens. Make sure you make at least one visit before the exhibition closes November 27.

On September 4, the National Trust presents a talk Saving the Powerhouse by Kylie Winkworth, heritage consultant and former trustee of the Powerhouse Museum.
The NSW Government proposes to sell and relocate the Powerhouse Museum to Parramatta. The trust opposes the sale of the Powerhouse but supports the establishment of a museum at Parramatta. It believes there has been inadequate consultation on the options. Tickets.

Metadata-2-website-bannerIt will be dance and science that combine in three performances at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, from September 15 to 17. Metadata, image above is the new project of one of Australia’s leading contemporary dance companies, De Quincey Co. Metadata continues the company’s cross art form, cross disciplinary and frequent cross cultural explorations. They describe Metadata – pure light, moths and mathematics as an exploration of the latest developments in physics and cosmology. Metadata will be presented by Form Dance and Riverside Theatres and each performance will be followed by an arts-science exchange led by science academics from the University of Sydney. Bookings and information.

Respond quickly to threats and great opportunities

NPUR - proposed redevelopmentYou have until 5pm, this Sunday, July 24, to make a quick submission to the Parliamentary Enquiry into Crown Land. Better Planning Network, through North Parramatta Residents Action Group (NPRAG) says, “The NSW Government is proposing major changes to the way Crown Land is managed. This includes transferring Crown Land back to local councils and prioritising a business model. This will see the disposal and sell-off of parcels of Crown Land.” Among the lands likely to be affected is the North Parramatta Heritage Precinct, for which UrbanGrowth NSW is currently developing a master plan – NPRAG’s impression of the initial buildings proposed for the site, above.

“In response to community concerns, a Parliamentary Inquiry has been convened to investigate: – the adequacy of community input & consultation regarding the commercial use & disposal of Crown land
– the benefits of active use and management of Crown land
– the most appropriate & effective measures to protect Crown Parramatta Gaol - ABCLand
– the extent of Aboriginal Land Claims over Crown land & opportunities to increase Aboriginal involvement in its management’.

Click proposed changes to find out more and click on this link to make a quick submission, which you can personalise. Parramatta Gaol, ABC photo right, is the subject of a successful land claim by the Deerubbin Aboriginal Land Council.

There are some great opportunities to learn new skills and participate in fascinating explorations. Tracks: Western Sydney is a pop-up program for young writers. On Saturday, August 6, Information and Cultural Exchange (ICE) at Parramatta will host a day of workshops conducted by Express Media in partnership with Westwords – western Felicity CastagnaSydney’s literacy organisation for young people. You can take part in a fiction masterclass with Sarah Ayoub or a non-fiction masterclass with Rebecca Giggs. Young writers can find out what opportunities are available for them in western Sydney and beyond with Michael Campbell, Lily Mei, Sarah Saleh and David Graham. Then find out what happens when you have been selected for publication from Susie Anderson, Michael Mohammed Ahmad, Kylie Fornasier and Felicity Castagna, pictured above. And if that’s not enough, listen to the work of some of western Sydney’s hottest young writers. Costs, bookings and details.

From Penrith Regional Gallery & The Lewers Bequest comes an exceptional opportunity. The gallery is about “to embark on a landmark project in partnership with the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences and Western Sydney University and needs volunteers to assist with its smooth running. This opportunity will particularly suit people interested in both art and science and is part of the upcoming exhibition Gravity (and Wonder) and its accompanying series of public programs. The exhibition and program examines gravity as a universal force, holding all things in place and in relationship to each other.

Penrith R Gallery - Gravity (and Wonder) Amy“The exhibition will bring together objects, historical drawings and photographs, technical and measuring instruments from the collection of MAAS alongside the work of contemporary Australian and international artists who have sought to engage with gravity and its wondrous elements. In addition to exhibiting existing art, new artworks have been commissioned from Sandra Selig and David Haines and Joyce Hinterding.

“Volunteer Invigilators will be required across the period 3 September – 27 November. Volunteers will be provided with training and induction and will work under the supervision of gallery staff.

“Deadline for applications: 31 July at midnight.
To apply: Please visit our website and read the extra information, then complete the downloadable application form and return it to us by the deadline.”

Haines and Hinterding - Gravity and WonderAs a preliminary to the opening of Gravity (and Wonder) art and science will intersect in a talk to be given at the Powerhouse Museum, Ultimo, on Monday, August 15, between 6 and 7pm, by David Haines and Joyce Hinterding. They are an artistic partnership, whose work is inspired by scientific concepts, while science is the foundation of their research and eventual artistic production. Their work is focused on the unseen and unheard – forces of energy, the environment and hallucinations. Their talk will precede their participation in the opening of the Gravity (and Wonder) exhibition at Penrith Regional Gallery on 3 September. Details and bookings.

Inspirational arts, science and social engagement at Penrith Regional Gallery

Penrith R Gallery - Gravity (and Wonder) AmyScience and the arts combine in a mutually inspiring exploration that will culminate in an exhibition at Penrith Regional Gallery in 2016. The gallery is the recipient of the $40,000 Inaugural Dobell Exhibition Grant for the development of Gravity (and Wonder). The exhibition will be a
collaboration with the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS). Gravity (and Wonder) will explore the history and philosophy of this fundamental law of the universe through contemporary art and related objects, instruments and papers in the MAAS collection.

The exhibition, scheduled for 28 August – 21 November 2016, will introduce audiences to new ways of thinking about the multi-dimensionality of matter, time and space through a range of loaned and newly commissioned sculptural and kinetic works. More than a dozen contemporary artists will participate in the presentation of new and existing works. Contributing artists already include, Richard Serra, Timothy Cook, Amy Joy Watson, Sandra Selig, David Haines and Joyce Hinterding. The image above is Amy Joy Watson’s Floating Sequence 2012, balsa wood, watercolour, gouache, polyester thread, lead weights, balloons, helium. Courtesy the artist and Hugo Michell Gallery, Adelaide.

Penrith R Gallery - David Haines - Violet GasAn array of public programs will accompany the exhibition such as ‘Gravity Geeks’, a symposium with artists, curators and scientists, and collaborations with the Western Sydney University Observatory staff and students. David Haines and Joyce Hinterding are Blue Mountains based artists whose research into the sounds made by rocks was recently video recorded by the Sydney Morning Herald. Not long before, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Sydney hosted Energies: Haines & Hinterding, a survey of the extraordinary range of scientific ideas and metaphors they work with. Left is David’s contribution, Violet Gas, to the Penrith Gallery’s recent exhibition Hot House. David has been creating complex chemical formulas for almost a decade as he explores aroma.

Collaboration, exploration and community engagement have proved richly rewarding for Penrith Regional Gallery this month. Not only did the gallery win the inaugural Dobell Grant, it also won the engagement category at the IMAGinE awards for their ground breaking City of Plenty project. The City of Plenty was an evolving art installation with a social conscience. Artist Sarah Goffman constructed a city made from donated non-perishable food and household consumables in the main gallery, see photo below. She worked with project partners, Ozharvest and Penrith Community Kitchen and with students from Caroline Chisholm College. Museums & Galleries of NSW‘s IMAGinE awards recognise the people who work in museums and galleries across NSW and the contributions they make.

The 2016 round of the Dobell Exhibition Grant was assessed by a panel of three – Michelle Belgiorno, trustee and Paula Latos-Valier, art director of the Sir William Dobell Art Foundation and Michael Rolfe, CEO of the Museums and Galleries Association of NSW, which will manage the grant. Continuing the themes of creative collaborations, science, mentoring, conversations and social interactions, Michael will open Penrith Regional Gallery’s next suite of exhibitions on Saturday, December 5. The major exhibition goes under the title Deborah Kelly – Bodies of Work, first created for the 19th Biennale of Sydney (2014) – No Human Being is Illegal (In All Our Glory). The second exhibition will be Networks – Communication Highways – brain imaging, Brain Sciences, UNSW.

The third is Queen Street Riches and Textures 2015 – Sharing the Seeds. Each year, supported by Penrith Council, St Mary’s Corner produces a Queen Street Riches and Textures project by inviting artists to explore issues relevant to Penrith R Gallery - City of Plenty - winthe local community through different artistic media. The 2015 Sharing the Seeds project has brought together artists, art educators, local gardeners and farmers. They are creatively exploring innovation and sustainability in community gardening and growing your own food. Partners include Mamre House, Permaculture Sydney West, TAFE NSW Western Sydney Institute Nepean Arts and Design Centre, and Penrith Council.

It is now more than 40 years since Penrith Council began its pioneering role in developing arts opportunities for its residents. Despite many claims to the contrary, Penrith Council was the first council in western Sydney to employ a community arts officer (1976). It was the first to provide a permanent home for the professional Q Theatre company (1977) and the first to accept responsibility for a regional gallery. The Lewers Bequest.and Penrith Regional Gallery (now the Penrith Regional Gallery and Lewers Bequest) was officially opened in 1981. The gallery is at 86 River Rd, Emu Plains NSW 2750, phone 02 4735 1100.

Blog - PPM book coverThere are endless fascinating stories behind the flourishing arts scene of present day western Sydney. Many are recorded in my book Passion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney. It makes a great gift and some very pleasurable holiday reading. Click here for information about where you can buy copies. Among the outlets are Campelltown Arts Centre, Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, Penrith Regional Gallery, Blacktown Arts Centre, Hawkesbury Regional Gallery and Riverside Theatres, Parramatta. “. . . Its messages have resonances far beyond western Sydney” – Dr Peter Shergold, Chancellor of Western Sydney University.


Joan Brassil – still a leading contemporary artist

1-IMG_3388Strangers: A Retrospective of Joan Brassil opened at Campbelltown Arts Centre, on Saturday June 6, the tenth anniversary year of her death. In about 1958, Joan had moved to Campbelltown as the widowed mother of two young sons and not long after, became Campbelltown High School’s first visual arts teacher. A much loved and inspiring teacher, artist and collaborator, her life and practice were celebrated by the large gathering of family members, former students, friends and colleagues. On her early retirement at the age of 50, Joan was invited by Barbara Romalis to become one of the founding members of the artist community at Wedderburn, where the surrounding bushland became one of her endless sources of inspiration. It was from this point that Joan’s professional development as a contemporary artist took off. Her academic studies ultimately included a doctorate of creative arts from University of Wollongong. In 1999, she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters by UNSW. Above, Strangers in the Landscape (sculpture) located in the cafe courtyard.

1-IMG_3385Assembling Strangers: A Retrospective of Joan Brassil was a major undertaking for the project curatorial committee (curatorium) – Michael Dagostino (director of Campbelltown Arts Centre), Ruth Banfield, Susan Best, Greg Brassil, Liam Brassil, Tony Bond, Marsha Meskimmon and Megan Monte. Joan was an installation and media artist, whose early embrace of technology and video led her into collaborations with scientists, researchers, and artists from other disciplines. She participated in major national and international art exhibitions and disposed of few of the materials she had ever used. In fact, one part of the exhibition includes objects created for one purpose and then changed or re-used in another role. Joan was always experimenting and learning. A selection of pages of research commentary and critical reviews are reproduced to enhance the experience of the object room. Above, Astral Potatoes, located in the object room.

1-IMG_3372Why Stranger in the title? Stranger is a recurring theme in much of Joan’s work. In her catalogue essay, Marsha Meskimmon writes: “It is difficult to look at Joan Brassil’s work without embracing unpredictability, the possibility of change and a profound sense of contingency. Moving easily between the dust of the ground and the light of the stars, the stranger (gazing) engages all that lies between, seen or unseen, heard or beyond hearing. Brassil’s aesthetic tactics were not to fix meaning, but to allow it space from which to emerge.” She was deeply interested in Aboriginal thinking and practice and their closeness to the natural world. Above, Joan as she appears in the film (see below), describes her sense of wonderment.

1-IMG_3366In opening the exhibition, Tony Bond described elements she utilised in her work – randomness, chance, curiosity, interrogation, an intense engagement with the nature of being in the world, a manifestation of wonder. The 20 minute film made with Joan during her lifetime and which screens on continuous loop, reveals these characteristics and the way in which she used technology as an instrument of wonder, light and contemplation. Her style of work was generous, inclusive and collaborative. Astrophysicist Dr Brian Robinson was a friend and collaborator whose knowledge deepened her understanding of science. Her use of recordings such as the movement of electrical energy and pulsar registrations, helped him communicate science to a wider audience and gave a broader dimension to his work. Above, Randomly – Now and Then, 1990, microphone stand, computer, diorite mining cores, gravel rock, pavement, speakers and tuning forks.

1-IMG_3397While the technology may have changed, Joan’s approach to her work remains entirely contemporary. The challenge for the curatorium was to assemble her installations in ways she might have done, since each space was different and she responded intuitively to them. Her warmth and whimsical humour are also evident in some of her work. I was fortunate enough to have time with her on at least two occasions, when it always seemed she had a quality of stillness about her. Joan’s son, Greg, says her advice when all around seemed to be chaos was to “sit still”. Her work is deeply contemplative. Left is one of two panels which stand alongside her sculpture of giant tuning forks Tether of Time in Campbelltown Arts Centre’s sculpture garden. The forks stand over a pool of reflection and a perpetual small flow of water. The panel is inscribed with poetic observations about Tether of Time (with apologies for the layout) –

Wind harps on a busy corner tuned randomly
by natural forces sonipally declare the advent of air
NNE or SE find sound among strings
placing the ear against wood on masts
currents of air may be throbbing through wires
as a sonic harmonic searching for a song

Strangers: A Retrospective of Joan Brassil continues at Campbelltown Arts Centre to August 2. Go prepared to listen carefully. Delicate and diverse sounds are a constant among the installations. The catalogue helps illuminate the experience.