Whale central to 2020 museum plan
Treasurer Christian Porter talking outside the Western Australian Museum. Picture: Ian Munro/The West Australian

The WA Museum’s famous blue whale skeleton will finally have a home 17 years after it was lifted by crane through the roof of the condemned Northbridge building and packed up in a warehouse.

Museum director Alec Coles, who had staked his reputation on securing the money for a new museum, said the skeleton would be a centrepiece of a 23,000sqm complex which is double the exhibition space of the current facility.

He expected the doors to open by 2020 after the Budget forward estimates included $71 million of the $428 million the Government said the much-delayed project would cost.

But the State Opposition warned that the forward estimates were like the financial Never Never and funds had not been committed for 2012-13.

Treasurer Christian Porter said the project definitely would go ahead and be finished on time and on budget after intense financial modelling and master planning involving the Office of Strategic projects.

He said $2.5 million of unspent planning funds would be carried over from 2011-12 to next year.

Mr Coles said a new building on Francis Street would knit in with current heritage buildings including the Old Gaol, Hackett Hall, and Jubilee and Beaufort Street wings, which would all be refurbished.

The new museum will include galleries along the three major themes of Being Western Australian, Discovering Western Australia and Exploring the World, new spaces for major touring exhibitions, an interactive space for visitors to get closer to behind-the-scenes research and conservation and new function areas, cafes and shops.

“Great cities have great museums,” Mr Coles said.

“A museum that relates to its people is the basis of as great society.”

Museums Australia WA executive officer Diana Roberts said the launch of the project coincided exquisitely with International Museum Day, which was devoted to the theme of institutions growing and re-shaping their futures.

“This announcement will affect the morale of the industry enormously in terms of the public value that is placed on museums and collection and cultural stories around the State,” Ms Roberts said.

“Culture puts places on the world map,” she said. “Nationally and internationally, that has already been recognised and I am very pleased that WA has got that and is catching up.

“This shows that the museum has incredible relevance in contemporary society. It is a great mediator of knowledge and ideas.”

Arts Minister John Day had been pushing for a new museum since 2008 when the global financial crisis struck and the Government ditched Labor’s plan for a $500 million complex in the old East Perth power station in favour of redeveloping the Perth Cultural Centre site.

The asbestos-riddled Francis Street building was demolished last year, nearly a decade after it was closed and its collection moved to the museum’s Welshpool storage and research centre.

The site has been landscaped to host occasional events like the Perth International Arts Festival until construction starts.

With the focus on the new museum, the outlook was less rosy across the wider cultural landscape.

At $133.9 million, the 2012-13 arts and culture funding will be cut by $21 million, or 14 per cent, from the current financial year.

The Department of Arts and Culture said the reduction reflected the completion of one-off projects such as the State Theatre Centre, the museum demolition and up-front funding for the Art Gallery of WA’s New York MoMA exhibition series.

The arts industry support program has been cut by 10 per cent to $31.8 million.

WA Chamber of Arts and Culture chairman Sam Walsh applauded the museum funding but was concerned with the decline in overall arts grants and subsidies.

“This funding is the lifeblood of large and small arts organisations and individual artists across the State and we will continue to address this with Government,” he said.

He acknowledged extra funding of $27.5 million over four years to be divided between the art gallery, museum, Perth Theatre Trust, ScreenWest, State Records Office, and State Library.

More than $11 would be spent over four years to maintain heritage-listed arts and cultural buildings.

Mr Walsh said the Budget was a positive step but more work had to be done at the State and Federal levels to attain funding levels the arts needed to thrive.

“Investment needs to be spread throughout the State – from our flagship companies to funds designed to assist individual artists and performers,” he said.

Opposition arts spokesman John Hyde said the museum money – which would not flow until after the next financial year - disguised a smoke-and mirrors-trick in arts spending.

“Not a cent is allocated this year and we find just $70 million in future years to build an undesigned, alleged $428.3m museum in 2020,” Mr Hyde said.

The West Australian

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