The idea of a GLBTI exhibition space or museum on Oxford St has been widely discussed in the Sydney GLBTI community since at least 2012. The museum was the major GLBTI issue in the council elections of that year because it was the only issue over which the City of Sydney could have any influence.
The many, many community members with whom I’ve discussed the proposal for a permanent GLBTI museum have expressed enthusiastic and bipartisan support. Lord Mayor Clover Moore, however, still needs to be convinced.
On Monday, Clover Moore and her party resolved that “the establishment of a permanent GLBTI museum [in Sydney] has not been identified as a priority or goal for the GLBTI community,” on the basis that no group has emerged to develop one.
She voted for that resolution after defeating my proposal for Council to “investigate the business case,” for establishing, maintaining and staffing such a project.
The Lord Mayor now claims a museum is not a goal for the community despite the fact that she supported the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras’ highly acclaimed pop-up museum in a Council-owned property on Oxford Street, which operated for two months in 2013.
Mardi Gras has massive financial clout compared with any other GLBTI community group and yet the museum closed after the organisation admitted that it did not have the funds or staff to run it on an ongoing basis.
The unfortunate fact is that there is currently no GLBTI community-based organisation that has the financial resources and expertise to operate a permanent museum in Sydney. Without public funding, at least in the start-up phase, the museum cannot and will not be realised.
Like the state government-funded Art Gallery of NSW and Museum of Contemporary Art, a GLBTI museum could and should supplement any public funding with private, community-based income such as donations, sponsorships and membership fees.
The Lord Mayor justifies her opposition to the museum by saying it should not be run by politicians who might seek to influence the content of exhibitions. In reality, any council-backed museum would be run by a completely independent curator, just like the state government-funded Art Gallery of NSW and MCA.
According to the resolution passed by Clover Moore on Monday, the City of Sydney will take no leadership role in establishing a museum and do nothing proactive until some as-yet-to-be-identified community member comes with a begging bowl. Even then, it noted that “such a museum could only be established and sustained with strong community, state and federal government financial support.” And this from a council that currently boasts cash reserves of $586 million.
Apparently Clover’s council, which donated $1 million to the redevelopment of the MCA and plans to spend more than $7.5 million turning the iconic T2 building in Taylor Square into a bike hub, cannot countenance even investigating what a GLBTI museum might cost.
As Clover Moore rightly points out, there are many more important GLBTI issues than a museum. Youth suicide, marriage equality, the expunging of gay men’s criminal records and transgender equality are all more pressing than the need for a museum on Oxford Street. But all those issues lie in the hands of state and federal governments, beyond the purview of local government.
As Clover Moore acknowledges, a GLBTI museum could be a major asset and tourist drawcard. But it could also be part of our community’s push for progress on the things that really matter. It would document the tragedies and celebrate the achievements of the past. It would promote diversity, equality, inclusion and community.
Despite the Lord Mayor’s ongoing opposition, I plan to continue to work with the GLBTI community to develop a proposal that will convince her of the merits of a permanent GLBTI museum on Oxford St Such a place would be an important addition to the city’s cultural, social and economic life.
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