It was announced on Friday that a new “tier one” Greek museum is in the works for Melbourne if the plans put forth by a group become a reality.
To be situated in the city’s old Land Titles Office, the new museum could cost $244 million if approved by the government and Heritage Victoria, according to a group behind the effort. however, the museum space and the projected costs to restore the abandoned structure would be funded by a large commercial tower behind the lost belonging to the Land Titles Office.
Additionally, the prospective new museum would acquire a rent-free lease for the next fifty years. It would take another $100 million to adapt the building to the needs of a Museum, but the group hopes to pursue both public and private funding to make that happen as well.
Athens’ Benaki Museum, one of the world’s finest historical museums, encompassing seven different campuses, is looking to expand its presence internationally. Already displaying vast collections of ancient Greek, Byzantine, Islamic and even Chinese objects, it is seen as a perfect fit for the space, located in a 143-year-old heritage building on Melbourne’s Queen Street.
The group hopes to make a new home there for a satellite museum for the Benaki which would be in partnership with Melbourne’s Hellenic Museum.
Now housed in the old Mint building, the Hellenic Museum has been behind the effort to attract the Benaki to the city. The new institution would mark the very first time the venerable Athens museum would expand beyond its borders, according to Hellenic’s chief executive John Tatoulis.
He explains “We pride ourselves on being one of the world’s cultural capitals, and we are … but I have believed for a long time there is room to strengthen that claim. “We’ve really only got one first-tier cultural institution, the NGV. Cities like New York, Singapore, Paris, Frankfurt, Los Angeles, they have a lot more. There should be more happening in Melbourne at that level.”
The new project would not be the first time the two institutions have partnered, however. They have already worked cooperatively for the past six years, with collections loaned to the Australian Museum from the Benaki and even co-commissioning new works together.
Tatoulis explains that his museum already has access to all the collections of the Benaki, and he believes that its directors “want to show it, they want to expand their brand.”
The city would be the prefect setting for the new museum, he believes, since “Melbourne is the Greek diaspora capital, we’re already here,” he says. However, “right now we don’t have the space.”
Left empty and in an increasing state of disrepair for decades, the building, constructed in 1877, has been in the sights of the Hellenic Museum for some time now. Its director tells interviewers “The building has a story and a gravitas. We want to bring it back to life.”
The venerable Greek institution itself already has successfully integrated historic buildings into its campuses, and the prospective museum would work seamlessly with the present structure, Tatoulis says, and even be the “best of both worlds,” as there would be exhibition space in the back for more contemporary exhibitions but the historic features of the building would be kept intact.
Daryl Browning, the chief executive of the property developing firm ISPT, said that the new project would make for an area which “values and celebrates a culture of arts, education and knowledge” encompassing a neighboring university as well.
He added “It will not only bring back to life a true Melbourne landmark and cement the city’s reputation as an attractive cultural hub, it will also bring significant economic benefits to the state through both the construction of the development and the ongoing operation of a new, world-class museum.”
The group says that there are already plans to link the new facility with Victoria University in a “lifelong learning academy” which will connect the museum with the university campus and attract scholars from abroad as well.
If the ambitious project is approved, it may take up to three years for it to become a reality.
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