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From grand old lady to Miss Popularity: $20m mystery pledge sets Old Museum on new course

Culture

The grand old lady of the state’s cultural history, the Old Museum at Bowen Hills, could be restored to its former glory after a mystery donor pledged $20 million to support its main tenant, Queensland Youth Orchestras.

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This week’s state budget included $1.6 million to investigate the feasibility of restoring the 130-year-old building, a move welcomed by those campaigning for the museum’s heritage and cultural value to be shown more respect.

But it is the $20 million commitment to support Queensland Youth Orchestras – made by a philanthropist who insists on anonymity – that sparked excitement about the Old Museum’s future.

There have been several attempts in the past to raise money to restore the landmark building, which was once home to the Queensland Museum and the Queensland Art Gallery, both of which moved to the Cultural Centre precinct at South Brisbane decades ago.

Sitting on the corner of Gregory Terrace and Bowen Bridge Rd and designed by renowned federation architect George Henry Male Addison, its distinctive red brick facade makes it one of the state’s most prominent heritage places.

While it is currently being used a performance and event venue and a film set, restoration of the building would give Brisbane something it does not currently have – a medium sized concert hall capable of housing a symphony orchestra.

Queensland Youth Orchestras president and former arts minister Ian Walker said the budget funding for the business case – coupled with the $20 million private pledge – presented a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to conserve and revitalise The Old Museum’s rich heritage.

“The Old Museum contains Brisbane’s first Concert Hall, in which stars like Dame Nellie Melba and Percy Grainger performed between 1891 and 1934,” he said

“QYO has used the building for rehearsals, performances and administration since 1989, so we are also a big part of the building’s history.”

He said a full restoration of the building would open it up to all of Queensland and would be invaluable to the orchestras, chamber groups, school bans and community organisations for whom the QPAC Concert Hall is too big and too expensive to hire.

 

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