Museum of Printing goes into limbo

The future of the Melbourne Museum of Printing (MMOP) is in jeopardy, with a suspended lease notice and lack of funding leading it to call for help in the form of donations and loans.  

The Museum houses the greatest collection of print memorabilia in the country.

Michael Isaachsen, founder and curator of the museum received a letter from his landlord in the window of the Footscray premises, asking that he quit forthwith.

The museum is said to have close to $500,000 in unpaid rent. Isaachsen is making an appeal for a loan of several million dollars over five years, with the hope that a major investor will save the site.

James Cryer, well known print historian and head of JDA Recruitment says, ‘It would be real shame to see it go. I am suggesting that the PIAA forms an action group to try and help save the Museum. However it is difficult with the amount of money it needs.”

Isaachsen says, “For now, MMOP operations are suspended due to unexpected expiry of our lease – it is actually because industry, government and philanthropy have not been able or willing to help. We may need to move everything, to where I do not know.

“A potential contributor of a major grant or loan will be supplied with information to assess the business side of the Museum.

Isaachsen says, “Only if we totally fail to raise funds do we need to think about what to keep, and where to go. Moving the whole Museum, or most of it, will almost certainly cost more than leaving it where it is. Our landlord has said he is happy for the Museum to stay on, subject to certainty about rental payments.

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“When our new team has finished cataloguing the heritage assets (machinery, archives and so on) the Museum may well decide to move some less important items to other museums, or dispose in other ways, clear a bit of space. But until we really know what we have got, we risk giving away things that would have been useful in telling the story of the craft and business of printing. Anyway, when we move something on, it should have its history attached.”

An anonymous donor gave the museum $250,000 from a sale of a flat in Footscray in December last year.

Isaachsen says, “Despite basic agreement, confirmed several times over last year, there were technical problems with the contract, and these caused a delay. I and others planned greatly improved programs at MMOP, confident that our place would be safe, with no payment required until around 2020.

“At the end of January, the landlord withdrew his offer and gave us just a short time to find about $400,000 or he would terminate the lease and lock us out. He might not have realised, but this was the perfect storm that could destroy the Museum.

“And now, as I write, the Museum has been locked against us for two weeks, with all our presses, typesetters, cabinets and founts of type, archives and libraries now inaccessible to us and with an uncertain future if no support is forthcoming. To protect the Museum, I have had to engage legal representatives and now that is using up funding that my family and I can ill afford.

“Despite the feeling that the Landlord has been a bit tough, I think he does care about the Museum. But perhaps the level of debt is causing him to be in trouble, too. So actually I feel responsible for his situation and I hope we can raise some funds and help him out (and save the Museum).

“Some of our supporters would know that I have worked to save the traditions of printing, the ancient crafts, and the many innovations, for forty years, since 1977. I gave up my salaried job in 1991 to concentrate on developing the Museum and its programs. All my life savings have gone into MMOP, accompanied by substantial funding by family members, and all are now locked up with an uncertain future.

“A certain family member may consider selling their house to save the Museum – the cash would save it, but leave that person in difficulty. I cannot allow them to make that sacrifice."

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Over time, MMOP has amassed equipment from various institutions, including The Canberra Times when it closed its print operation. Isaachsen collected old machines from auctions and skips. The museum is said to have one of the largest collections in the world, with typesetting, typecasting, prepress, printing machines and other sorts of equipment.

Isaachsen says, “When MMOP moved to our lovely big building on Geelong Road, I believed that industry and government would be glad to have a substantial museum of the craft and business of printing, with substantial archives, and plans to include related industries such as publishing, packaging and papermaking and the suppliers of print materials. I was sure they would offer some financial support. They still may, of course.

“MMOP would continue to provide public education about printing and its decades of changes, and specialised education (professional development) for designers, printers, historians, librarians and others, and improve these offerings.

“MMOP would operate full-time with some paid staff to support the volunteers, and it would provide training and other support for the many other museums of printing that have been losing their older, experienced crew. The archives and libraries would eventually provide opportunities for research. The complete working typefoundry would once again pump out founts/fonts of movable type for universities, other museums and lovers of tradition.

“I guess my weakness (or one of) is feeling awkward about pleading in my own cause. Although I regard the Museum as a community asset, rather than my own property, I could be seen as the beneficiary of any support offered because up to now, only I have contributed financially to the project albeit with the generous help of my immediate family.

“Yes, our Landlord has been very helpful over the years when we failed to get support and had no money to engage staff, he was willing to let the rental debt build up while we garnered some sponsorship or other help. And it is he, not I, that will receive most of whatever immediate support may be offered.”

 For more information, or to make a suggestion about grants, sponsorships or a major loan email [email protected], or visit mmop.org.au/support.

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