Walsh once said his motivation for building Hobart’s Museum of New and Old Art was to “absolve myself from feeling guilty about making money without making a mark”. Mona may have soaked up much of his gambling fortune but along the way Walsh has inked a lurid and indelible tattoo on the biceps of Tasmanian history. In doing so he has changed the fortunes of his home state. Walsh made Hobart hip.
Dr Natasha Cica, a writer, academic and now director of Melbourne’s Heide Museum of Modern Art, was back living and working in Hobart in the years before Mona and was there to witness the city flourish after the museum opened. “I grew up in Hobart and that was a very different place from the Hobart of now,” she tells me. “To me, old Hobart felt almost completely cut off from the rest of the world.” Anyone who wanted to achieve had to leave. “That hasn’t changed completely but it has substantially and it is largely due to Mona… it is about the inspiration of somebody having the guts to step out of the square and take a risk.”
Mona’s success has not only fostered a tourist boom but has shifted the mindset of Tasmanians “from a poverty mentality to one of prosperity”, Cica says. “It has fast-tracked Tasmania into the 21st century. We were lagging and now we are ahead of the pack in lots of ways.” Locals are returning and tree-changers are arriving with their mainland money and ideas. New restaurants and cafés have opened and there’s a thriving design and arts scene. Mona sparked a cultural awakening. A few weeks ago Cica took a friend, a German sculptor, to Hobart and he was “blown away”, she