‘Now I am what I used to criticise’: Mona's David Walsh plans major expansion (2024)

David Walsh, the multimillionaire gambler and founder of Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (Mona), has revealed full plans for the “next phase” of Mona: gallery expansions, a new on-site hotel and a move of the museum’s summer festival, Mona Foma, to Launceston.

Walsh is known for revitalising culture and tourism in Hobart with his gallery and its associated festivals. Bankrolled by his gambling fortune, they are now the beneficiaries of government support.

At a luncheon for Tasmania’s tourism industry on Thursday, Walsh presented a sprawling reveal of hom*o, an acronym of HOtel MOna: the 172-room, five-star hotel that will be built on the museum’s current site in Berriedale if the proposal is approved by government, and green-lit by the community.

With a series of one-off, “special experience” rooms developed with internationally renowned artists, hom*o will cater to the 74% of Mona’s annual visitors who travel from interstate, with a special focus on the business and conference markets in Australia and abroad. It will feature new function, conference and retail spaces, a library and a playground – and a new spa treatment centre, for which “we’re going to charge you a fortune,” he said. “You’ll pay because either you’re easily deluded, or because it’s spectacular.”

The hotel was presented as the “next phase of growth” for Mona, although Walsh assessed it with a wry detachment. “I liked building a museum that was in a sense critical of the museum industry … a piece of commentary,” he said. “Now I am what I used to criticise. I didn’t see it coming.”

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He continued: “In all honesty, I would rather not do this sort of thing … I’ve now moved into a world that I don’t understand, and that’s the nature of risk and innovation, I hope … for example, I’ve been told not to say things, and now I don’t say them. That used to not happen.”

While most of Mona is invisible to onlookers, dug into the ground, the hotel will “shout, what it is”, he said. “I wanted to market what we have here at Mona. I wanted to market the city.”

It will be built from the top down on a suspension bridge, modelled after and painted the colour of the Golden Gate bridge. At its base will be a new 1,075-seat theatre, and below that an excavation site that’s 4.5 times as large as the museum’s excavation. It is expected to cost over $300m.

“You can’t usually build a theatre inside a building because when it shakes, the whole building shakes,” Walsh said. “But because this is a bridge, the top seven floors are suspended from above, and the bottom three floors are built from below. They’re not connected to each other – there’s no [noise] transmission. It’s the best idea anyone ever had. And it wasn’t mine!”

‘Now I am what I used to criticise’: Mona's David Walsh plans major expansion (1)

Walsh also announced plans for a new, three-story circular library at hom*o, housing his collection of rare books, manuscripts and documents. “This library could have the same impact as the present museum,” he said. “I’ve been collecting documents, books, for a lot longer than I’ve been collecting art – I’ve got some really good stuff.”

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Among that “good stuff” is one of the earliest depictions of Australia that exists in the world: a 1569 map from Dutch cartographer Joan Blaeu. Walsh also previewed a handwritten book by the artist Donald Friend, who was a self-confessed paedophile.

“My proposition is that art can never be compromised,” he said, when announcing another new feature of the outdoor space: a children’s sculpture by Tom Otterness. “[Otterness’] career was incredibly compromised – when he was an arts student, he shot a dog and videod it, and thought that was art.”

The sculpture by Otterness will sit on the surrounding lawn at hom*o, alongside a new outdoor venue and a children’s playground designed by textile artist Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam.

“This is a giant trampoline-y thing, woven or spun by a Canadian-Japanese artist who is kind of fabulous,” Walsh said. “Kirsha [Kaechele, the artist and curator who is married to Walsh] played on one of her playgrounds when she was a kid.”

‘Now I am what I used to criticise’: Mona's David Walsh plans major expansion (2)

Walsh discussed other proposed plans which are yet to be approved or funded, including a new tunnel and tower at Mona; a homestead redevelopment in Marion Bay, which will offer rooms at $2,000+ per night; a high-rollers-only casino, Monaco, which will be “anathema for art people”; and a planned caravan park at Mona called Hobo (or “HOBart Odour”), which he said has been thwarted by government regulations.

He underlined the importance of disabled access for his venues, expressing regret that the current James Turrell installation Amarna, which sits on the museum rooftop, is not accessible. “I didn’t [make it accessible] – much to my chagrin, dishonour … because it would have cost half a million dollars. And now I think, what a cop out. Why do I get to choose [who comes]? I’ve now become a big fan of that sort of regulation.”

He also previewed his ambitions to have hom*o plumbed with water converted from wastage.

“It’s very hard to get governments to take the step, because they’re worried the community will flip-flop about drinking their own piss – so to speak. And they do, people struggle with it,” he said. “You have to prove it [can work] in a high concept, high-end venture, so that it will trickle down – so to speak. That’s what I have to do.”

Some expansions of the current museum are already under way. Set to open on 22 December, the Pharos tower will house work from Richard Wilson, Jean Tinguely, Charles Ross and Randy Polumbo, along with four purpose-built installations from James Turrell, the American light artist who is now a friend of Walsh’s.

“He’s one of the greatest artists in the world in my opinion,” Walsh said. “He’s the guy who told Kirsha that she has to marry me. Building a building dedicated to him is a bit of payback.”

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With so much planned for the site of Mona, Walsh has made a proposal to the state government for funding to move the gallery’s on-site summer festival, Mona Foma (Mofo), to Launceston.

In a written statement, festival curator and Violent Femmes guitarist Brian Ritchie said: “The festival’s original 10-year plan – to change the culture in Hobart – has come to fruition ahead of schedule ... We want to make it bigger, better, more creative, more diverse and more famous.”

Walsh added: “We hope that the thousands of people who come to Hobart [for Mofo] will go to Launceston and have the experience there that I’ve had recently: it’s pretty damn cool.”

The proposed development plans for hom*o are yet to be submitted to Glenorchy city council. It is expected to take up to three years, for completion in January 2022 – but Walsh said if the community objects, “it will cause me pain but I won’t build it”.

But he hopes they don’t object. “All of these things are in the nature of challenging the very thing that we’ve become successful doing,” he said. “It’s the nature of risk that you don’t rest on your laurels.”

‘Now I am what I used to criticise’: Mona's David Walsh plans major expansion (2024)


Why did David Walsh build Mona? ›

Mr Walsh's Museum of Old and New Art is now a major tourist drawcard on the Hobart waterfront, drawing visitors from all over the world. But the gambler-turned-art collector says he built the museum to stop himself feeling guilty for making money without making a mark.

What does the Mona museum stand for? ›

Mona – Museum of Old and New Art.

How did the owner of Mona make his money? ›

Walsh made his fortune by developing a gambling system used to bet on horse racing and other sports. Walsh describes himself as a "rabid atheist". He has been married twice, the second time in March 2014, to artist Kirsha Kaechele. He has three children from different relationships, including one with Kirsha Kaechele.

How much did it cost to build Mona in Tasmania? ›

History. The precursor to MONA, the Moorilla Museum of Antiquities, was founded in 2001 by Tasmanian millionaire David Walsh. It closed on 20 May 2006 to undergo $75 million renovations. The new museum was officially opened on 21 January 2011, coinciding with the third MOFO festival.

Why is MONA controversial? ›

MONA and its associated festivals have been protested by Christians, animal rights groups and Indigenous people over various planned works, and its controversial exhibits include a wall of sculpted vulvas based on real women, as well as a machine that mimics digestion and defecates daily.

What is the purpose of MONA? ›

The mnemonic, MONA, which stands for morphine, oxygen, nitroglycerin, and aspirin, is used to recall the initial management of patients with chest pain (ie, suspected acute coronary syndrome).

Did David Walsh count cards? ›

Walsh and Zeljko were beating the casinos in the early days by counting cards. They gained an edge by tracking the ratio of high and low cards as more and more hands were played in each shoe. In Blackjack, tens and aces have the most value.

Does MONA run at a loss? ›

MONA itself runs at a loss, something that occasionally makes Tasmanians nervous.

Does MONA make a profit? ›

Mr Walsh makes no secret of the fact that MONA loses money. The festivals too do not make a profit in their own right. The Tasmanian Government contributes $350,000 to MOFO and $1 million to Dark MOFO. However long MONA serves as a drawcard and gateway to the capital and the state beyond is anyone's guess.

How rich is David Walsh? ›

David Walsh's net worth is estimated to be around $200 million. His fortune primarily stems from his successful gambling ventures, including a significant betting syndicate he formed with Zeljko Ranogajec.

Is MONA on an island? ›

Twelve kilometres north of Hobart's city centre, MONA is burrowed into the Triassic sandstone of a peninsula jutting into the Derwent River. Arrayed across three underground levels, the $75-million museum created by local philanthropist-owner David Walsh mixes ancient antiquities among contemporary artworks.

Is MONA publicly funded? ›

Mona is Australia's largest privately owned museum and art gallery. It is the experiment of its owner, Tasmanian gambler and collector David Walsh.

How did MONA come about? ›

Mona is the playground and megaphone of David Walsh, who grew up in Tassie (just down the road from Mona), dropped out of uni, played cards, won, did some other stuff, and opened a small museum of antiquities to which no one came. He declared it a triumph and decided to expand.

What does MONA do for a living? ›

Mona is an astrologist who takes her passion seriously. She is very knowledgeable in this subject in part and respects, yet also fears Barbeloth, her master, at the same time. She combines her astrology skills with hydromancy, which makes her a well-known, if still growing astrologist.

How does MONA make money? ›

In order to make enough money to survive, Mona accepted a job from the newspaper of Teyvat called The Steambird. She writes a daily astrology column in the paper and can often be found staying up late in order to finish her articles and make enough money to survive.

What is MONA supposed to be? ›

Mona is a 5-Star Hydro Catalyst character in Genshin Impact. Learn about Mona's build, ascension materials, best weapons, best artifacts, talent priority, skills, teams, and our rating of the character in this build guide!

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