“Realising the dream took us all – visionaries and pragmatists, politicians and architects, engineers, artists and, most fundamentally, the people of Australia.”
In light of recent Sydney Opera House events, where promotional illuminations of horse-race betting were projected onto the iconic sails, we wanted to comment on our vision for this iconic building and reflect on how our cities are changing.
Over the years, through festivals like Vivid and other events, we’ve seen the beautiful artistic possibilities presented by Badu Gili, Tim Clapham and Jonathan Zawada among others, who use the Opera House sails as the most a compelling and captivating digital canvas. We’ve explored the possibilities ourselves in the pre-Vivid time of Smart Light, and have witnessed the power of visual experiences to positively alter people’s perceptions of their city and the potential of that experience to reflect and represent our diverse Australian character.
These expressions celebrate the Opera House as an artistic canvas and an expression of who we are as a nation. It is important to remain a canvas for compelling visual experiences that open and expand peoples’ hearts and minds, and where our younger generations can see what is possible and see how they can contribute to and evolve the feel and character of their city.
The decision to display commercial advertising on an icon of Australian culture reflects a consciousness that is stuck in last century. Today, we are all so much more visually literate and empowered than we’ve ever been. Many of us have screens in our pockets, we choose what to watch and when to watch it. Public policy remains stuck in a time when it was acceptable for advertisers to sell public space to commercial interests without any benefit to, or engagement with, the public. The Opera House advertising protest is an example of a rise in the public consciousness, decrying this practice as no longer an acceptable public policy. Our policies need to reflect our time and the space in which we live.
We encourage the Opera House to continue to represent all of our people to the world. Telling stories of our imaginations, our past, present and future, sharing artistic expressions of our architecture, heritage and ultimately Australia’s creative and cultural foresight. Staying true to its essence, it should “help mould a better and more enlightened community,” in the words of New South Wales Premier Joseph Cahill in 1954. We can inspire our kids to create change and make our cities more humane spaces, that encourage expression of a true civic voice and determine the quality of our future together. Narrow commercial interests do not represent that future – broad civic agency does.
An uprising is underway, one that is changing our cities, and how we live in them. The quality of light and life is shifting. Soon, our cities will be designed for all citizens, where all can contribute, where the consciousness of our decision makers changes to choose authentic, inclusive expression rather than limited exclusive commercial ‘opportunities’. It is an inexorable, inevitable change. It can be ignored, but it cannot be denied.