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Why I love Sydney Opera House


Letter from Australia This week’s newsletter is written by our Australian bureau chief, Damien Cave.

As I waited in line at the Sydney Opera House earlier this week to attend Amy Poehler’s event in the Concert Hall related to her new movie, Inside Out 2, I looked around at the massive crowd.

The crowds were packed with people of all ages, races and fashion styles, as large-scale animated artworks danced on the famous sails, a highlight of the Sydney Light Festival.

I thought back to all the events I had attended in the place affectionately known as “the House.” On its several stages, I had seen Shakespeare, a play about the Oxford English Dictionary, and a big-budget musical that later made it to Broadway. In its main performance hall, I had heard classical music, soul, and re-interpretations of Bob Dylan.

Just this past year, I drank beer on the stairs outside while listening to The War on Drugs and The Pixies on the stage facing the harbor. Inside, on the main stage, I interviewed Harvard historian Jill Lepore about American politics for an Ideas Festival.

In the corridors, I bumped into Tim Minchin, the creator of Matilda. One evening, I said hello to Liane Moriarty, the author of Big Little Lies. I walked past Emma Watkins of the children’s pop band the Wiggles after Amy Poehler finished writing her book. Over the years, I’ve met some of Australia’s most powerful politicians, as well as neighbours and more than a few strangers, for a good chat in the pub or on the way to the bathroom.

I tell all this because, at least for me, it’s remarkable. I’ve never in my life felt so deeply and diversely connected to a cultural institution, never seen so much in one place, never felt so comfortable in an arts venue, so connected to a creative community, whether I was wearing jeans, shorts, or my fanciest outfit.

For me, the only comparable cultural institution is the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In my 20s, my aunt (a former dancer) told me that if I didn’t have money, I didn’t need to pay the recommended admission fee. That’s when I began to love its paintings and the narrow corridors connecting the large exhibition halls. My aunt was a dancer. She didn’t have money when she was young, and neither did I.

So in the late 90s, I would often wander the Met on winter weekends, seeking warmth, calm, and inspiration. It was there that I first learned that art did not require wealth or snobbery, that creativity nourished the souls of all people, not just those whose names were on the walls.

This is something I have believed in many countries and experiences that have challenged the idea of ​​democratic art. While reporting from events at private museums in Mexico City and Miami, I was often frustrated by the crowds and curators who were hungry for fame.

But the Sydney Opera House has always felt different, and to be honest, I’m still trying to work out why.

Perhaps it’s at least partly the architecture itself, which soars from the outside but is surprisingly plain and devoid of ornamentation inside. The gray-beige walls leading to the main hall resemble those of a German factory from the 1950s.

What I think is most important, though, is the programming and the clear commitment to making the house accessible to as many people as possible. The house welcomes both high art and popular art. Sometimes years of study are needed to fully understand the work; sometimes no preparation at all. And pleasure often seems to be a clear goal.

At a time when trust in government is declining around the world, it’s worth noting that this has less to do with wealthy donors and more to do with democratic tradition and oversight. Unlike Lincoln Center, which was built largely with funding from the Rockefeller family, the Sydney Opera House was built with funding from state lotteries and the Australian government.

In the early days, the budget far exceeded expectations, so there was huge debate and discord, but the Australians never gave up on the place: the Sydney Opera House Trust was established in 1961 with 10 members appointed by the Australian government. New South Wales Premier.

Those currently in charge include a former property executive who is now the chair of the National Housing Supply and Affordability Commission, an artistic director of Sydney’s Western Poetry Slam and an audit and risk expert who is now a member of the Sydney Philharmonic Chorus. Their talents run the gamut, not just fundraising.

The result is a warm, unpretentious landmark. The Sydney Opera House is Australia’s number one tourist attraction and the country’s busiest performing arts centre. Every year, the Sydney Opera House hosts more than 1,800 performances and attracts more than 1.4 million spectators.

I was with them on Monday night – it was great to be here again. I’ll be back next month for King Lear.

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