A big thanks to Time Out Sydney for inviting me to share a big idea for the city in their October 2013 issue. My big idea isn't something that I've campaigned for before, but ever since it occurred to me, I've become fixated on the idea.
The problem I wanted to address was around audience development: I'm frustrated by the fact that there are great cultural producers out there delivering interesting content, but lacking audiences. And I know there is a genuine (I would even say genuinely ferocious) appetite for interesting events, experiences, content and products among Sydneysiders. You see it at mass events, which our city excels at, and there's a shift towards the personal and unique in the shopping habits and entertainment habits of the mainstream locally, which is evidenced by the way we're regarded internationally as some of the most voracious online shoppers.
So, why the disconnect between our hungry audiences and our starving artists?
I'm going to make a massive generalisation: transport.
Our communities are divided by it; our access to all kinds of cultural events limited by who can get where, and when. So I started thinking about how we could turn that source of frustration and tension into an opportunity for audience development and connection, and here's the crazy idea I came up with:
TAKE IT TO THE STREETS
Sydney has a brilliant cultural and social life bubbling just under the surface. If you’re in the know, there’s so much going on every week that it’s overwhelming, but if you’re not – whether you’re a visitor, living beyond the inner city, or curious to explore a new area – it can be obscure and impenetrable, exclusive, in the worst sense of the word.
The result is that we have great initiatives and creative organisations floundering because they’re having trouble expanding their audiences, and a majority of the population missing out on engaging with the cultural life of the city.
My big idea for Sydney is about communication: creating nodes that connect digital communities and physical places. I want to turn every bus stop into a digital noticeboard. Not just for ads, but for art, ideas and events.
Imagine a media screen displaying a map of the streets around you, scrolling through the performances, exhibitions, markets, workshops and talks in the immediate area. You can log in to the free wi-fi as you wait for the bus, check-in, and set your interests or preferences. You’re emailed a map and a list of the events you could join in that week or next, with links to register or invite friends.
Theatre companies and music promoters could share video and audio, and artists could present works activating the screen between users. The ability to promote cultural and creative events to a broader audience, grounding it in a place, and making it immediate means we might see more unconventional spaces being used in interesting ways; more impromptu markets outside train stations, buskers claiming patches for weekly gigs, and empty CBD plazas and building podiums becoming exhibition spaces during the week and stages on weekend nights.
I’d partner with companies like JCDeceaux or AdShel to make it happen: there would be a commercial incentive for them, as richer content would attract the attention of audiences.
This is a tool with so much potential to transform the social and cultural life of our city, and support creative and cultural projects, making them more sustainable and accessible. With a tool like this, the public realm could be the living room we all share, a place we feel connected to each other, and open to new experiences and ideas.