Country Arts SA 25

Evolution of an Arts Centre

MOMENT 1 • 1993

Community arts spaces are living, breathing organisms whose constant change parallels the evolution of a civilised society. Over 25 years, incremental changes have influenced how people have inhabited our performing arts centres*, with additions and improvements bringing increasing accessibility, comfort and safety to these gathering places.

Presentation of mainstage theatre productions was, from the beginning, a flagship activity, and staff have always been connected with the communities they serve, especially with those groups who utilise the centres for their independent undertakings, but until recently, our identical approach to programming across all theatres meant little connection between one activity and another, and a short term interaction with artists.

Not anymore. A confluence of events in our activities has incited the biggest organisational transformation in 25 years. The tailor-made, participatory explorations of the Regional Centres of Culture, the Performance Development Program’s community-inclusive residency approach to making new work, digital cinema refits and an evolution in thinking at a national touring level, have together thrown the one-size-fits-all approach out the window. Each theatre is now programmed uniquely. Fleeting one-night stands are a relic of the past. The extent to which the dividing lines between audience and artists are blurred is now the principle criterion for inclusion. There’s a greater focus on artists making work with, and for, the community and more people are active participants in the life of the arts centre. We are now accountable for our investment in terms of the depth and outcomes of people’s engagement rather than simply counting bottoms on seats as a measure of success.

Take the Sir Robert Helpmann Theatre for example – when The Spinners gives its world premiere in July, audiences will have already had a long connection with the work and its artists through the creative development residency, children will have had a week to make their mark on the final outcome of Especially on Birthdays and 25 local performers will take the stage in Company Post’s Oedipus Schmoedipus. With the Limestone Coast Symphony Orchestra, Reels @ Wehl, and Gener8 Theatre also in residence, the Helpmann is a dynamic community hub.

* Mount Gambier’s Sir Robert Helpmann Theatre, Renmark’s Chaffey Theatre, Whyalla’s Middleback Arts Centre, Port Pirie’s Northern Festival Centre and Noarlunga’s Hopgood Theatre.

Written and researched by Jo Pike for Country Arts SA


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Artists living regionally reap the benefits of working in places they love, often more cheaply than their city colleagues and sometimes closer to family. Communities with artists residing within them are richer places to live for everyone – centres of art creation in their own right. But the most oft-reported disadvantage is the infrequency of collegiate interaction and access to professional learning.

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