Starting this week, Time Out Sydney is kicking off one of its biggest editorial campaigns to date – definitely its longest, and I’m willing to bet its most ambitious. We’re calling it 52 Weeks of #SydCulture, and it’s a year long commitment by us to you that we’re going to thrust the best and least known parts of Sydney’s cultural scene (from gigs to art to theatre and everything in between) in your face, every goddamn week.
But here’s where the ambitious part comes in: we want you to come on the journey with us. We want you to take the challenge, and commit to seeing at least one cultural event a week in your city.
Let us explain why that’s important – for Sydney and its cultural life, but also for you: culture will make you a happier, better-informed and more compassionate person. How do we know? Because we ran the stats on it.
In October Time Out International undertook a massive survey of more than 20,000 people in 18 cities around the world, to find out how they felt about living in their city. In November the results rolled in – and imagine our mixed feelings at Time Out Australia to find that Melbourne was near the top of the list of cities most beloved by their inhabitants – and Sydney was almost at the bottom. Sydneysiders really don’t enjoy living here.
One of the things that Sydneysiders were most pessimistic about was the city’s cultural scene. Only five per cent ‘agreed strongly’ that Sydney had a world-class culture offering (up to 29 per cent for people who ‘somewhat agreed’). As a team committed to living the city A-Z and back to front, the Time Out Sydney editors were dismayed by these results.
There was a silver lining in the City Index stats, however: it turns out that the people who engaged with the most culture were also the most satisfied with their Sydney life. In particular, people who reported attending the theatre within the last week were the most likely to strongly agree that “Sydney is an energising, inspiring place to live”.
As Arts and Culture editor for Time Out Australia, this delights me – but I can’t say it’s a surprise. I’m in a theatre, gallery or cinema – or writing about it – for most of the week; I get the appeal. And a lot of people clearly do too – they keep going back!
I can’t speak for the reasons people become culture lovers, but I can guess some of them: we go to escape our lives, we go to enter someone else’s, we go to learn new things about the world or ways of looking at it. We specifically do it in theatres and galleries and clubs and concert halls and dives and cinemas because we want to have these experiences together. It feels good, it feels more profound – and it’s probably even more rare and valuable in an increasingly online world.
I would go even further than saying that culture makes our lives better: I would argue that it makes our world better. I think it serves a function of building empathy and community and understanding – a function that is particularly urgent in 2017. If 2016 has taught us anything with its parade of deeply, toxically divided societies, it is that we need to reach out to ‘others’ and not just stick to ‘our own’.
This idea is not new, but its current urgency is powerfully expressed in a 2009 TED talk by Nigerian-born novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, titled ‘The Danger of the Single Story’, that went viral. Adichie, speaking from the perspective of the ‘homogenous’ Third World, argued for a multiplicity of stories and perspectives beyond the white, western, First World media and cultural canon. “The single story creates stereotypes,” says Adichie, “and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
Culture – defined broadly here as any form of storytelling – offers this multiplicity of stories and perspectives. Sydney’s cultural landscape contains this, in varying forms and to differing degrees – from the sublime joy of listening, dancing and singing along to music together, to seeing some art that makes you swoon or scratch your head, and seeing new stories on stage (or radical new perspectives on old ones).
We very much hope you will come on our 2017 culture quest, for any or all of the reasons above, and in whatever way suits your taste, lifestyle and budget best. We’ll be offering up one ‘must-see’ culture hit each week – free or at least cheap – in our Thursday newsletter. We’ll also be inviting some of our favourite Sydney culture hunters to share their weekly favourites with you, for extra inspiration.
We want you to share your #SydCulture experiences too. Take the pledge to participate in one new cultural event each week with the hashtag, or use it to highlight your favourite Sydney cultural experiences. We’ll be checking it every day, and reaching out to people who use it with free tickets and other tokens of gratitude for supporting our city.
As Time Out Sydney’s friend Kali Reid – a long-time arts producer, curator and director (and co-founder of Redfern creative hub 107 Projects) – said in response to our Sydney’s City Index results: “Sydney has some of the best artists, performers and musicians in the world. … It's time to stop moping and start celebrating what we do have.”
Kali’s enthusiasm inspired us to set this challenge, and we hope to inspire you too.
Welcome to 2017: 52 weeks of #SydCulture.