“A healthy artistic climate does not depend solely on the work of a handful of supremely gifted individuals. It demands the cultivation of talent and ability at all levels. It demands that everyday work, run-of-the-mill work, esoteric and unpopular work should be given a chance; not so much in the hope that genius may one day spring from it, but because, for those who make the arts their life and work, even modest accomplishment is an end in itself and a value worth encouraging. The pursuit of excellence is a proper goal, but it is not the race itself.”
former Australian Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam

Gough Whitlam’s words on the importance of smaller players in the arts sector illustrate perfectly the culture of amateur theatre in Australia. While the major organisations in each state play a vital role in putting theatre on the public calendar and increasing its exposure, it is often the small to medium companies and groups that shape the culture of theatre and help it develop and grow, by exploring challenging issues and innovating the way that it is presented to audiences.

In a talk at the Wheeler Centre yesterday, Liz Jones (Artistic Director and CEO of La Mama Theatre) spoke on this issue and the importance and impact of smaller outfits, like La Mama. With over 40 years’ experience at La Mama under her belt, her passion and emotion for Victorian theatre were immediately apparent in her short half-hour on stage.

Smaller theatre organisations, as much as their more major counterparts, have an ability to be innovative, experimental and challenging; engaging with and exploring current issues in a unique way. The ‘cultivation of talent’ Whitlam advocated is lived and breathed on a daily basis by our country’s community, amateur and non-professional theatre groups. Children are introduced to the world of the arts, developing performers hone their craft, and seasoned veterans explore the eternal possibilities of the theatre.

Some of this talent may be fed into the larger organisations, but others will keep their work within these smaller groups, continuing their great work and ensuring them for years to come.

What are your thoughts – what do smaller theatre organisations have to offer the development of a ‘healthy artistic climate’? Are the larger organisations more, less or equally important? What does a ‘healthy artistic climate’ even mean?

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