In 1992, the city of Burnie on the North-West coast of Tasmania was in turmoil. The local paper mills had sustained the region for decades, but now they were downsizing drastically. The community was in serious economic trouble, and starting to spiral into a complex web of social problems.
Big hART began working with young people and families in Burnie who were experiencing trauma and disadvantage. We wanted to bring to light the hidden social costs of the economic crisis. After listening to locals, the company began piloting task-focused, long-term projects with those at risk. Big hART provided new opportunities for the people of Burnie to participate socially and economically. Together, we created art of high quality that also helped promote the city.
Big hART’s first project was made with a group of young offenders. Together we developed a performance, GIRL, which touched the community deeply. GIRL told the story of a fragile young woman’s descent into the juvenile justice system. Designed and constructed using paper from the local paper mill, GIRL was a remarkably accomplished piece of visual theatre. What's more, the behaviour of participants changed as the project provided them with an engaging, productive alternative to crime.
RESULT: “At the beginning of the project there was one offence from the group per week, at its conclusion, there was one offence in ten months.”
PORTRAIT: “T” - the GIRL in the title - prison escapee, violent, abused and abusive, has never re-offended, and has gone on to participate fully in the community, and to work with the elderly in nursing homes, bringing her own compassion to their lives …
The remarkable results of the first Big hART project were acknowledged and presented in many crime prevention forums nationally, influencing other crime prevention initiatives for young people.
GIRL also caught the eye of Artistic Director Robyn Archer, who invited the company to the National Festival of Australian Theatre in Canberra.
Since then, high artistic values, strong social impact, and input into policy forums have become the cornerstones of Big hART’s work.
The company has grown quickly.
Within two years, Big hART had two performances in the National Festival of Australian Theatre.
In 1994, we tried our hand at community filmmaking. Our film Hurt won an AFI award and a number of international awards.
In 1998, our Domestic Violence Prevention project and its independent evaluation influenced the direction of the Prime Minister’s Partnerships Against Domestic Violence Strategy and recently we picked up the 2008 Sidney Myer Performing Arts Group Award.
The company continues to grow. Big hART continues to produce award-winning works for national festivals and achieve sustained change in participating communities. And because our work is continually opening up new possibilities, we are very excited about the future.