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Robyn Archer has
been working 17-
hour days proof-
reading the second
the Centenary of
a plethora of
meetings when In
the City catches up
with her. Understandably, she's a bit tired.
"We're getting down to the nuts and bolts
of program delivery now," she says. "It's been
two-and-a-half years in the making. It's like
being pregnant with an elephant."
Despite the fatigue, Archer's spirit and
enthusiasm for 2013, and all that it holds, is
still high. As creative director of the Canberra
100 celebrations, she is the "mouthpiece" for
a team running more than 300 events across
"I'm rich in life, but poor in time," she
"My feeling is that the community is
responding really well. On our website, people
can list their events and we have so many up
there from the public, it's fantastic to see.
"People are coming up to me with new
ideas all the time. Only last week I learned
of a new public sculpture to be in the city to
commemorate the celebrations. It'll be up
Among the huge plans locked in for 2013 is
a big birthday weekend around Canberra City
and Lake Burley Griffin on March 8-12, the
You Are Here festival and The Village in Glebe
Park, a collection of hand-made theatres and
tents that will host music, performance, visual
arts and fashion shows.
This is by no means the first time Archer has
planned a big celebration. A singer, writer and
actor by trade, Archer directed the National
Festival of Australian Theatre in Canberra
in the mid-90s, the Melbourne Festival from
2002 to 2004 and Ten Days on the Island in
Tasmania between 2001 and 2005.
She calls Adelaide home, and has owned
a Sydney home since 1978, but believes
Canberra should be listed among the world's
"I've worked in Paris, London, New York
and Berlin and I feel I know big cities so I
often wonder when people say they don't like
Canberra because it's not a big city," she said.
"I fell in love with the place. It was love at
first sight. It's the things that are below the
surface, I've always found it to be a very lively
"People make a judgment on how many
people they see walking on the streets at 5pm
on a winter's evening. What you don't see is
that the restaurants and bars are heaving, the
theatres are booming and the city is alive."
Since the centenary plans started, Archer
has taken the media to task for using the
term "Canberra" as shorthand for "federal
government" or "parliament". She believes
public perceptions of Canberra - the city - are
impacted by this use.
"I still think views are shaped by the
media and the political dialogue of the day.
Some people still don't separate the city and
Parliament House," she said.
"I did a speech in Washington DC recently.
People there agreed with me, they knew what
I was on about. Washington cops it too. Even
Barack Obama said 'Washington is broken' in
his State of the Union address. I wonder what
the citizens of Washington thought about that."
Among the many and varied events in
Canberra City and the wider ACT region, the
aim of the centenary celebrations is to create
a lasting legacy that will shape Canberra for
decades to come, but such an outcome may not
be known for a while.
Robyn was the artistic director when the
English city of Liverpool -- home of The Beatles
and all things industrial -- was the European
Capital of Culture in 2008 and believes
similarities can be drawn with Canberra.
"The centenary doesn't necessarily aim to
get more bums on seats, although I do think
it'll be very busy, it's more about speaking
good things about the city," she said.
"There's a weird arrogance in anything
when you don't see things and you presume
and that is what happened in Liverpool and
in Glasgow, when it was the Capital of Culture
too [in 1990].
"Everybody had a presumption that Glasgow
was rough as guts but it proved that that was
not the case.
"It's interesting for Canberra because it
has never had a whole-of-city event like this
before. It's had Floriade, which has offshoot
projects, but not something like this.
"We probably won't know the legacy for five
years at least. There will be more buildings and
infrastructure from this, but the underlying
legacy may not be felt for years to come."
As for Archer, 2013 is likely to be a hectic
year, but one that may even spring a return to
her theatrical side.
"I have no plans after 2013, with projects like
this, I give my all and don't get distracted," she said.
"There's some days I just want to work at
home in my pyjamas and I guess that will
happen at some stage.
"But there's a couple of things I've agreed to
next year that will be a bit different. It should
be a good year."
As Canberra enters its
centenary year, once-in-
will take over the whole
city. At the helm, creative
director Robyn Archer talks
to RICHARD FOX about
legacies, politics and
"I fell in love with the place.
It was love at first sight. It's the
things that are below the surface,
I've always found it to be a very
PHOTO: DANIEL SPELLMAN
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