The head of Talks and Ideas at the Sydney Opera House, Ann Mossop has been part of the performing arts scene for most of her adult life.
“I’ve always been involved in getting writers and thinkers to talk about their work,” she says. So when the opportunity came to develop the Opera House’s standing, both nationally and internationally, as a vibrant centre for ideas and debate, she jumped at the chance. Mossop says part of the statute that established the Sydney landmark indicated that it was to be a meeting place for the discussion of national and international ideas. “The Opera House is really a house for everybody,” she says.
For this champion of the arts, it’s all about making events accessible for various groups of people and getting different audiences coming back.
Thanks to its quirky, sometimes abstract and always controversial speakers, the Festival of Dangerous Ideas (FODI) is achieving just that. Having picked up the festival after its successful launch in 2009, Mossop produced the second event in record time. But defining a dangerous idea has become a bit of an art form in itself.
“The way I see it, there are several different kinds of dangerous ideas. There are the ones that are very obviously dangerous, like the kind of ideas that could get you killed, or the kind of ideas that really have life-and-death consequences. So, the big issues around life, death, religion – the things people feel incredibly passionate about and also that people have incredible sensitivity to. Then there are the other dangerous ideas, looking at ideas that go against received wisdom and are much more about how we lead our everyday lives. They upset people’s comfortable preconceptions,” she says, reflecting on a speaker at last year’s FODI, Erwin James, a twice-convicted killer-cum-journalist who spoke about whether a murderer could be a good neighbour.
“Sometimes we just like to have a bit of a laugh at the whole concept of dangerous ideas. Those are much more lighthearted.”
So what can we expect from this year’s event?
“Obviously the whole question around freedom of speech and freedom of expression is huge,” says Mossop. “But also the kinds of ideas about surveillance that have come out with the Edward Snowden revelations.” The imagination could run wild at the possibilities, especially considering that this is the same festival that featured WikiLeaks creator Julian Assange via video link in 2012.
“We’re also looking in a number of different ways at things that are so dangerous they might end the world,” Mossop teases. “What’s interesting to observe is that, in spite of the printed book and the written word and now the digital expression of transmitting all of these ideas, it’s still very important to people to see these things in person”.
The Festival of Dangerous Ideas is from August 30-31 and will release its programme on June 10.