It's not an easy question to answer and the answers can vary. And yet that was the brief that Canberra-born street artist Luke Cornish, also known as ELK, was given for a mural on the facade of The Street theatre.
Featuring a man wearing a blue surgical mask - something which has become synonymous with COVID-19 - and holding a skull in imitation of Shakespeare's Hamlet, the work speaks to the theatre's experience during the pandemic. It also features a mandala, with theatre-inspired elements such as the tragedy and comedy masks.
"Coming up with something for the 'Why theatre?' brief was not as difficult as I thought it would be," Cornish says.
"The idea of the mural is to bring the inside of the theatre to the outside with all the darkness, and the Hamlet reference.
"We've had a lot of interest from people walking past. It's creating a lot of conversation, which is the main point of doing this community engagement.
"Murals like this become placemakers in terms of even just people saying 'I'll meet you at the mural' and that community engagement really emphasises a sense of pride in public art."
The 175-square-metre mural, which Cornish began painting earlier this month, is the artist's biggest to date. And, with assistance from Dan Maginnity aka byrd, it's expected to take up to four weeks to complete.
Using a combination of handmade stencils and paint, Cornish's artworks are constructed from up to 85 layers of carefully hand-cut acetate and layer upon layer of aerosol paint to create hyper-real, haunting images.
"I can't stress how nice it is to be doing this at The Street theatre, in Canberra," Cornish says.
"Opportunities like a wall this size don't come along very often. So to be given permission to paint something that I actually want to paint, on a building actually want to paint it on was really good."
The idea for the mural came about during lockdown itself, when artistic director, Caroline Stacey, was the only one in "the empty ship that was The Street".
It was this emptiness, as well as the sense of loss and grief that those within the theatre and wider arts community - including audiences - that was a key register in the early stages of creating the mural.
"The tumbleweed was rolling down University Avenue. It was a desert," Stacey says.
"We saw that the City Renewal Authority actually had a specific grant program that was about speaking to the COVID experience.
"We felt like a street art project would be something that could speak to anybody.
"We did want something of scale and magnitude, that also that could be experienced in different ways. So depending on how you approach the theatre, you'll see quite different things."
The mural comes after The Street was named the winner of the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Award for their adaption to operations during COVID.
As well as heading to The Street to witness the mural's creation, the theatre is also posting daily progress videos on its website, the street.org.au.
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