The Lysicrates Foundation was born in 2014, when, walking in Sydney’s Botanic Gardens, John and Patricia Azarias came across the sandstone replica of the ancient Lysicrates Monument of Athens. The marble original had been built to celebrate a win by a wealthy arts patron, Lysicrates, in the free drama competition that stopped the city for a week every year. But Sydney’s sandstone replica was crumbling and blurred. John decided to raise the funds to restore it, and Patricia suggested that they also restore the drama competition in modern Sydney, but to do it the ancient way, where it was free, and where the audience democratically voted for the winner.
So the Lysicrates Foundation came into being. Soon it acquired DGR (tax deductibility) status, and did indeed raise the funds for the restoration, from private and public sources. The fully restored monument was unveiled in October 2016 by the Governor of New South Wales and the NSW Minister for Finance, Dominic Perrottet, a wonderfully satisfying moment. And the play competition was revived too. Seeking to boost Australian creativity, and create the Archibald Prize for playwriting, the free Lysicrates Play Competition, organised in collaboration with the Griffin Theatre, has now been running for three years. Entries have doubled, the audience has grown in numbers and diversity, and the annual contest is now a fixture on the Australian arts calendar.
But there’s more. It turned out that the man who built Sydney’s replica of the monument was a giant of the early colony, completely forgotten today even though the hub of Sydney was named after him. James Martin was raised in the servants’ quarters of Parramatta Government House, and overcame poverty and discrimination to become Premier of NSW and Chief Justice. In his honour, the Lysicrates Foundation established the Martin-Lysicrates Prize for plays written for children (the first competition was a roaring success), and commissioned a statue of the brave 12-year-old Martin, so eager to get an education that he walked from home in Parramatta to school in Sydney.
None of this could have been accomplished without the Foundation’s generous donors, who come from all backgrounds.