As of May 21, artists have just over two weeks to make their bid for a share of $2 million in development money − with a two-minute video or 300-word precis that captures a big idea worthy of inclusion in the festival.


“It’s super-exciting, I’m very curious to see what comes out of this moment,” said co-artistic director Hannah Fox. “We are looking for work that’s really bold and ambitious, that could only be realised in a festival.

“We are leaving our planning quite open at this stage, to be able to respond to what comes in.”

Obarzanek said they were not looking for traditional, in-venue works. They want artistic experiences: rituals or ceremonies that use the city as a stage or canvas.

And they must also be flexible, because so much about the crisis and future restrictions is unknown. Will there still be social distancing measures next May? It’s possible.


“Luckily a festival can be quite nimble,” said Fox. “We can think about works that are processional, or in large outdoor spaces, or sessional − there are lots of creative ways you can work around [health restrictions].”

Arts festivals often use big international productions as drawcards, but the coronavirus comes with health, legal and cost implications that add extra complexity to importing performances.

Obarzanek said it was a good time to focus the festival on celebrating Melbourne, a “city that is diverse, that is progressive and that is creative”. This was reflected in the callout, and in work already commissioned for 2020 that will roll over to 2021.

Leaks suggested the 2020 festival had ambitious plans for public events and installations such as a 400-metre light installation on the Yarra River and performances and artworks on the steps of Parliament House, with parts of Spring Street and Bourke Street made pedestrian-only. Chinatown would have been transformed into a “sensory wonderland” of lighting, video art and music, open late into the night.

One of the main themes of the 2021 and subsequent festivals will be the Yarra River, Fox said − “It’s a major spine of the city, a cultural ancestor and that’s a rich area to explore.”

Do they want art that reflects on the coronavirus? Not necessarily, says Obarzanek.

“I think there is always a problem with new works addressing [current] issues very directly. In some ways people are exhausted by it.”

“We’re also cognisant it is a time for people to come back together, for neighbours, for cities, for sovereign states − and festivals play a very big and important role in that.”

The festival is funded by the state government.

“RISING is set to play an important role as we emerge from this crisis, reigniting the exciting creative offering Victoria is known for and rebooting our visitor economy,” said Martin Foley, Minister for Creative Industries.

“While this festival will be global in its ambition and scope, Victorian artists and creativity will be at its heart.”

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