New winter festival to replace White Night and Melbourne Festival

How will the combined festival – with its added focus on tourism and business – impact artists?
New winter festival to replace White Night and Melbourne Festival

Projections over Flinders Street station at White Night, February 2018, Melbourne. Image: White Night via Facebook.

The Victorian government has announced a new festival that will celebrate the city’s ‘cultural, creative and culinary strengths’ – and which will combine the existing festivals, White Night and Melbourne International Arts Festival.


The transition is scheduled for 2020, and the new event will also showcase regional Victoria with White Night Bendigo in 2020 and Geelong in 2021.

‘This bold new winter festival will build on Melbourne’s standing as a global cultural capital, showcasing our local artists and bringing our cultural arts institutions to life,’ said Martin Foley, Minister for Creative Industries.

The new festival promises a diverse program of visual and performing arts, with a strong focus on specially commissioned and world-first collaborations between local and international artists – but it doesn’t have ‘arts’ in its name. There’s also added emphasis on boosting tourism and business, with a press release stating that the event will ‘bring Melbourne to life during the quieter winter months and support our bars, restaurants and hotels to be full year-round’

Melbourne International Arts Festival Chair Tim Orton said, ‘The new festival will create more opportunities for local artists and creators, attract increased Victorian, interstate and international audiences, and will project Melbourne’s cultural excellence to the world.’ The festival’s website, too, reassures artists that the combined event will allow them to ‘present, produce and commission more art, in more venues, to more people than ever before’.

However, not everyone is sold on the idea of the combined event.

TimeOut Melbourne’s Ben Neutze asked, ‘How do you bring together two festivals that have such distinctive identities? Melbourne International Arts Festival is very much about high-end arts experiences, while White Night is more focused on free events and spectacle for the whole family.’

White Night is in its seventh year in 2019, but the offering planned for August already presents a change from previous incarnations, with the 2019 event extending to three consecutive nights with midnight curfew on Thursday and Friday and 2am on Saturday, instead of the single all-nighter of previous years.

White Night’s Artistic Director David Atkins confirmed earlier in the year that his company’s contract to run the event would expire after the 2019 event. More than 700,000 people attended the last White Night in February 2018. As for the Melbourne International Arts Festival, the 2019 festival is the fourth and final one from Artistic Director Jonathan Holloway. The program will be released on 16 July, with the festival set for 2-20 October.

Jinghua Qian

Thursday 16 May, 2019

About the author

Jinghua Qian (they/them) is a Shanghainese writer, poet and provocateur living in the Kulin nations. Their work has appeared on stages, pages and airwaves including Melbourne Writers’ Festival, SBS, Popula, Overland and The Guardian. Formerly the Head of News at Sixth Tone, an English-language media outlet based in Shanghai, and a broadcaster with 3CR Community Radio’s Queering the Air, Jinghua currently serves on the board of Asian-Australian arts and culture magazine, Peril.
Twitter: @qianjinghua
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