$2 million fund for artists as new festival rises over Melbourne

The replacement for Melbourne Festival and White Night, to be known as RISING, is seeking proposals for new work from artists, artistic collectives and companies for the inaugural festival in 2021.
$2 million fund for artists as new festival rises over Melbourne Photo by Yu Kato on Unsplash.
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Richard Watts

Friday 22 May, 2020

To be known as RISING, the new winter festival that takes the place of Melbourne Festival and White Night – to be held over 26 May – 6 June 2021 – has announced a $2 million commissioning fund for Victorian artists.

Artists based interstate who can demonstrate a strong connection with Victoria, or whose project features a number of key artists based in Victoria, are also invited to submit a proposal to the new festival.

‘We’re certainly really open and encouraging of collaboration between artists from Victoria and around Australia, and indeed internationally,’ explained co-Artistic Director Gideon Obarzanek.


‘And if there are artists around Australia who have had a long practice in Victoria over the last five years and can demonstrate that, absolutely. But you know, this money is coming from the Victorian Government and they’ve certainly made it a priority that the health of the creative sector and particularly the wellbeing of Victorian artists is a priority right now,’ he said, justifying the state-specific focus of the $2 million funding pool.

The new festival is intended to reflect and engage the city in which it is based rather than being imposed on Melbourne, with its name reflecting the way winter nights are shaped by the rise of the moon and sun. The festival's opening night on 26 May 2021 will coincide with a lunar eclipse – a so-called 'blood moon'.

‘We’ve been really curatorially looking at things around the night and really centering the festival on the night-time, so thinking about where it takes place and it being bookended by the moon rising and sun rising as well – those are the two kind of elements to it,’ said co-Artistic Director Hannah Fox.

The merger of Melbourne Festival and White Night Melbourne was first announced in May 2019, with Fox and Obarzanek appointed as co-Artistic Directors last July.

The impact of COVID-19 has caused the delay of the festival, which was originally intended to debut in 2020, but also allowed part of this year’s festival budget to be invested in the ambitious 2021 commissioning project. 

Victoria’s Minister for Creative Industries, the Hon Martin Foley said: ‘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. 

‘While this festival will be global in its ambition and scope, Victorian artists and creativity will be at its heart,’ he added.


While the inaugural RISING will not focus exclusively on Victorian artists, it is intended to be very much of and for Melbourne and its population, and artists are encouraged to consider this when submitting a proposal for 2021.

‘What we’re really trying to do is look at our festival program as more than a catalogue of events,’ said Fox, ‘and really bringing it together and embedding it in the city … embedding art, music and ceremony in public place and civic space, and creating as many opportunities as possible for the public to participate and even happen upon it.’

Obarzanek added: ‘Hannah and I, we’re both practicing artists from Melbourne and we’ve always had an interest in our work with the audience and the experience of what it means to see something, to be a part of something. So this an opportunity to be thinking about that ... It’s not necessarily just about putting a show on – although, you know, we’re absolutely open to that as well.’

As Fox explained: ‘It’s really a very clear shift in thinking, from bringing the best in the world to Melbourne to turning around and looking at Melbourne as a cultural destination unto itself … Melbourne is a very international city and its artists are very busy all over the country and the world. So we’re not going to be strictly a Melbourne-only festival but we very much wanted to be born of this place and relevant to this city, and a unique experience that you can’t get in Edinburgh or Manchester.’

Obarzanek added: ‘Melbourne is a really busy cultural city. There’s things on offer pretty much seven nights a week and that’s a great place to be in, but when we have a festival it is an opportunity to do things differently. To use the city as a canvas, to use the city and the surrounding suburbs as a place where we can make a difference in that time, so we’re looking for … the unusual, the things that just wouldn’t normally happen [otherwise].’

Read: Festivals: once the circus has left town

Submitting an expression of interest has been designed to be simple, with artists and organisations asked to submit a 300-word or two-minute direct address video proposal, which will then by considered by RISING’s curatorial advisory group, comprised of a diverse team of national and international arts professionals.

Proposals should ‘really get to the essence of the idea,’ Fox said. ‘We’re expecting thousands of applications, and we will go through the process of assessing them all and get down to around 100 applications that we will seed fund.’

One hundred artists or creative teams will be selected in the first phase of the program and each will receive $2,000 in seed funding. Of those, some will go on to a paid creative development phase, working with RISING festival producers and production managers to develop their projects.

Some works will be produced for the 2021 or future festivals, and further presentation opportunities will be facilitated by the festival, working with its national and international curatorial advisory group.

Learn more about submitting an artistic proposal to RISING.

About the author

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on community radio station Three Triple R FM, a program he has hosted since 2004.

Richard currently serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's volunteer Committee of Management, and is also a former Chair of Melbourne Fringe. The founder of the Emerging Writers' Festival, he has also served as President of the Green Room Awards Association and as a member of the Green Room's Independent Theatre panel. 

Richard is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Festival Living Legend in 2017. Most recently he was awarded the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards' Facilitator's Prize for 2019.

Twitter: @richardthewatts