Why Adelaide continues to be Australia's most successful festival city

South Australia’s claim to be ‘The Festival State’ is still backed by the numbers despite Australia’s increasing number of festivals.
Why Adelaide continues to be Australia's most successful festival city

South Australian acrobatics ensemble Gravity and Other Myths, had a sell-out season in Edinburgh and have been programmed for Adelaide Festival 2017. Photo: Chris Herzfeld.

The latest Live Performance Australia statistics reveal that South Australia once again leads the nation in festival ticket sales.

The Live Performance Australia (LPA) 2015 annual Ticket Attendance & Revenue Survey reported that 47 per cent of all festival tickets were sold to SA festivals.

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‘The survey indicates we are punching well above our weight in terms of ticket sales for festivals,’ says Jennifer Layther, Director, Arts Programs, Organisations and Initiatives for Arts South Australia.

The Adelaide Festival alone generated a total box office income of $2.8 million across only 27 ticketed events.

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South Australia first claimed the mantle as ‘The Festival State’ when Adelaide and Perth were the only international arts festivals in the country. Now there are international arts festivals in almost every state capital but despite the competition, SA’s festivals continue to grow, with a 24 % increase in revenue and a 16% increase in attendance in 2016.

The secret to Adelaide’s success

Layther says several factors make festivals in Adelaide break attendance records again and again. One is the continuing support from the local community.

‘There is a lot of community pride. Everyone gets out and about and embraces all our festivals - WOMADelaide, the Fringe and Adelaide Festival.’

‘People take their holidays during this time so they can immerse themselves in the festival atmosphere and buy tickets to shows day after day. They get right amongst it.’

Another factor is the size of the city. With a city layout planned on the old square mile, festival-goers can walk easily from one end to the other.

‘It is walkable and you can feel in the air when it’s happening, whereas in some of the bigger cities these events can get lost. Here it really does take over the city and it is fabulous to be a part of that,’ says Layther.

Festival season in Adelaide is in February and March with WOMADelaide, Adelaide Festival, and Adelaide Fringe – renowned as the second biggest fringe festival in the world after Edinburgh.  

Other festivals continue throughout the year:

  • DreamBIG Children’s Festival
  • Adelaide Cabaret Festival
  • SALA Festival (South Australian Living Artists)
  • OzAsia Festival
  • Feast Festival
  • Adelaide Film Festival
  • Adelaide Guitar Festival.

Visit Arts South Australia for more events in Adelaide

Each festival finds its own demographic, through a combination of brand loyalty and innovative programming.

WOMADelaide has a regular following of interstate visitors, many making the journey year after year just to revel in its eclectic program and unique atmosphere.

By contrast, the Adelaide Festival refreshes its programming every few years with the appointment of new Artistic Directors. David Sefton, Artistic Director from 2011 to 2016, focussed on bringing in new, younger audiences by programming more contemporary music. This year will see a shift, with Rachel Healy and Neil Armfield (co-Directors for 2017-2019) choosing as their headline act Barrie Kosky’s production of Handel’s opera Saul. The production is already sold out.

‘Forty percent of tickets have been bought by interstate and overseas visitors. That is an indication of the power of programming,’ says Layther.

‘Both of these approaches have been embraced by audiences, which just shows there is capacity to keep growing and attracting diverse audiences.’

Still growing

2017 is shaping up to be an even bigger year if early ticket sales from Adelaide Festival are any indication.

‘The Adelaide Fringe, again, has increased artist registrations, and its performance hubs have all put out fabulous programs.’

This year, Adelaide will also host the inaugural ShowBroker, National Touring Arts Market. The event, running at the Adelaide Festival Centre from 27 February to 1 March, will bring together up to 300 presenters, programmers, producers and performing artists from around Australia to meet and see work, with a focus on bookings and tours.

The southern state is also leading the country in international engagement. In August, South Australia became the first state in Australia to run a campaign in Edinburgh. The Made in Adelaide campaign brought together a taste of Adelaide performances at the Fringe hotspot Summerhall.

Adelaide became Edinburgh’s unofficial festival sister-city with the signing of Memoranda of Understanding between the Adelaide Festival, Adelaide Fringe and umbrella body Festivals Adelaide and their Edinburgh counterparts that set out joint goals for artistic, business and community collaboration over the next three years.

‘Made in Adelaide showed Edinburgh what Adelaide has to offer and now people are coming to experience it for themselves’ says Layther.

To find out more about South Australia’s arts and culture, visit http://arts.sa.gov.au/

Brooke Boland

Wednesday 18 January, 2017

About the author

Brooke Boland is a freelance writer based on the South Coast of NSW.