MEA NSW recently hosted an information session on Sydney’s Vivid festival that provided insights into the production of Sydney’s latest festival – now in its third year.
story and photos by Trevor Connell
The speakers were Brenton Kewley (Events NSW) with Anthony Bastic, Laura Roberts and Peter Loxton (AGB Events)
Introduction by Brenton Kewley on the role of Events NSW
Events NSW has a charter to bring events to Sydney that are of economic value to the state.
Brenton pointed out that Events NSW (which was established in 2007) had two great models to look at, Victorian Major Events and Events Queensland, both of which have been established for a couple of decades and who spur NSW on to do better
The brief for Events NSW is to develop a master events calendar for Sydney and so far there are five signature events.
The Sydney International Art Series was inspired by Melbourne Winter Masterpieces. The SIAS is staged at AGNSW and the MCA. The Annie Leibovitz exhibition held at the MCA was the first of the series drew the biggest attendance figures in MCA history. Brenton revealed that negotiations for the exhibition were concluded within a week
The other signature events are – Autumn Racing Carnival, Crave Food Fest, Vivacity Summer Festival and Vivid
Brenton explained that essentially Events NSW is an investment company (owned by the NSW government) designed to get a return for the state. Sydney already has a number of successful annual events – NYE, Sydney Festival, Sydney Film Festival, Mardi Gras, Chinese New Year, etc. ,so Events NSW looked at hotel occupancy throughout the year and found that it was very low in May and June so that was a perfect time for a new winter festival.
Every event that Events NSW are involved in is researched for data on economic benefit for the state and these major events represent $600M in expected revenue to come in the state this year.
Another area that Events NSW has tackled is major musicals. Brenton pointed out that a few decades ago when Melbourne was renovating their theatres Sydney was tearing theirs down, so most musicals in recent decades have opened (with long runs) in Melbourne.
Following intensive negotiations with producers he announced that from now until 2016 every new Broadway or West End musical coming into Australia will open in Sydney and that a large scale musical can bring $100M into a city during an eight month period.
One of the biggest issues with staging large scale events in Sydney is that “We live in a very turf driven city and it’s been that way from the landing of the first fleet” e.g. working on/around the harbour you could be dealing with five different agencies. Kewley sees Events NSW having a major role in facilitating better coordination between and dealings with those stakeholders.
There is a strong investment by Events NSW to ensure visitation from outside Sydney this includes releasing tickets to the Vivid Live music events at the SOH to buyers outside Sydney before local sales.
Struct ure of Vivid
Vivid Sydney is funded and produced by Events NSW with Ig natius Jones as Executive Producer
Vivid Lights On produced by Anthony Bastic, managed by AGB Events and curated by Mary-Anne Kyriakou
Vivid Live is a music program produced by the SOH and curated by Stephen Pavlovic
Vivid Creative is a series of creative forums and debates produced by Mixed Industries and curated by Jess Scully
Anthony Bastic talked about how Vivid Lights On came about
A few years ago Anthony saw a light festival in Hasselt, Belgium that featured protections onto buildings – something he was not familiar with in Australia.
There he met Australian artist Mary-Anne Kyriakou and they talked about a lighting event for Sydney that would showcase creativity and new technology in lighting.
Anthony made an approach to NSW State & Regional Development (forerunner to Events NSW) who asked him to do some more research. So he went to London and saw the Switched on London event run by the lighting industry that showcases new technology. Although he thought this event wasn’t setting London on fire it did have some interesting elements. This inspired him to think about a light walk around Circular Quay using the SOH as a focal point along with projections onto various buildings and with installations.
He then took this concept to the newly formed Events NSW who were looking for ides for a new winter festival for Sydney. Events NSW like the concept but were looking for a bigger event than what Anthony had in mind so they brought together the music and ideas components and Vivid Sydney was born.
The first event in 2009 had 18 installations plus projections onto SOH.
Anthony talked about one of the most successful installations in 2009 which was the Aeolian harp designed by Joe Snell (which made music as wind passed the construction of 28,000 plastic tiles) installed in front of the Conservatorium of NSW. Sydney’s Lord Mayor like it so much she extended the installation from the initial three weeks to almost six months.
2010 was the bi-centenary of the Governorship of Macquarie, the man known as ‘The Father of modern Australia’. So Anthony and his researcher Francesca Hynes along with Carolyn Grant set about telling the story of this amazing individual who laid the foundation for modern Australia. The Electric Canvas worked with Anthony in telling the story of Governor Macquarie via projections onto six buildings along Macquarie Street.
Macquarie Street was traditionally the celebration boulevard (late 19th early 20th century) with many parades that featured decorative arches over the street. This inspired the installation of the lit archway over Macquarie Street, which although difficult to erect became very popular with the public.
In 2010 Anthony produced Asia’s first low energy light festival in Singapore with Kyriakou as artistic director. They chose mostly Asian artists but included a number of the works from the 2009 Vivid. Now they have brought a number of the Asian artists from the Singapore event to Vivid 2011.
Laura Roberts on the pre-production process
Laura is an event manager with AGB Events and her initial job was to pull lots of information together. First up she did extensive research of festivals, arts websites, blogs, lighting companies and organisations from around the world and created a database of around 2,000 lighting designers and companies
Then an Expression of Interest (EOI) was prepared and sent to a very specific list that targeted the best lighting designers and artists. They were asked to submit a 250 word synopsis of their concept along with detailed installation plans, power requirements, health and safety issues, etc. Laura pointed out that this process required artists to really think through their submissions.
They received around 60 submissions of which around 98% were of really top quality. A panel comprising Events NSW, AGB Events and a technical advisor then assessed those submissions to come up with a short list of 35 who were invited in to present to the panel and essentially convince the panel that they could deliver their project.
The main considerations were that the event was outdoors at the beginning of winter, had to be in place for 18 days and would be very accessible to the public.
The final selection of 24 artists included six international artists from Singapore.
In addition to the submitted artworks five major works were commissioned by Vivid Sydney – Lighting the Sails by Superbien; Unfamiliar Customs created and produced by The Electric Canvas; FireDance created and produced by Howard & Sons Pyrotechnics and Interactive Paint Projection at MCA created by Spinifex Group while Iain Reed and 32Hundred Lighting created Skyscraper Illuminati – the lighting of the dress circle buildings around Circular Quay.
Peter Loxton – Production Manager
Peter Loxton described his role as “turning ideas into reality”
His key message – “information is gold – always get more than you need and then document everything”.
His biggest challenge is that The Rocks is a heritage precinct so the artists had to be aware that they couldn’t damage any of the buildings (they couldn’t drill into the buildings for attachment for example) and there are a lot of narrow passageways.
There were many site meetings to facility flow between the installations and there was lots of hand holding of the first time artists to guide them through the process.
The other major challenge was dealing with the number of authorities that have to be involved, these include – SHFA, MCA, City of Sydney, QVB, Rocks Police, RTA, Rail Corp, Energy Australia, Maritime Services, NPWS and private building owners
While the regular/major suppliers have their own public liability insurance a lot of the artists do not have such coverage. PLI considerations included limited control over audience type as it is not a ticketed event.
The first weekend of Vivid 2011 attracted about as many visitors that the final weekend did last year so they were looking forward to even more for the final weekend this year
All events such as this require a Development Application (DA) through City of Sydney, this was facilitated immensely by Michael Abbott (Manager Events at City of Sydney)
The team pointed out that Sydney’s NYE became a local event because Sydneysiders adopted it as their own – this is now happening with Vivid with crowds turning out despite the cold and wet conditions.
SOH sails have now been digitally mapped (down to individual tiles) so this investment in mapping can now flow over to following years – and who knows what artists are going to come up with.
Anthony and his team constantly visit festivals and events around the world to see what technology and concepts are being developed in order to keep the Sydney event fresh.
The EOI went out far and wide asking the artists to come back with interesting concepts and sometimes these concepts made the production team go wow – example Social Fireflies just came in as a concept that was not fully fleshed out, but just the concept impressed the AGB team so they took a punt and asked the artists to develop the idea and eventually it came through as one of the most innovative installations this year.
The Social Fireflies concept involves small lights with a light sensor and a small motorised reflector. Dozens of these contraptions are strung in a large fig tree between the MCA and the OPT. The way it works – any of the Fireflies can be activated by pointing a torch at it, that then starts wobbling and the light from it triggers the next one, and so on. It is totally random and the resulting effect is very whimsical.
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