The Sun Sets on Another Successful Darwin Festival
In what has been the first major arts festival in the world to go ahead since COVID-19 drove global communities into lockdown, Darwin Festival has officially drawn to a close following 11 glorious homegrown August nights in the Top End.
Navigating border restrictions and hotspots meant a reimagined shape, scale and scope for this year’s event, with the resulting DF20 Homegrown program shining a spotlight on local Territory talent. The 2020 program featured 396 performers, of which 94% were NT artists, in 253 free and ticketed performances across 38 Darwin venues. 95% of ticketed shows sold out – a total of 196 sold-out performances – with the Festival scheduling additional shows to meet demand.
Acting CEO James Gough said, “We were very lucky in that the Northern Territory was one of the only places in the world where a physical festival could safely go ahead. We worked tirelessly with the Department of Health and the artists to ensure that the DF20 Homegrown program was the best celebration it could be in this different world we’re all living in”.
Festival Artistic Director Felix Preval said, “Just as the first Festival brought Darwin together in the wake of Cyclone Tracy in 1979, the 2020 Festival has been a much-needed pick-me-up here in the Territory; a source of hope and positivity as well as a celebration of Territory strength and resilience.
“We set out to deliver a hyper-local program and achieved this in spades with a range of accessible community activities, live and online performances and creative responses. This year has been a great opportunity to get back to our roots and program a local line-up, in which old friends found new ways of making magic!”
Creativity from artists and organisers during planning was required to react to the ever-evolving pandemic. “In March we’re normally signing off our program but this year, like many other events, we were looking at the possibility of cancelling. As things changed, we explored an online-only lockdown version of the program, then a super physically-distanced festival for just a few people, before settling on our final mix of online and live performances.
“This constant shifting in approach on how to deliver the Festival meant that some of our artists had much less time to pull together their shows. It’s a real testament to their adaptability and creativity that the final product was something super polished, engaging, entertaining and uniquely Territory in nature.
“Our music program saw the launch of albums, new artist collaborations and exclusive compositions. The vibrant energy of the Philippines was on show when local producer and DJ Kuya James launched his debut album by throwing a Pinoy Street Party in Festival Park; and Settle Down Sisters saw the Top End’s favourite female artists Caiti Baker, Serina Pech, Stevie Jean, and newcomer Phoebe Wear come together for a night of sass and songs.
“Another program highlight, Distanced Duets, was a series of intimate concerts performed by members of the Arafura Music Collective, in stunning homes across Darwin. For national audiences, renowned artist Eric Avery delivered daily offerings of sublime violin and piano for an hour each morning of the Festival. Morning Music was developed especially for our audiences as an ideal way to wake up each morning.”
“Our signature event, Streets of Darwin, was a musical love letter to Darwin where local musicians performed an original song each, inspired by their neighbourhoods. This work was specially commissioned for this year’s Festival and a collection of the songs have been made into music clips that are now being shared with the world.
“We delivered sold-out shows of some amazing contemporary theatre, including the hilarious black comedy Oyster Boy, audio adventure I’ll Tell You in Person and the intimate one-on-one experience Love me Bar(Tender).
“The dazzling darlings of Darwin’s Drag scene provided the Festival with a stunning cabaret offering called Drag Divas: Essential Werk, a high energy and uplifting celebration of essential workers. Local lady of laughs, Amy Hetherington, returned to the Festival’s comedy line up, proving to be a favourite with audiences by selling out her second consecutive season of shows over the last two years of the Festival.
“Families rejoiced at the return of the City of Darwin Teddy Bear’s Picnic, which saw a morning of fun and games, music and magic.
“A high point of our dance program was North of Centre, an immersive, three-part performance celebrating the diversity of the Northern Territory and the rich cultural artistry of South East Asia. The work was a collaboration between Darwin’s own Tracks Dance Company, Central Australia’s renowned GUTS Dance and founder of Darwin’s eminent Balinese dance group Tunas Mekar Cultural Collective, Desak Putu Warti with Jocelyn Tribe.
“Darwin has an exceptional visual arts scene and this was strongly reflected in the program, with the likes of the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair, the 37th Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards, Salon de Refusés and many more,” said Preval.
Darwin Festival Board Chair Ian Kew said, “The Board and staff thank the Northern Territory Government for its strong support, as well as our wonderful funders, sponsors, partners, suppliers, artists, volunteers and audiences for their contribution to the successful delivery of Festival during this unprecedented year.”
“We are delighted with this year’s achievements, and the results speak to the hard work and dedication of the wider Festival team under the leadership of Acting CEO James Gough and artistic direction of Felix Preval,” said Kew.
NT Major Events Company CEO, Tim Watsford said, “Darwin Festival pride themselves on showcasing the best talent the NT has to offer, and this year was no exception.”
“The Darwin Festival team has done a fantastic job kicking off the Top End’s delayed events season.
“The NT Government funds events like Darwin Festival to bring the community together and provide opportunities for Territorians, both as spectators and participants. To see people enjoying Festival Park and soaking up the sights and sounds of the Festival program was very welcome after so many months of doubt around events.”
Darwin Festival will return in 2021 for another season of Hot August Nights.