Creative Sydney’s Luminous festival: another example of the cultural cringe

NSW Premier Nathan Rees is kicking off his dual tenure as the State’s Arts Minster with a big, splashy arts festival called Vivid Sydney.

Some of it is long overdue in the NSW arts events mix, like the innovative program of independent producers and scrappy start-ups for Creative Sydney. Some of it is more of the same, like the achingly wanky Luminous at the Sydney Opera House, curated by none other than the man who brought you The Microsoft Sound, avant-garde composer Brian Eno.

Eno’s Luminous picks on an international trend of “curated” popular music festivals such as the All Tomorrow’s Parties family of events.

According to the self-important marketing of the festival by the Opera House and Events NSW, “Luminous is a cornerstone of Vivid Sydney, a unique public festival that will transform the city into a spectacular living canvas of music and light in and around Sydney Opera House, The Rocks, Circular Quay and city centre. One of five anchor events in the first-ever NSW Master Events Calendar created by Events NSW on behalf of the NSW Government, Vivid Sydney will showcase the city as a major creative hub in the Asia Pacific region and celebrate the diversity of Sydney’s creative industries.”

Really? It’s hard to see how Luminous will “celebrate the diversity of Sydney’s creative industries” given that almost no-one from Sydney (let alone the rest of Australia) is even playing. Of the more than 30 acts so far announced, the only identifiably Australian show is Food Court, a collaboration between avant-jazz artists The Necks and theatre company Back to Back.

And if the event is really aimed at showcasing the city as a “major creative hub in the Asia Pacific region”, perhaps it would been advisable to program some more artists from the Asia-Pacific region. Like, any.

Nor is the line-up of Luminous really that innovative. Sure, Eno gets to do a big projection-laser-thingy. But most of the acts on this bill have been to Sydney and Australia before, and many of them have played recently in the Sydney Festival. The rock band Battles, for example, toured for the Big Day Out in early 2008. Reggie Watts was in Sydney even more recently, for the 20009 Sydney Festival. Ladytron have toured Australia several times since the early 2000’s. In many ways, the Sydney Festival’s departing director Fergus Linehan curated far more interesting and diverse music programs than Eno has here.

Meanwhile, hard-pressed local arts organisations in NSW must be weeping with envy. Last year, the NSW government forgot to even tell local arts organisations whether they’d been funded or not. This year, vast sums of money can apparently be found to import Brian Eno from the UK to curate his own music festival.

Why do we need to fly in famous artists from overseas – even one as original and influential as Eno – to curate a festival like this? Can’t we find a Sydney-sider, or, perish the thought, someone from regional NSW? The Australian edition of All Tomorrow’s Parties – a for-profit, overseas franchise – was curated by Nick Cave, an Australian legend every bit as original and influential as Eno. Cave programmed a huge array of local musical talent, as well as bringing in notable international acts.

Sydney has many highly original and immensely talented musicians. You just won’t see many of them in Luminous. Sadly, the festival is simply another expensive exercise in Australia’s ongoing cultural cringe.

And as for Creative Sydney, it’s being brought to you by Brandon Saul’s Mixed Industry, whose marketing-heavy, accounting-light Noise “festival” that I investigated for Crikey in 2007.

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