Last year’s Festival exceeded all expectations. The people who were there talked about experiencing the unforgettable, and those who missed it said “well, if you’d said it was going to be like that, we’d have gone.”

Let me begin by putting aside my famous humility and self-deprecating reserve to say about this year’s Festival: “It’s going to be like that.”

Festivals are fundamentally fabulous, and not just for their alliterative allure.

We may set our clocks by broadcasts daily, but we set our calendars by festivals. They are our yearly wake-up call, and the perfect celebration of one more trip around the sun. They are beacons, calling us together in the good times and guiding us to safety in the dark times.

This year’s Melbourne International Arts Festival— the third of four in Melbourne for me—explores three parts of our lives.

It is a celebration, reminding us of the brilliance of fire, music, story and art to amplify our joy, intensify our relationships and just fundamentally pump our tyres.

It is an intervention, a reminder of the range of stories in the world that we need to hear and empathise with, at a time when stories about borders and asylum, the safety of children and the nature of masculinity and strength are all in the spotlight.

It is a collaboration between the city and the rest of the world, making Melbourne more than just a rapidly growing physical city, but one whose culture is expanding at equal pace.

As an active commissioner and magnet for great world art, this Festival proves that we are a city with skin in the game. This year’s Festival aims to do all of this, but with a twist.

Whilst telling compelling stories, celebrating great artists and getting frankly giddy on creativity, we’ve once again put us, the audience, at the very centre of everything.

From diving through a coral reef to barrelling through space in a planetarium, from dancing in smoke to walking through fire, from soaring cathedrals of sound to the sweat of circus and boxing rings, this is our most visceral Festival yet.

In these pages we’ve tried our damnedest to convey what this year’s Festival contains, but it’s fair to say that the distance between these pages and the experience is greater than any festival I’ve been involved with.

As much as we ever read about what we are going to feel, none of that matters when our hand is on the handle about to open that door, or the houselights go down and the whole audience holds their breath.

It almost goes without saying that we regret things we don’t do far more than the things we do. We know that you’ll be as excited about this Festival as we are, and that you’ll accidentally spend far more than you intend to on tickets, but we also know that the real thing that you are buying—memories, conversations, flashbacks, shared experiences, the knowledge that you’ll never see the world the same way again—is worth it.

October is Melbourne International Arts Festival. November is for sleeping.


Jonathan Holloway