Melbourne Cultural Festivals

Melbourne is regarded as the cultural capital of Australia. Residents and tourists alike find it virtually impossible to keep up with what is on offer - especially when the year-round theatre, music, dance, literature, film and visual arts programs are taken into account.

Keith Lawrence says it's virtually impossible to keep abreast of the festivals in Australia's cultural capital, Melbourne.

Melbourne Festival

The jewel in the cultural crown, formerly known as the Melbourne International Arts Festival, the Melbourne Festival is an annual celebration of the arts held in October. First staged in 1986 under the artistic leadership of Gian Carlo Menotti, it became the third in the Spoleto Festival series, joining Spoleto, Italy, Spoleto Charleston (USA) and Spoleto Melbourne - Festival of the Three Worlds.

Policy has developed into no artistic director serving more than four years in the position, encouraging diversity and difference. The current director Brett Sheehy took on the role in 2009 following his successful years at both the Adelaide and Sydney Festivals.

The local press had been less than kind to his predecessor, Kristy Edmonds (the first non-Australian to hold the position) and what was regarded as her high-brow and unconnected programming. Sheehy certainly took those lessons on board, ensuring a broad mix of local Australian representation alongside international acts and a smattering of the high-brow.

The city comes alive in the three weeks of the festival with free live performances and projections throughout the centre; site-specific work transforms alleyways and derelict sites; Shakespeare in German; contemporary theatre in Dutch; Argentinian aerialists; indigenous Australian musicians performing with classical ensembles. The breadth is wide as the Festival programs for hungry, cultured local audiences and tourists alike.

Melbourne Fringe

The longest running arts festival in the city, Melbourne Fringe, grew out of the alternative arts scene in the early 1980s. Like its international namesakes, Edinburgh and Adelaide, Melbourne Fringe supports and promotes independent arts organisations and artists. Thousands of artists and audience members are catered for every year across all conceivable (and some less conceivable) artforms, with performances taking place in the traditional and less traditional venues.

Primarily focused in the north of the city (but far from exclusively), Melbourne Fringe takes place at the end of September and early October - its last few days coinciding with the opening of the Melbourne Festival.

Melbourne International Comedy Festival

The title speaks for itself - April is the month of laughter as more than 300 shows, workshops, cabarets are presented in just about every suburb in Melbourne, from the proscenium arched theatres of the city centre through to RSL clubs in far-flung commuter belts, from community halls in the foothills of regional Victoria to trendy bars in St Kilda.

Big names from around the globe descend on Melbourne and, with a mix of local and national acts, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival sits in the top three of the world alongside Edinburgh and Montreal.

Melbourne International Jazz Festival

Free outdoor concerts in Federation Square, names that epitomise jazz even among the most jazz-ignorant of us - Sonny Rollins, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock to name but a few - and the first two weeks of June are the aficionados dream, whether it be in the huge spaces of the Melbourne Town Hall or the intimate back street jazz lounge of Bennett's Lane.
Melbourne International Jazz Festival

Note: There is also a Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival

Melbourne International Film Festival

Celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2011, MIFF is one of the oldest film festivals in the world and is Australia's largest. It doesn't present major prizes, instead the festival has an investment fund to support local productions. As a result it is the major showcase for Australian film.

This feast of celluloid takes place in the (southern hemisphere) winter over three weeks at the end of July and the beginning of August.
Melbourne International Film Festival

Melbourne Cabaret Festival

Melbourne Cabaret Festival is one of the latest festivals to hit the city. The inaugural festival took place in South Melbourne's Emerald Hill arts and cultural precinct in July 2010.
One week only but from small acorns, large oak trees grow.

Melbourne Fashion Festival

Targeted at consumers rather than the industry, Melbourne Fashion Festival is a spectacular celebration of all things fashion in March. It being Melbourne, some of the fashion shows take place in outlandish locations and a diverse cultural program supports the catwalk activities.

Melbourne Writers' Festival

In August 2008, Melbourne became a UNESCO City of Literature in recognition of a rich history of local literary culture and creative talent.

The centre-piece of the city's program is the Melbourne Writers' Festival, established in the mid-1980s and evolved into two weeks at the end of August/beginning of September. More than 400 local and international writers are presented at literary banquets, debates, readings, performances, film screenings and workshops.

Never ending cultural events

The city is awash with international cultural festivals. Add more localised festivals such as the St Kilda Festival (February), renowned Brunswick Music Festival (March), genre-busting events such as Midsumma (gay and lesbian) for three weeks at the end of January and Melbourne Queer Film Festival (March): national community celebrations such at the Italian Lygon Street Fiesta (October), Antipodes Greek (March) and Johnston Street Fiesta (Spanish Festa in November): numerous single day national celebrations taking place in Federation Square, from Indonesian to Polish, from Thai to Brazilian, from Pacific Islands to African.

Film is hugely popular in Australia and Melbourne is no exception. Alongside MIFF, there's a host of national film festivals, ranging from the touring, multi-week festivals of French, Italian, Spanish and German film to smaller fests such as the Greek, Israeli, Mexican and Jewish.

It gives you the idea! And I have not mentioned the cultural activities surrounding the major sporting events such as the Racing Carnival, Formula One Grand Prix and the AFL Grand Final or such specialised activities as the Food & Wine Festival.

Melbourne is a city constantly on the go '- it's a city that whenever you visit, chances are there will be some major event taking place.

March 15, 2011 Keith Lawrence

❊ Web Links ❊

Melbourne Cultural Festivals

Read more at Suite101: Melbourne Cultural Festivals

Mad Melbourne in March Festivals

Ethnic Festivals in Melbourne

❊ Also See... ❊

Ethnic Festivals in Melbourne

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