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Vivid Sydney 2022: Lighting Up One of the World's Most Iconic Cities

Updated: Mar 25, 2022

As Sydney moves from fall to winter, one of the world’s most iconic and diverse cities produces a joyful burst of light. Vivid Sydney, described by the organisers as a “light, music and ideas festival”, has been held in the city since 2009, when it started as a showcase for energy-efficient lighting. 2019 was the last time the festival happened, drawing a total of 2.4 million visitors, its largest audience yet. In 2020 and 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the festival’s cancellation. This year, Vivid Sydney is back, and it promises to highlight what makes the city a remarkable place that locals and visitors appreciate. The festival happens from 27 May to 18 June 2022 and is produced by Destination NSW, the state’s tourism agency.

Credit: Vivid Sydney

Gill Minervini, Vivid Sydney’s Festival Director, tells that the festival’s location in Sydney’s Central Business District (CBD) is crucial to its identity. “There’s no better location,” he says, “to celebrate Sydney’s diversity, beauty, resilience, First Nations culture, and vibrant creative community.” He says that this year, the festival’s 11 principal locations will include landmarks such as the Circular Quay, The Rocks, Central Station and Darling Harbour. Of course, the Sydney CBD’s buildings will be bathed in light as in past editions.

Vivid Sydney is a festival that requires careful planning, especially with all the technical challenges involved. Contributing artists and installation designers have to work with Sydney’s fall and winter weather, especially as the festival dates stretch into the rainiest month of the year. Electrical equipment and lighting need to be waterproofed to prevent accidents. Fortunately, to date, the festival has happened without any major incident.

A Festival of Light, Music and Ideas

This year, Vivid Sydney will feature nearly 50 light installations and displays which will be lit up from 6 to 11 in the evening. All of these installations are free to view, as they are scattered outdoors all over town. Among the highlights of these displays are a tribute to the Sydney Harbour Bridge on its 90th anniversary and Sydney Infinity, billed as “the largest ‘liquid and light show’ in Australia’s history”. Minervini says that the artists involved include 25 from the city itself, including prominent artists Ken Done and Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran. He adds that this year, the youngest artist ever to be featured on the Light Walk will be 11-year-old Luca French.

Apart from the lights, Vivid Sydney brings together musical performances and other public events. Musical performances include those by legendary Australian singer-songwriter Paul Kelly and other up-and-coming local artists. Visiting musical acts include Japanese all-female rock band Chai and electronic music pioneers Ministry of Sound, founded in London three decades ago. Idea events include sessions with former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating, American TV creator Aaron Sorkin and former American TV news presenter Gretchen Carlson.

Minervini says that Vivid Sydney 2022 will also feature two new exciting events. The first is the Vivid Sydney Dinner, which is a celebration of food and culture at the city’s iconic Ivy Ballroom. The other is the Vivid Sydney Supper Club, a series of weekend variety shows curated by host Trevor Ashley.

Credit: Northern Territory Major Events Company

Light Festivals Across Australia

Vivid Sydney is one of several light festivals of its kind throughout the country. Brent Anderson, Regional Manager of South/Southeast Asia and Middle East for Tourism Australia, says that based on the agency’s Consumer Demand Project, light festivals in major cities and elsewhere are increasingly a major draw for visitors. “There are more and more light festivals and installations launching each year in Australia, and they are all excitingly diverse and creative,” he says, “they typically combine the best of multiple worlds – featuring interactive and eccentric art experiences, great music, world-class food and wine, and iconic sights.” He adds that light festivals are a great way to explore Australian city landmarks differently, as these places are open to visitors after dark.

Among the festivals Anderson mentions is Canberra’s Enlighten Festival, which is roughly as old as Vivid Sydney. There, prominent landmarks in the nation’s capital such as the Old Parliament House and the National Gallery of Australia are drenched in color for a few weeks in March.

Vivid Sydney
Parrtjima Festival - Credit: Tourism NT 9

Another festival worth noting is the Parrtjima festival in Alice Springs, which Anderson believes would be “an awe-inspiring and unique experience for Singaporeans.” It is set in Australia’s Red Centre and highlights the culture and legacy of the country’s First Nations. When spoke to Tim Watsford, Chief Executive Officer of the Northern Territory Major Events Company, he says that the festival celebrates the extraordinariness of the place, both its landscape and culture, by highlighting the work of local Aboriginal artists in a desert setting that poses its logistical challenges. “By showcasing the oldest continuous culture on earth through the newest technology,” he adds, “Parrtjima shares timeless stories in innovative ways to reach new audiences.”

Light Festivals Are Sustainable and Safe

Vivid Sydney 2019
Vivid Sydney - Credit: Destination NSW

Anderson says that Singaporeans considering a visit to Australia during these light festivals need not worry about their safety and health. “As we welcome Singaporeans back to Australia,” he says, “we have in place robust measures to ensure good hygiene and safety, as well as allow Singaporeans to have peace of mind.” These measures include checking into festival venues using COVID-safe apps, utilising technologies to minimise contact at festival locations, and working with public health authorities to implement the latest safety measures.

One final concern is sustainability, something that light festivals have been increasingly working upon over the years. Visitors from Singapore, Anderson says, are attracted to Australia’s natural environment and wildlife, and tourism serves as a major force to preserve Australia’s rich and rare natural beauty. Vivid Sydney itself began life as a way to promote energy-efficient lighting in the city to help reduce its overall carbon footprint and continues to build sustainability initiatives through its partnership with the Banksia Foundation, among others. The first Illuminate Adelaide festival in 2021 had all its light installations powered by renewable energy with help from a government scheme.

Whatever reason visitors from all over the world choose to visit Australia’s light festivals, especially Vivid Sydney, they know that they will be in for a celebration of a young country’s diversity, creativity, resilience and growth. These festivals remind us that cities like Sydney are iconic because they draw together Australia’s storied past and dynamic future.

  • Vivid Sydney 2022, which takes place from 27 May to 18 June, is one of the world’s most prominent light festivals, featuring nearly 50 light installations and dozens of other cultural events held throughout Sydney’s Central Business District.

  • Other light festivals in Australia include Enlighten Canberra, Illuminate Adelaide, and Parrtjima. The latter festival’s unique draw is its location in Australia’s Red Centre, the desert heart of the country and its Aboriginal nations.

  • Light festivals in Australia place a premium on sustainability and, as the world continues to confront COVID-19, visitors’ health and safety.

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