Illuminate Adelaide is Australia’s new major winter festival that’s worth the trip

Illuminate Adelaide is Australia’s new major winter festival that’s worth the trip

'Light Cycles' - image of North Forest Lights at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Created by Moment Factory
Words by Bridget McArthur

Taking place from Friday July 16 until Sunday August 1, Illuminate Adelaide will see the city come alive with lights, live music, visual art, discussion, installation and much more.

In the depths of South Australia’s winter, Illuminate Adelaide will bring locals and visitors alike into streets, laneways and parks to experience both the city and traditional notions of art anew.

Curated by co-founders and creative directors Rachael Azzopardi and Lee Cumberlidge, the festival, which takes place on Kaurna Land from Friday July 16 to Sunday August 1, will include both free and ticketed events.

What you need to know

  • Introducing Illuminate Adelaide, Australia’s new major cultural festival arriving in 2021
  • The festival will see Adelaide come to life with a vibrant concoction of visual art, lights, live music, discussion, installation and more
  • The Avalanches are headlining the festival, while other artists set to perform include HTRK, Electric Fields, Mo’Ju and more

Keep up with all the festival news, reviews and interviews here.

While it is Adelaide by name and in many ways by nature, with both Azzopardi and Cumberlidge themselves a product of the local arts scene, Illuminate’s lineup is by no means exclusive to South Australia (SA).

Program highlights range from indigenous hip hop group Dem Mob from the APY lands in northern SA, to Melbourne-born The Avalanches and NSW-born Mo’Ju, to Canada’s Moment Factory, premiering Light Cycles at the local Botanic Gardens.

Illuminate will see local, national and international creatives and technologists alike come together in a unique celebration of visual art, lights, live music, discussion, installation and more.

“Starting something like this for the first time, it was really important for us to work with local artists and engage with the local community in order to create something that endures,” Cumberlidge says.

“That said, we also want this to be a celebration that defies borders, and celebrates globalisation and the flow of ideas,” adds Azzopardi. “In some ways, the silver lining of COVID and border closures has been more of a focus on the local – but we don’t want that to become synonymous with being closed off to the rest of the world. We’re thrilled to welcome Moment Factory and international installations like Row from the St Petersburg-based collective TUNDRA.”

A primary motivation for founding Illuminate, which has been in the works now for almost three years, was a shared belief in what Cumberlidge calls “the power of accessibility”. Both he and Azzopardi say that bringing artists and audiences together en masse, in a way that is available and welcoming to everyone, has been the top priority throughout the process.

It’s why the majority of events are free and those that are ticketed remain relatively low-cost. Every event and location also has individualised information on accessibility, including the availability of Auslan intepretations and audio descriptions. The festival is also an affiliate of Companion Card, entitling Companion Card holders a second ticket at no cost.

In addition to its aim to be at the forefront of accessibility in Australian events, Illuminate seeks to make a name for itself in pushing the boundaries of different creative and technological mediums by exploring the intersections of art, music, light, technology and setting – an increasingly popular trend on the contemporary arts scene.

“Whether it’s dance and theatre, visual arts and performance, or exploring the union of arts and technology more broadly … we’re seeing a lot more of these new hybrid forms of expression, Cumberlidge says.”

“There’s also a movement away from doing things inside venues and traditional buildings … with artists now thinking more expansively about where their work is going to happen and who’s going to have access to it.

“We are lucky to have a whole CBD area to play with … We can think really creatively about how we transform our city for the people that live there and the people that visit as well.”

Cumberlidge is quick to note, however, that it is hardly a new concept that the creative industry is playing with.

“If you look at First Nations peoples, the idea of using these forms to tell stories, share culture, is embedded in their history. KINARA [one of Illuminate’s programs] is particularly important to us in terms of celebrating that narrative,” he continues.

“It was also really important for us to work with First Nations curators, and to champion emerging Indigenous voices, both among the Kaurna People from around the Adelaide Plains and further afield, from other Indigenous nations across the country.”

The KINARA program will celebrate First Nations culture and artists beneath a full moon on Saturday July 24. Led by a lineup of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, KINARA (which means ‘moon’ in the Indigenous dialect of Pintupi) will take over the TANDANYA National Aboriginal Cultural Institute with live music, installations, and sensory works.

The KINARA music program will share artists with the MAAD program, including Dem Mob, The Yorke Band, and MoZzi, as well as welcoming Kahl Wallis, Tilly Tjala Thomas with CASM Band, Katie Aspel, GypZ X SVVLO, and DJ Goon.

Headlining the 17-day festival is The Avalanches. As the inaugural Luminary Artists in Residence, a new annual initiative celebrating innovation in the arts, they, too, are exemplary of the playful intersection of music, visual art, light and technology.

The feature performance will see Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi perform their iconic debut album Since I Left You alongside the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra on Friday July 30.

The album, which was recently re-released as a Deluxe Edition in celebration of its 20th anniversary, lends itself well to an electronic-classical crossover thanks to its simplicity and lack of vocals.

The Avalanches will then close Illuminate with a special DJ set as part of the MAAD program. They will also be involved in several other performances throughout the festival, including a free lighting installation Messages of Hope, Messages of Love, which will turn messages submitted by the public into a morse code light display.

Illuminate also represents an exciting new addition to Adelaide’s annual event programming, which has traditionally been weighted more towards the warm summer months, when WOMADelaide and the Fringe Festival take over the city.

“We wanted to use the winter months to create something that was a little less traditional,” explains Azzopardi. “Illuminate offers a unique experience to view the often unexplored beauty of the city in winter.”

Primary funding and support for the event comes from the South Australian Government through the South Australian Tourism Commission, who came on board in December 2019 and have committed to a minimum of three years of Illuminate.

While not the impetus for the festival, the Illuminate team is excited to be able to play a role in restimulating the local economy and tourism sector post-COVID, as well as offering jobs for crew and creatives at a time of year when many would have been headed to the overseas gig circuit, like the Edinburgh Fringe, to earn their keep and gain exposure.

The cancellation of RISING has highlighted the importance of COVID contingency plans for all event organisers, with Illuminate themselves facing the knock-on effects of Melbourne’s lockdown, including artists currently unable to travel, and borders shut to an important subset of interstate tourists.

“We want South Australians, obviously, but are also really looking for people to come from interstate. We really want those borders open so that people can come over and enjoy what Illuminate has to offer” Cumberlidge says.

Azzopardi is optimistic. “I reckon the timing is going to be really perfect – the Victorian border’s going to open just in time for people to come over.”

You heard it here first, Victoria.

Illuminate Adelaide runs from Friday July 16 to Sunday August 1. Ticketed events are now on sale. For more info, head here.