Our hearts go out to RISING, Melbourne’s cultural extravaganza now brought to its knees

Our hearts go out to RISING, Melbourne’s cultural extravaganza now brought to its knees

The Wilds
Words by Tom Parker

It was tragic timing for the much-anticipated festival.

When RISING festival was first announced in mid-May 2020, Melbourne was navigating a swirling COVID-19 situation, where a clear understanding of this parasite was not yet established.

Confused and perplexed about our day-to-day, the announcement of RISING gave us momentary peace, optimism about what a normal Melbourne looks like.

Enter May 2021. After months of no locally-acquired cases, Melbourne was feeling like normal again. We enjoyed the splendours of Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Boogie, Meadow, Midsumma, alongside a live music scene slowly normalising. Sure, we knew we were still in a pandemic but the stigma had waned.

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

Then on Monday May 24, community transmission returned, two new cases in the morn became four in the afternoon, and COVID was a thing again.

Surely it would fuck off. Just a day or two of a case here and there and then see ya, but not this time. As cases started to mount and exposure sites multiplied, that stinky feeling started coming back, that foreboding dread of you know what.

Tragically, the situation was falling at the feet of RISING – the 12-day extravaganza set to inject Melbourne with a profound cultural kickstart. With all its ethereal imagination, RISING was an event not seen on the local landscape since Melbourne International Arts Festival circa 2019.

It would occupy its own unique space in the cultural stratosphere, one summoning consummate creativity and innovation from all corners of the artistic arc.

After commencing on Wednesday May 26, cutting the ribbon on its inaugural instalment and presenting a host of captivating events, such as Matthias Schack-Arnott and Lucy Guerin’s mesmeric performance installation, Pendulum, the opening day of Patricia Piccinini’s A Miracle Constantly Repeated, as well as gigs from Augie March, Ed Kuepper and Jim White, on Thursday May 27, the festival had to halt proceedings.


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There had been 11 new cases announced that day, bringing this particular outbreak to 26 cases alone, and as the state government stepped in to enact the next lockdown, the decision was taken out of RISING’s hands. It had to press pause.

All events from today until Friday June 4 have been cancelled, with a decision to be made over the coming week as to whether events from June 4 and June 6 (after the lockdown is scheduled to end) can go ahead.

This is devastating. Months, if not years, of preparation has gone down the gurgler. It doesn’t just concern the festival directors, but the artists, the curators of specific events, the sound techs, the bartenders, the choreographers, you name it.

Sure, if everything goes to plan we may be able to immerse ourselves in the final days of RISING’s supernatural forest The Wilds, or catch Ganesh Versus the Third Reich at Arts Centre Melbourne on the festival’s final weekend, participate in the heavy-hitting sound system clash of Heavy Congress or see Grand Salvo perform at Comedy Theatre, but we’ll miss RISING’s first, and most significant, strides.

Over the course of the next seven days, let’s hope things quickly settle and we can experience RISING’s final stretches. It’s for the betterment of Melbourne as a cultural paragon.

If you’re in a position to support RISING, you can donate to the festival here. Stay tuned for an announcement regarding the festival’s closing events from June 4 to June 6.