A PLAN to boost the numbers of visitors to Sydney’s LGBTI-friendly neighbourhood of Darlinghurst by expanding the popular Vivid light festival appear to be in tatters with local traders claiming they were asked to stump up $250,000 by organisers — an amount they say they simply don’t have.
Bringing Vivid to Darlinghurst could have led to light projections around Taylor Square, artworks in laneways and talks in local shops and bars.
DBP President and owner of Crown St’s Record Store, Stephan Gyory, told the Star Observer the financial hurdle was simply too high for the group’s members, most of whom are local independent shop owners.
“It’s outrageous that it’s a quarter of a million to buy into the Vivid festival as a precinct,” he said.
“If you don’t have a lot of money you can’t get a lot. We’re trying to build our villages but these festivals are only open to corporates.”
While supportive of bringing Vivid to Darlinghurst, Gyory said the amount of time needed to raise the funds and plan the event would distract local traders from attracting visitors the rest of the year.
Since its inception in 2009, Vivid — billed as a “festival of light, music and ideas” — has grown to become one of the most popular events in the state and is now the city’s largest winter festival.
Almost 1.5 million people attended Vivid this year, the centrepiece of which included light shows on skyscrapers and the Sydney Opera House.
In 2014, the festival was extended within Sydney’s CBD to areas including Martin Place and Darling Harbour.
In June, Sydney councillor Jenny Green, part of a coalition of independent councillors of which Lord Mayor Clover Moore is a part, said the city’s major festivals should look at extending their events to Darlinghurst and Kings Cross to counteract the NSW Government’s liquor lockout laws which many blame for a downturn in visitors.
A number of Oxford St’s LGBTI-friendly bars and clubs, such as the Midnight Shift, have cited the lockout laws behind decisions to cut hours while Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras said confusion around them was a factor behind lower attendance figures at this year’s Party.
Green said she sympathised with local traders: “Many businesses… have been struggling with the current economic fallout from NSW Government initiatives, so a positive initiative would be seen as supporting a change in the types of entertainment on offer and assisting businesses develop new business strategies.”
She added that a grant to help fund the festival for one year in Darlinghurst and Kings Cross should be considered to “test whether these precincts do benefit from hosting some of the Vivid events”.
Sydney Council told the Star Observer they donated around $230,000 of in-kind support to this year’s event, including cleaning services, use of outdoor spaces for projections, visitor information and road closures.
This assistance was dependent on festival organisers showing how they would expand the footprint of the festival “to deliver economic and other benefits to the broadest possible business community in the City’s Local Government Area”.
A spokesperson said that while council “doesn’t dictate” to which suburbs the festival should expand to, “Oxford St and Taylor Square seem to have potential for being included in Vivid”.
Council said its grants and sponsorship program was designed to help business groups with projects such as festivals.
Sydney state independent MP Alex Greenwich said he would be happy to take a business proposal to the Minister for Tourism and Major Events to seek support for extending Vivid.
Destination NSW, the organisers of Vivid and a significant donator to the Mardi Gras festival that is almost entirely centred on Darlinghurst, promotes inner-city suburbs through its website and engagement with the media and the travel industry.
However, they declined to confirm to the Star Observer if the $250,000 figure to be part of the festival was accurate or even if representatives of the authority had been contact with the DBP.
Destination NSW was also unwilling to be drawn on how funding decisions were made for Vivid or if the recent expansion to Martin Place and Darling Harbour was paid for by external donors or came from government coffers.
Gyory said the concentration of tourism promotion on major Sydney landmarks was “a little bit broken” and more needed to be done to encourage visitors to explore inner suburban areas.
“We haven’t been investing in our fine grain culture the ways Melbourne has,” he said.
“A visitor can only go up the Harbour Bridge once but if a visitor finds that nice little cafe with afternoon sun they’ll stay for a week.”
Main photo: Sydney Harbour Bridge during this year’s Vivid Festival (Photo: Benedict Brook)