It could easily be considered the most important Mardi Gras Festival since the phoenix season of 2003. For the first time in its history the Mardi Gras parade and after-party won’t be held on the same night.
The decision to split the two events — after a poorly handled date mix-up early last year — divided the community. Sydney Star Observer’s forums were overrun with community argument over the reasons behind the split and the impact it would have.
Whatever your opinion, 2010 will be a milestone season in Mardi Gras’ colourful history and the organisation’s co-chairs Nick Parker and Steph Sands will feel that pressure more than anyone else.
As you’d expect, the pair are upbeat about the change in program — refusing to see it as a challenge.
“I would prefer to think of the parade and party split as being a great opportunity to try something different, and in seizing this opportunity we have worked very hard at creating a shorter season that is worth taking time off from your working life and enjoying to the fullest,” Sands said. “There is no other time, anywhere in the world, where you can enjoy two full weeks of GLBTQ culture like season 2010.”
Parker said the change to the festival had allowed the organisation to maintain a spread of events throughout.
“We want the festival to be a reason for people from out of town, interstate or overseas to stay a little longer and enjoy more than just a weekend at the end as seems to have been the focus in the recent past. We have deliberately invested in the arts festival with a strong push for it to be seen as one of the pre-eminent semi-curated festivals in Australia,” he said.
Indeed, a quick look at some of the early festival information publicly released by New Mardi Gras shows a gritty determination to ensure the season doesn’t suffer under the split decision.
“Getting Spencer Tunick on board will give our festival a major profile boost and attract quality artists and performers in future,” Parker said.
“I am delighted that we have also made sure that the crowds post-Parade have an event to celebrate with Carnival, an event for members and volunteers and their families — and we will sell some limited tickets to the general public.
“We have also lined up some great talent for Harbour 10 and MG Party; booking David Guetta months back was a very strategic move to make sure that a stand-alone Mardi Gras Party could hold its own as the closing NMG event, followed by the amazing Toybox official recovery on the Sunday, a partnership we are delighted to renew in 2010.”
In fact signing Guetta — the hottest DJ on the planet at the moment — and Tunick as part of the festival have both been met with a unanimous thumbs-up from the community at large.
“Credit where credit is due, it was all [former NMG CEO] Anna McInerney’s powers of persuasion,” Sands revealed.
Sands and Parker are both confident season 2010 will be one to remember. Even more encouraging is the fact they are using it as a litmus test for the organisation’s future festival requirements.
“We are currently shaping and finalising a three-to-five-year strategic plan for Mardi Gras that has looked at each and every component of our festival and events and how these must evolve where necessary to stay relevant,” Parker said.
“With the emerging financial stability of New Mardi Gras as a company, and the production values of our events getting better with each year, we are focusing on becoming a new creative force in future; making our festival and our events more cutting edge.
“The pack have caught up with Mardi Gras over the last decade so it is time to experiment and evolve to draw away from the pack once again, away from the mainstream, and showcase the amazingly creative and adventurous community that we are.
“This intent will see us try different approaches in future years — try different formats, and maybe even different dates from what we are used to for some core events. We may be less predictable and more spontaneous.”
Sands said by breaking the party/parade taboo in 2010 the organisation had a host of new opportunities available to it.
“What made Mardi Gras great in the past is innovation and one-off experiences. The board realises it needs  to concentrate on regaining that reputation and in order to do that we need to start trying new things and raising the bar on our core events,” she said.
The parade/party split aside, New Mardi Gras is likely to face an even greater challenge in 2010 — sniffer dogs inside the event.
Sleaze 2009 will forever be known as the year NSW Police brought the dogs inside the party. They even took them into the dance halls. The resulting outrage echoed across Sydney — it was even raised in NSW Parliament.
Just what impact this will have on Party 2010 ticket sales is yet to be seen, but Sands and Parker are aware that the presence of illegal drugs at its parties is an issue it will need to pay increasing attention to.
“Our parties are no different from other parties and the use of illicit drugs is against the law. I urge all members of my community to consider this over the Mardi Gras season,” Sands said.
“Unfortunately, some people will make poor choices at our events and suffer the consequences both from a health and safety and legal perspective.”
Parker sees the change in police tactics as an oportunity for the community as a whole to start engaging in an honest and open discussion about drug use.
“We will focus on education, information and monitoring alongside close communication and cooperation with all stakeholders, including the police,” he said.
“We have a chequered history in our relationship with the law and we will be seeking that our rights are respected at all times while the law is upheld.
“Use of drugs is a very complex issue for our community and we need to be a bit more open and honest with ourselves to discuss this issue more constructively and to seek better outcomes as a result.”
But seriousness aside, Mardi Gras is supposed to be about fun, and both Sands and Parker are confident the public will embrace, celebrate and enjoy the festival like never before.
“I know it will be a fantastic season this year as we have a great board, staff and volunteers all working at their best to deliver something very special,” Sands said.

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