5 mins with Vivid’s Creative Director

Combining lights, music and ideas, this 23-night spectacular turns the city into a kaleidoscope of colour and creativity from May 24 to June 15. In the heart of the activity, you won’t find a better location, or relaxed luxury escape, than Spicers Potts Point. Enjoy the juxtaposition of the calm urban retreat, against the hustle of the thriving city lights outside. We chat with Vivid Sydney’s mastermind, creative director Ignatius Jones, ahead of this year’s event…

How much of the year do you dedicate to Vivid Sydney?
Vivid Sydney is a year round project and the team are always looking for creative inspiration, efficiencies and new ways to develop the festival. We are not a normal day-after-day festival – we look hard for content that people have never seen before, that is going to blow our visitors away across all demographics from children to adults, creatives to scientists. As Australia’s largest event and the largest festival of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, the logistical side takes months and months of planning.

How do you approach Vivid Light in the city in order to keep the crowd favourites, but deliver a new experience for return visitors?
The Vivid Sydney creative team is always looking to offer event-goers something new and dynamic. The objective is to showcase outstanding local, national and international artists against the backdrop of the city skyline and Sydney Harbour and to surprise and delight guests through the installations. In 2019 Vivid Sydney is really excited to present projections by Pixar Animation. A piece that really stands out to me is EORA. It started four years ago through a partnership with Bangarra, and it was the first work to really capture the storytelling of Australia’s Indigenous people that made sense. In 2019 EORA: Broken Spear takes a new direction under the incredible leadership of Rhoda Roberts – she understands storytelling and how to pay homage to the original custodians of the land upon which Vivid Sydney takes place.

You couldn’t possibly deal with a program like this on your own – how hard has it been to learn over the years to delegate and let go?
The Vivid Sydney team is like a family and one of the beautiful things about the festival is to see all curators and staff bring their experience and perspective to the program. Frankly, I like to share – of course I enjoy leading and I’m expected to steer the creative community, but on the other hand we are all members of that same community.
We have an outstanding team of curators who really have their finger on the pulse about what’s new, exciting, thought-provoking and important … I trust them and they trust me.

Vivid Sydney Customs House

Sydney, Australia – June 5, 2015: An underwater design is projected on the facade of Customs House, as part of the Vivid Sydney festival

On massive events things always go wrong – is there a fiery Basque, Catalonian part of your personality that can emerge, or have you found a Zen place of calm?
This year marks the 11th edition of Vivid Sydney and one thing I have learned in that time is the show always goes on. With more than 2.25 million attendees in 2018, we know that the public is excited about Vivid Sydney and expects a unique and unforgettable experience. The team is committed to ensuring that every guest has the best visit possible, no matter what may be happening behind the scenes, no matter the weather. That is part of what makes Vivid Sydney so special – it’s a universal event that offers something for everyone, and that keeps me calm when things aren’t going quite as planned.

In its first few years Vivid Sydney was held in The Rocks and around Circular Quay, but now it’s extended into areas like Tumbalong Park and Chatswood – is there any limit to how you can expand it across Sydney and NSW?
It’s wonderful to see how each precinct involved in Vivid Sydney has its own personality and voice. From the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney to Taronga Zoo, from Chatswood to Luna Park, from Sydney Opera House to Cockle Bay and beyond. These areas are part of Sydney’s identity and during Vivid Sydney they get to show a playful, whimsical side.
Sydney CBD will always remain at the heart of the festival, however Vivid Sydney … is always open to receiving proposals from other precincts and locations with a view to expanding the footprint. Sydney has so many amazing destinations to showcase from Bondi to Ku-ring-gai – anything is possible.

Vivid Sydney Maritime Museum all lit up

Sydney, Australia – June 18, 2016: Jellyfish are projected on the roof of the National Maritime Museum in Darling Harbour as part of the Vivid Sydney festival.

As the ringmaster, what are the biggest challenges in re-imagining Vivid for a new year?
We’re always keen to embrace young, funky content … we want to set the trend. Diversity is always a key consideration when programming all three pillars of Vivid Sydney – Light, Music and Ideas. However, what keeps Vivid Sydney truly fresh is that it captures the zeitgeist of public issues and ideas. We see through the submissions of light artists and the areas of interest of our Vivid Ideas speakers what is “now”, what is relevant, what captures innovation and what will spark conversation and feeling among our guests.

Spicers Potts Point at Night

Staying at Spicers Potts Point during Vivid Sydney is the perfect place to experience the juxtaposition of the hustle and bustle going on outside, and feeling worlds away in your retreat.

Vivid Ideas covers a broad range of areas including technology, design, film, animation, VFX and lighting – do you need an overarching theme before piecing together a program, or is it a matter of building a program around who and what is available?
This year there is a theme of Love, Loneliness and Belonging that runs through the Vivid Ideas program. We will welcome experts on relationships, sex tech, the darkest web, entrepreneurs, a strategic forecaster and journalists researching loneliness in Japan, just to name a few.

What in particular are you looking forward to in Vivid Music?
I’m really excited about The Cure – it is incredible to have them performing at the iconic Sydney Opera House as part of Vivid LIVE. Commemorating the 30th anniversary of their album ‘Disintegration’ through these exclusive performances is a huge coup for Sydney, and their distinctive approach to post-punk, new wave music embodies the brave, pioneering attitude of Vivid Sydney more broadly.

As a performer who pushed the boundaries in straight-laced Australia for 40 years in Jimmy & The Boys, do you have a natural simpatico with those who want to question, and prod and challenge society through art, music and debate?
There’s absolutely no question that the creative team as a whole is attracted to programming that challenges, questions and pushes our thinking.

Vivid Sydney is on May 24 to June 15, book our Spicers Potts Point Winter Getaway and take in both Vivid and The Archibald exhibition showing at the Art Gallery of NSW.

Words by William Holmes