Adelaide Festival

Coordinates: 34°54′42″S 138°38′06″E / 34.911625°S 138.635101°E / -34.911625; 138.635101
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Adelaide Festival of Arts
Location(s)Adelaide, South Australia
InauguratedMarch 1960 (1960-03)
Most recent2022
Previous event2021
Next event2023
Attendance227,404 (2022)

34°54′42″S 138°38′06″E / 34.911625°S 138.635101°E / -34.911625; 138.635101

The Adelaide Festival of Arts, also known as the Adelaide Festival, an arts festival, takes place in the South Australian capital of Adelaide in March each year. Started in 1960, it is a major celebration of the arts and a significant cultural event in Australia.

The festival is based chiefly in the city centre and its parklands, with some venues in the inner suburbs (such as the Odeon Theatre, Norwood) or occasionally further afield. The Adelaide Festival Centre and River Torrens usually form the nucleus of the event, and in the 21st century Elder Park has played host to opening ceremonies.

It comprises many events, usually including opera, theatre, dance, classical and contemporary music, cabaret, literature, visual art and new media. The four-day world-music event, WOMADelaide, and the literary festival, Adelaide Writers' Week, form part of the Festival. The festival originally operated biennially, along with the (initially unofficial) Adelaide Fringe; the Fringe has taken place annually since 2007, with the Festival of Arts going annual a few years later, in 2012. With all of these events, plus the extra visitors, activities and music concerts brought by the street-circuit motor-racing event known as the Adelaide 500, locals often refer to the time of year as "Mad March".

The festival attracts interstate and overseas visitors, and generated an estimated gross expenditure of A$76.1 million for South Australia in 2018.


The Adelaide Festival began with efforts by Sir Lloyd Dumas in the late 1950s to establish a major arts festival that would bring to South Australia world-class cultural exhibitions. In 1958, Sir Lloyd organised a gathering of prominent members of the Adelaide business, arts and government community. The proposal for an event similar to the Edinburgh International Festival was supported and the first Festival Board of Governors was formed. The event began to take form when Sir Lloyd partnered with John Bishop, Professor of Music at the University of Adelaide. The two gained the support of the Lord-Mayor and Adelaide City Council and a financial backing of 15,000 pounds.[1] A number of leading businesses sponsored the first festival, including The Advertiser, the Bank of Adelaide, John Martin & Co., the Adelaide Steamship Company, and Kelvinator.[1]

The inaugural Adelaide Festival of Arts ran from 12 to 26 March 1960 and was directed by Bishop with some assistance from Ian Hunter, the artistic director of the Edinburgh Festival. There were 105 shows covering almost all aspects of the arts.[citation needed] In its first year, it also spawned the Adelaide Fringe, which has grown into the largest event of its kind in the world after the Edinburgh Fringe.[2]

The Adelaide Festival continued to grow in successive years with the support of the South Australian Government. It developed a number of incorporated events including Adelaide Writers' Week, Australia's original literary festival;[3] WOMADelaide, the world music festival; and, the Adelaide Festival of Ideas. The Adelaide International was a curated international contemporary visual arts program held in partnership with the Samstag Museum from 2010 to 2014.

After some difficulties under the directorship of Peter Sellars in 2001–2, it was once again regarded as very strong, with its reputation intact as the pre-eminent event in the country, by 2006.[4]

The Adelaide Festival moved from a biennial to annual event from 2012.[5]

David Sefton was appointed as artistic director for a three-year tenure in 2013, then extended for another year. The 2013 program included for the first time, a three-night "festival within a festival": Unsound Adelaide presented international artists playing multi-dimensional electronic music.[6]

Neil Armfield and Rachel Healy were appointed in 2015 and took over from Sefton as co-artistic directors from the 2017 festival,[7] which included the landmark opera production of Barrie Kosky's Saul.[8] Their contracts were extended twice, and due to finish with the 2023 festival.[9] However, the 2021 and 2022 festivals were affected by frequently changing restrictions imposed by the government due to various waves of the COVID-19 pandemic in South Australia, which was challenging for the organisers, and also Armfield had some health issues.[7]

In March 2022 it was announced that Ruth Mackenzie would be taking over from 2023, although Armfield and Healy had already confirmed or organised most of the major events for the festival. McKenzie has extensive international experience, including as director of the Holland Festival and Manchester International Festival, and overseeing the cultural program for the 2012 London Olympics, the London 2012 Festival.[9][7]


In 1998 the Adelaide Festival Corporation was established as a statutory corporation by the Adelaide Festival Corporation Act 1998 (AFC Act), reporting to the Minister for the Arts.[10] From about 1996 Arts SA (later Arts South Australia) had responsibility for this and several other statutory bodies such as the South Australian Museum and the Art Gallery of South Australia, until late 2018, when the functions were transferred to direct oversight by the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, Arts and Culture section.[11] There is a governing board which reports to the minister. As of March 2022 the chair was Judy Potter.[12]

Artistic directors are appointed on fixed contracts for one or more years. Former chief executive Elaine Chia departed in November 2021, with Kath M. Mainland being appointed from April 2022.[9] There is a separate director of Writers' Week.[12]


In June 2019, it was announced that the Festival would receive A$1.25 million in annual funding over the following three years, to help "continue to attract major performances and events".[13]

Funding is mainly from government sources, but, as a charitable body, the festival also attracts private donors within Australia and internationally. During the tenureship of Neil Armfield and Rachel Healy as co-artistic directors, donations to the festival increased from around A$55,000 a year in 2017 to A$2 million in 2022.[7]

In August 2023 the South Australian Government announced $2.3 million for the Adelaide Festival over three years for additional performances and events.[14]

Past festivals[edit]

Neil Armfield and Rachel Healy hold the record for the most stints as director, with six festivals under their belt.

There were no directors for the festivals of 1966 and 1968, with an advisory board taking on the responsibility. Peter Sellars' brief directorship of the 2002 Adelaide Festival remains the most controversial and he was eventually replaced by Sue Nattrass.[citation needed]

Year Director Featured artists / performances
1960 John Bishop A visit by the festival's patron Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother; the inaugural Adelaide Writers' Week; T. S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral, Dave Brubeck's jazz quartet; the Sydney and Victorian symphony orchestras; Sir Donald Wolfit; Edwin Hodgeman; Ruth Cracknell, and poet Max Harris.
1962 John Bishop Yehudi and Hephzibah Menuhin; the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent; the Bhaskar Dance Company from India; Benjamin Britten's Noye's Fludde, Zoe Caldwell in Shaw's St Joan; the Dave Brubeck Quartet and David Attenborough.
1964 John Bishop Henry V (staged in a tent in the parklands); Marie Collier and Richard Lewis in Sir William Walton's opera Troilus and Cressida; the world premiere of Sir Robert Helpmann's ballet The Display performed by The Australian Ballet Company and designed by Sidney Nolan, and The Black Theatre of Prague.
1966 Advisory Board The Queen Mother visited during the second week attending various events including the Flower Day celebrations and a variety show at Elder Park; The Royal Hunt of the Sun; Dame Judith Anderson performing four classical drama recitals; the Berlioz Requiem; the London Symphony Orchestra; Die Kammermusiker of Switzerland, and Yevgeny Yevtushenko at Adelaide Writers' Week.
1968 Advisory Board Opera singers Tito Gobbi and Marie Collier; Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band; Mahler's monumental Eighth Symphony, and the Salzburg Marionette Theatre; American poet James Dickey.
1970 Sir Robert Helpmann Benjamin Britten conducting the South Australian Symphony Orchestra; The Australian Ballet choreographed by Sir Robert Helpmann CBE and featuring Rudolf Nureyev; Royal Shakespeare's productions Winter's Tale and Twelfth Night featuring Donald Sinden and Judi Dench; the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra; the Bartók String Quartet (Hungary), Larry Adler and Rolf Harris. Ivor Hele's second and last solo exhibition.
1972 Louis van Eyssen Leo McKern; Timothy West; Timothy Dalton and Frank Thring; Jesus Christ Superstar; The South Australian Theatre Company's production of The Alchemist, and American poets Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg at Adelaide Writers' Week.
1974 Anthony Steel Recitals by André Tchaikowsky; baritone Hans Hotter; Brazilian guitarists, the Abreu Brothers; the Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra; Jacques Loussier Trio: Stratford National Theatre of Canada, and Premier Don Dunstan's reading of Ogden Nash's verses to Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals.
1976 Anthony Steel John Cage, Leo Sayer, Herbie Mann, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. Adelaide Writers' Week hosted Kurt Vonnegut, Susan Sontag, James Baldwin and Wole Soyinka.
1978 Anthony Steel Sir Michael Tippett's first opera The Midsummer Marriage; the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra under Zubin Mehta; Roger Woodward's series of Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas performed in 12 days; Compagnie Philippe Genty; Kabuki Theatre, and East by Steven Berkoff. Prominent authors at Writers' Week included Manning Clark, Barry Humphries and Frank Moorhouse, American writer Chaim Potok and Irish poet Richard Murphy.
1980 Christopher Hunt Spike Milligan; Futuresight, an exhibition from the New York Museum of Holography; Peter Brook's Centre for International Theatre Creations; The Acting Company of New York; La Claca Theatre Company of Catalonia; the Ballet of the Komische Oper (Berlin); the Prague Chamber Ballet and the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra.
1982 Jim Sharman Opening night parade including more than 10,000 participants, followed by a concert in Elder Park with Nuova Compagnia di Canto Popolare and the Grimethorpe Colliery Band on a floating stage; Pina Bausch's Tanztheater Wuppertal, and the premiere of Patrick White's play Signal Driver.
1984 Elijah Moshinsky (resigned) / Anthony Steel Vladimir Ashkenazy leading London's Philharmonia Orchestra performing Beethoven's nine symphonies and five piano concertos presented as a complete cycle; Theatre Tenkei Genijyo; the Pointer Sisters, and the Polish Chamber Orchestra.
1986 Anthony Steel A high-wire walk from the Festival Theatre roof across the River Torrens; the world premiere of Richard Meale's opera Voss; Philip Glass; The Nederlands Dance Theater; Jan Fabre; The Wooster Group and Gidon Kremer.
1988 George Lascelles Peter Brook's all-night production of The Mahabharata at The Quarry; Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Twyla Tharp Dance and Sarah Vaughan.
1990 Clifford Hocking A landmark Australian production of Tristan and Isolde; the Vienna Singverein; Peter Schreier and Mercedes Sosa; Lyon Opera Ballet's Cinderella and French Circus Archaos.
1992 Rob Brookman The inaugural WOMADelaide; Nixon in China; Peter Schreier and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra's performance of Bach's St Matthew Passion; Maguy Marin's May B and Cheek by Jowl's As You Like It.
1994 Christopher Hunt Mark Morris Dance Group; the Frankfurt Ballet; Penny Arcade; William Yang; The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; Hakutobo and the Wuhan Acrobats.
1996 Barrie Kosky Late-night club Red Square, built from 120 shipping containers; the Batsheva Dance Company of Israel; Maly Theatre of St Petersburg; theatre performance La Fura dels Baus (Barcelona); Hotel Pro Forma (Denmark), DV8 Physical Theatre; Latin jazz musician Tito Puente and Annie Sprinkle.
1998 Robyn Archer Opening night spectacular Flamma Flamma; stage adaptation of TS Eliot's The Waste Land; the Australian-Japanese production of Masterkey; Ex-Machina's seven-hour performance of The Seven Streams of the River Ota by Robert Le Page; the Andalusian opera Carmen, and Sequentia's performances of the Canticles of Ecstasy, composed by Hildegard von Bingen.
2000 Robyn Archer Peter Greenaway's opera Writing to Vermeer; Ishina presenting Mizumachi (The Water City) in an open-air theatre; Les Ballets C de la B's tribute to Bach in his 250th year with Iets Op Bach, and 5 new Australian works commissioned for the festival.
2002 Peter Sellars (resigned) / Sue Nattrass Kaurna Palti Meyunna in Victoria Square; a film program with titles commissioned including The Tracker, Australian Rules and Walking on Water, Uppalapu Srinivas (India), Black Swan, and many community events.
2004 Stephen Page An indigenous Awakening Ceremony; David Gulpilil; Bangarra Dance Theatre; Windmill's RiverlanD and Body Dreaming; Bryn Terfel; the Prague Chamber Orchestra; large-scale theatrical event The Overcoat, La Carnicería Teatro (Madrid) with I Bought a Spade at Ikea to Dig My Own Grave; Circus Oz, and late night club Universal Playground.
2006 Brett Sheehy Italian company Compagnia di Valerio Festi's Il Cielo che Danza (The Dancing Sky); Berlin's Schaubühne's Nora; the world premiere of a theatrical music event inspired by the phenomenon of Imelda Marcos, Here Lies Love; the opera Flight; highlights of the Venice Biennale, and the open air festival club Persian Garden.
2008 Brett Sheehy The opera Ainadamar, Northern Lights, Akram Khan's Sacred Monsters with Sylvie Guillem, Leonard Cohen and Philip Glass' Buddhist-inspired Book of Longing, the Indian/Sri Lankan A Midsummer Night's Dream; the Mahavishnu Orchestra's Meeting of the Spirits and John Adams' Buddhist/Kerouac-inspired Dharma at Big Sur; an examination of the great living of composers including Pärt, Kats-Chernin, Henryk Górecki, Farr, Adams, Sculthorpe, Hosokawa, Glass, Adès, Golijov, Hindson, Westlake, MacMillan, Meale and Roumain (DBR).
2010 Paul Grabowsky[15] The opera production of Le Grand Macabre by György Ligeti, the Wayne Shorter Quartet; Good Morning Mr Gershwin (Montalvo-Hervieu); The Sound and the Fury (Elevator Repair Service); and The Walworth Farce (Druid); an expansion of Northern Lights; Groupe F's pyrotechnic spectacle A Little More Light, and Mahler 8 featuring the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra.
2012 Paul Grabowsky Raoul starring James Thiérrée; Harold Pinter's The Caretaker starring Jonathan Pryce; Leonard Bernstein's Mass featuring Jubilant Sykes; Force Majeure and Sydney Theatre Company's production Never Did Me Any Harm; Charles Bradley; Roky Erickson; Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti; Michael Rother and Jane Birkin.
2013 David Sefton Kronos Quartet and Laurie Anderson; Van Dyke Parks; Sylvie Guillem; National Theatre of Scotland's The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart; Ontroerend Goed's Trilogy; Neil Finn and Paul Kelly; Unsound Adelaide; Severed Heads; Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and the return of the festival club, Barrio.
2014 David Sefton Toneelgroep Amsterdam's Roman Tragedies; John Zorn in an exclusive concert series comprising the Masada Marathon, Classical Marathon, Triple Bill and Zorn@60 with guest artists including Mike Patton, Joey Baron, Bill Laswell, Marc Ribot, Sofia Rei, Dave Lombardo, Greg Cohen, Jesse Harris and more; Batsheva Dance Company's Sadeh21; Isabella Rossellini's Green Porno; John Waters; Robert Lepage's Needles and Opium; An Iliad starring Denis O'Hare, Kid Creole and the Coconuts, Charles Bradley; Unsound Adelaide; Ilan Volkov and the festival club, Lola's Pergola.
2015 David Sefton Spectacular digital illuminations marked the opening with Blinc. This festival also included Danny Elfman's Music from the Films of Tim Burton, unique festival shows like Tommy and the return of Unsound. New York's Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet made their Australian debut performing works by Crystal Pite, Hofesh Shechter, Jiří Kylián and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui.
2016 David Sefton French maestros of light and fire Groupe F open the festival with À Fleur de Peau at the Adelaide Oval. The festival also included The James Plays by Rona Munro, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch's Nelken, Romeo Castellucci's Go Down, Moses, Canadian dance company The Holy Body Tattoo's monumental accompanied live by Godspeed You! Black Emperor (CAN), and the award-winning 1927’s multi-disciplinary dystopian fable Golem (UK).
2017 Neil Armfield and Rachel Healy Barrie Kosky's Helpmann Award-winning opera Saul (UK), State Theatre Company of South Australia's The Secret River (AUS), Adelaide-based circus company Gravity and Other Myths premiere of Backbone (AUS), Berlin's Schaubühne Richard III (GER), Canadian dance company Electric Company Theatre's Betroffenheit (CAN), a performance of Rufus Wainwright's Prima Donna, and Wainwright performing highlights of Rufus Does Judy (CAN).
2018 Neil Armfield and Rachel Healy Brett Dean's opera Hamlet (UK), Grace Jones (USA), Robert Lepage's The Far Side of the Moon (CAN), The Lost and Found Orchestra (UK), jazz phenomenon Cécile McLorin Salvant (USA), dancer and choreographer Akram Khan (dancer) in his last solo as dancer in XENOS (UK), Rundfunkchor Berlin's spellbinding choral experience human requiem (GER). and Toneelgroep Amsterdam's modern take on Shakespeare's Kings of War (NL).
2019 Neil Armfield and Rachel Healy Komische Oper Berlin's production of The Magic Flute directed by Barrie Kosky, Russia's revered Sretensky Monastery Choir, Semperoper Ballett Berlin's Carmen, choreographed by Johan Inger, ballerina Natalia Osipova starring in Meryl Tankard's Two Feet, award-winning play Counting and Cracking from Belvoir and Co-Curious (AUS).
2020 Neil Armfield and Rachel Healy The event's 60th anniversary edition included the staging of Mozart's Requiem by Italian director Romeo Castellucci, co-produced with the Festival d-Aix-en-Provence, the controversial play The Doctor starring British stage and screen legend Juliet Stevenson, local company Patch Theatre's The Lighthouse and Tatzu Nishi's installation A Doll's House dominated social media, the Fire Gardens created a mesmerising firelight in one of Adelaide's favourite spots, the Adelaide Botanic Garden.
2021 Neil Armfield and Rachel Healy The 36th Festival was a success despite the challenges of a global pandemic. It included Neil Armfield's production of Benjamin Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream; local circus troupe Gravity and Other Myths; Young Adelaide Voices' Aurora choir's The Pulse; A German Life, starring Robyn Nevin; and a livestreamed set of four performances direct from Europe into Her Majesty's Theatre. The new Festival Club hosting the contemporary music program was for the first time housed in a new pop-up venue called The Summerhouse.
2022 Neil Armfield and Rachel Healy Included 9 world premieres, 6 Australian premieres and 17 shows playing exclusively in Adelaide. Barrie Kosky directed the flagship opera, Rimsky-Korsakov's The Golden Cockerel; Neil Armfield directed a new oratorio about the murder of George Duncan, called Watershed: The Death of Dr Duncan; and Sydney Theatre Company presented The Picture of Dorian Gray, directed by Kip Williams.[citation needed] Audience of 227,404 across all events, total box office takings of A$4.9 million.[9]
2023 Ruth Mackenzie TBA


  1. ^ a b "How it started". History of the Festival. Adelaide Festival of Arts. 2006. Archived from the original on 9 October 2007. Retrieved 13 June 2006.
  2. ^ Sutton, Malcolm (24 February 2017). "Adelaide Fringe: World's second largest arts festival 'still a fringe', as attention turns to interstate". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 21 August 2019.
  3. ^ "Writers' Week". Adelaide Festival. Retrieved 21 August 2019.
  4. ^ Starick, Paul (18 March 2006). "Festival back as best in nation". The Advertiser. Adelaide. Archived from the original on 23 May 2006. Retrieved 13 June 2006.
  5. ^ "Adelaide Festival of Arts to go annual". The Advertiser. Adelaide. 26 February 2010. Archived from the original on 1 March 2010. Retrieved 23 May 2010.
  6. ^ "Unsound review". The Advertiser. Adelaide. 15 March 2013. [dead link]
  7. ^ a b c d Smith, Matthew (24 March 2022). "Adelaide Festival appoints Ruth Mackenzie as artistic director to succeed Rachel Healy and Neil Armfield". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 28 March 2022.
  8. ^ "Neil Armfield and Rachel Healy co-artistic directors of Adelaide Festival of Arts 2017". The Sydney Morning Herald. 7 May 2015.
  9. ^ a b c d Keen, Suzie (24 March 2022). "'Powerhouse' arts leader announced as Adelaide Festival's new artistic director". InDaily. Retrieved 28 March 2022.
  10. ^ Auditor-General (2015). "Annual Report for the year ended 30 June 2015: Part B – Agency audit reports". Government of South Australia. Retrieved 28 July 2019.
  11. ^ "About arts and culture". South Australia. Dept of the Premier and Cabinet. 26 June 2019. Retrieved 27 July 2019.
  12. ^ a b "Staff And Board". Adelaide Festival. Retrieved 28 March 2022.
  13. ^ Marsh, Walter (19 June 2019). "State Budget adds millions in Adelaide Festival and film industry funding as other arts organisations face cuts". Adelaide Review. Retrieved 11 August 2019.
  14. ^ Boscaini, Joshua (2 August 2023). "Adelaide Festival gets funding boost as Harvest Rock announces headline acts". ABC News. Retrieved 3 August 2023.
  15. ^ "Paul Grabowsky announced as new Artistic Director!". Adelaide Festival Corporation. 4 January 2008. Archived from the original on 16 July 2012. Retrieved 1 March 2008.

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