The Perth Festival, named Perth International Arts Festival (PIAF) between 2000 and 2017, and sometimes referred to as the Festival of Perth, is Australia's longest-running cultural festival, held annually in Western Australia. The program features contemporary and classical music, dance, theatre, opera, visual arts, large-scale public works. The main events of the festival take place every year from February to March, with the Perth Writers Festival (rebranded with other names over time) occurring in February, while the film festival now known as Lotterywest Films runs from November to April, as part of the Perth Festival.
The event is based mainly at the University of Western Australia, with several events taking place at outdoor venues at UWA, but some events take place elsewhere. The festival is run by UWA in partnership with the state government and the Perth City Council. From 2004, the Festival carried Lotterywest branding, and Lotterywest was acknowledged as the Festival's "principal partner".
The artistic director for 2020 to 2023 is Iain Grandage.
The festival was created in 1953 by the University of Western Australia, making it the oldest international arts festival in Australia, and the oldest annual international multi-arts festival in the southern hemisphere.
The founder of the festival was a then UWA professor, Fred Alexander, Director of Adult Education, who was inspired by attending the Edinburgh Festival in 1951. Alexander's aim was "to offer the best cultural events that are available from British, European, American, Asian and Australian sources". The first festival, held in 1953, showcased theatre, ballet and film, drawing an audience of 42,000 people despite little publicity. It was held over the summer school holidays in January, for Summer School students, arranged by John Birman as a more formal extension of his previous summer school programmes.
In 1964, the Shakespeare's 400th anniversary, the New Fortune Theatre opened in the Arts Building, then the only replica of the 1599 London Fortune Playhouse. Another notable anniversary for the festival were its 21st anniversary coinciding with the opening of the Perth Concert Hall, and in 1979 festival it celebrated the 150th anniversary of the founding of the colony in 1829. In 1987 the festival opened at the same time as the final races of the America's Cup yacht race.
The festival expanded off-campus citywide in the 1960s, and by 1980 had hugely increased its audience, with an increase of 300 percent in paid attendances between 1976 and 1980. Some sources refer to it as the Festival of Perth in the 1980s. The festival broadened its appeal, in 1999 the newly-appointed artistic director, Séan Doran, announced a change of name to the Perth International Arts Festival, leading up to its 50th anniversary in 2003.
In 2004, the festival started carrying the Lotterywest branding, and Lotterywest was referred to as its "principal partner" in all communications. With new artistic director Lindy Hume and a new four-year strategic plan, there was a significant shift in direction for the festival: towards increased community involvement, and developing stronger partnerships with local arts organisations and regional centres.
The branding was changed to simply "Perth Festival" by then director Wendy Martin and the board in 2018, although the registered company name was as of July 2020[update] still Perth International Arts Festival, as "the organiser of Perth Festival".
Earlier Perth Festivals had poetry and literature as a component of the larger festival. By the 1990s the Perth Writers Festival was titled and marketed separately, for some time known as the Alcoa Perth Writers Festival (named after its sponsor, Alcoa).
By the 2000s the Writers Festival was well recognised by publishers from interstate and overseas. Keynote speakers and featured authors since then have included notable writers from Australia and overseas, such as Germaine Greer, Hilary Mantel, Ahdaf Soueif (2013 opener), Ben Okri, Esi Edugyan and Chloe Hooper.
It retained the branding as Perth Writers Festival, taking place for three days over a weekend, until it was extended to a run for a full week in 2018, when it changed to Perth Writers Week. It took place not only at the University Club of Western Australia, but also in public libraries, in bars and on the streets of the city. This continued in 2019.
Films formed part of the Perth Festival's offerings since its inception in January 1953, being shown at the Somerville Auditorium at UWA. The first artistic director, John Birman, introduced many foreign films to an audience used to Hollywood fare, and there was resistance at first. In 1957 a French film festival was held, and in 1959 the festival became for Birman "the establishment of an international film festival within the festival".
Until at least 1985, the festival was not a "proper film festival" like Sydney and Melbourne film festivals were, in that it did not bring new films into Australia, flown in and out for the event – but they brought in enough revenue to subsidise other events, especially the performing arts. The Festival of Perth, along with the Adult Education Board of UWA, thus became distributors and exhibitors of foreign films, sometimes featuring an Australian premiere.
From 1972 to 1976, the Perth International Film Festival was run by David Roe and Sylvie Le Clezio, and focussed on independent films, including the work of Werner Herzog, Jean Eustache, Thomas Koerfer, Claude Faraldo, Peter von Gunten, Alexander Kluge, Thierry Zeno, Shuji Terayama, and others. Some of the choices were bold and generated discussions about film censorship, such as Zeno's Vase de Noces and Nagisa Ōshima's In the Realm of the Senses. It also showcased new Australian cinema, such as The Adventures of Barry McKenzie by Bruce Beresford and The Singer by Gillian Armstrong. It started showing films at suburban cinemas, and funding became a problem. The 1977 festival was cancelled after the WA Government refused to subsidise the event. Programmes from the first, second and fifth festivals (and various others which may be related to the Festival of Perth) are held in the State Library of Western Australia.
The Perth Institute for Film and TV (PIFT, later renamed Film and Television Institute (FTI), and from May 2017 amalgamated with ScreenWest) took over the management of the film festival, although only hosting its first full-scale first-release event in 1980, dubbing it the Indian Ocean Film Festival and introducing more Asian films. However, this was not a success, partly because of poor marketing.
David Blenkinsop, taking over the reins of the Perth Festival in 1977, had a bigger budget to work with, and along with Sherry Hopkins, brought in a system whereby a committee would preview all films before deciding whether to include them in the film festival. Audiences rose from 21,000 in 1977 to 65,000 in 1985, but the festival was no longer bringing new films into the country, leaving that to Sydney and Melbourne. It did, however, make the Festival of Perth unique, being the only arts festival that had a successful film festival attached to it.
1986 to present
With the Lotterywest rebranding and its acknowledgement as "principal partner" of PIAF in 2004, it was in this year that the film component took on the title of Lotterywest Film Festival, Lotterywest Festival Films, and variants.
The festival was founded by and has operated from the University of Western Australia Nedlands campus since 1953. The University of Western Australia further supports the festival through the provision of services and resources. Lotterywest has supported the festival financially since 1992.
The festival also relies on corporate sponsors and partnerships for funding, with new organisations becoming involved each year.
The array of corporate partners changes each year, however some partners have committed to long term sponsorship of the festival. The partners are separated into six distinct groups:
- Leadership partners
- Major Partners
- Public Funding Partners
- International Partners
Venues for festival events have included:
- Somerville Auditorium, University of Western Australia
- Joondalup Pines
- His Majesty's Theatre
- State Theatre Centre of Western Australia
- Festival Gardens, Perth Cultural Centre
- Regal Theatre
- ABC Perth Studios
- Octagon Theatre UWA
- Subiaco Arts Centre
- Perth Concert Hall
- St Georges Terrace
- Nedlands Park Masonic Hall
- Fremantle Arts Centre
- Red Hill Auditorium
- Cottesloe Beach
- Quarry Amphitheatre
- Winthrop Hall, University of Western Australia
- Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery
- John Curtin Gallery, Curtin University
- Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts
- Crown Perth Theatre
- Western Australian Museum
- State Library of Western Australia
- Former Playhouse Theatre
The 2012 festival was the 60th Perth International Arts Festival. This year attracted 194,522 paid audience members and a total attendance figure of over 700,000. The opening of the festival featured a 'DAWN:DUSK' opening, where hundreds of people gathered on Cottesloe Beach to watch vocalists and musicians. The festival was held from 10 February to 4 March, and was the first year led by new artistic director, Jonathan Holloway. A number of events sold out during this year's festival, including tickets to Bon Iver.
The 2013 festival was held from 8 February to 2 March. With 750 artists, 820 events and 250 film screenings, it is the biggest yet. This year marked the announcement of a new significant partner, Chevron Corporation. This partnership was recognised through the renaming of the Festival Gardens to Chevron Festival Gardens.
At the 2012/2013 Lotterywest Film Festival, 26 films were screened, with the winner of the BHP Billiton audience award being The First Grader, directed by Justin Chadwick. This year also featured sold-out event, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, who played at the Chevron City Gardens.
The 2014 festival was the 62nd Perth International Arts Festival held from 7 February until 1 March 2014.
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