Tens of thousands flock to the inner-city riverbanks and the suburban hilltops are packed. All eyes are on the skies. Children’s faces are aglow—the pyrotechnics have come out to play and the heavens blaze. “Riverfire” marks the start of the now annual Brisbane Festival, usually held for several weeks around September, celebrating the arts.
Other festivals are strung throughout the year in the city, individually acknowledging music, jazz, poetry, writing, comedy, theatre and film. From state-funded large scale projects to commercial artisans and community-based collaborations, Queensland’s capital has a diverse arts scene.
A tour of Brisbane’s major cultural venues and a review of their programming reveal an industry enjoying international coups across several genres. Most of these venues are across the river from the city centre, in the attractive South Bank area, within walking distance of each other.
Flanking boardwalks and parkland are the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA), State Library of Queensland, Queensland Art Gallery, Queensland Museum, Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) and the Queensland Conservatorium of Music.
QPAC is broad and beige and cuts a stepped silhouette in the skyline, but don’t be fooled by the external architecture, its focus blends the retrospective and contemporary. Celebrating its 25th birthday in 2010, QPAC attracts more than 750,000 visitors annually to its four theatres, dining areas and outdoor spaces.
It is home to Queensland’s state theatre, opera, ballet and symphony orchestra companies. Mixing musicals, comedy and concerts into its repertoire too, along with community and education programs, QPAC is rarely quiet. The noise levels peak during the annual week-long Out of the Box festival for children 8 and under, to be held this year in June.
A slightly older audience may appreciate the QPAC International Series (August) comprising Australian debut performances from the Hamburg Ballet, Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra and Hamburg State Opera.
GoMA, which opened in 2006, is light, bright and the second site of the older but internally refurbished Queensland Art Gallery. The two premises host frequently changing exhibitions of local importance and global renown, bolstered by themed live entertainment programs and artist talks.
2012 highlights will include:
• Modern Woman: Daughters and Lovers, from Musee d’Orsay, Paris. Up to 100 sketches depicting women and radical change in late 19th century France, featuring several artists including Renoir, Degas and Manet. (24 March–24 June)
• Portrait of Spain: Masterpieces from the Prado—the first collection of work from Madrid’s esteemed national museum to visit Australia, including more than 100 royal portraits, mythological scenes and religious pictures from three centuries of Spanish history. (21 July–4 November)
• New Zealand artist, Michael Parekowhai, will also be unveiling the result of his $1 million sculpture commission as part of the 7th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (8 December 2012–7 April 2013).
Another arts space (complete with ghosts) perches riverfront a few kilometres from the city in New Farm. Brisbane Powerhouse—a landmark in Art Deco industrial design, the Powerhouse was built between 1926 and 1940, providing electricity for Brisbane’s extensive former tram network until the plant was decommissioned in 1971.
Today a significant portion of the original building (and its switch and gantry crane) alongside graffiti from its dormant years, has been retained. Re-opened in 2000, Brisbane Powerhouse’s industrial grittiness adds to the edgy, eclectic mix of drama, dance, comedy, music and exhibitions it hosts today.
In addition to its theatre and gallery spaces, the site has two restaurants and bars, free events on weekends and is adjacent to the popular New Farm Park. Though its days as an electricity producer are gone, it’s still home to quite a buzz.
Here’s my Brisbane overview, if you missed it. More to come on hotels, dining, Tangalooma and the Brisbane River…