October 8th, 2007 5:33 pm | by Stephen Marc Beaudoin News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

Edmunds Outta Melbourne in 2008; Future Plans TBA


So whatever happened to PICA and T:BA festival founder Kristy Edmunds? Didn't she decamp to Australia for a high-profile festival directorship or something?

She did.

And according to news reports and sources in Australia, her tenure as artistic director of the Melbourne International Arts Festival has created Festival slumps in box office receipts and sponsorships. And according to interviews with Australian media, her plans after leaving the Melbourne Fest in late 2008 when the festival wraps up aren't yet clear.

That is, coincidentally, around the same time when PICA's Guest Artistic Director Mark Russell will be concluding his third and final Time-Based Art Festival for PICA, and the possibility that Edmunds might return to Portland and become involved again with the institution she helped to found is tantalizing, though PICA has yet to announce its new post-Russell artistic leadership model or plans.

Edmunds' third Melbourne Festival opens this Thursday, Oct. 11, and features events including a residency with acclaimed American choreographer Merce Cunningham, a $250-per-ticket art party called “The Cloud Party,” and kids' entertainer Dan Zanes, among others.

In an article by Robin Usher published in a Melbourne daily publication called The Age in November 2006, Edmunds' tenure was laid out thusly:
No Melbourne director has ever served for more than three years. An extension for Edmunds would add to the debate about the justification for the festival's relatively low box-office targets of $1 million.

"Social sectors that include the arts are different from business which measures output as a comparison of money in and money out," [Festival Chairwoman Carol Schwartz] says. "Kristy is seen as innovative and has positioned Melbourne in the international arena as a centre for contemporary arts."

She says the internationally acclaimed director Robert Wilson was impressed with this year's [the 2006] program, and last year the composer, Philip Glass, hailed Edmunds as the best festival director to come out of the US.

But the emphasis on innovation has resulted in the festival having one of the lowest box-office returns in the country.

It is hard to know how a Melbourne festival could ever not be considered a success if a return of $1 million is regarded as satisfactory from an investment of about $7 million.

Perth, which is less than one-third the size of Melbourne, had a return of $2.4 million this year [on its arts festival]. But the sharpest difference is with Sydney, which had a record box office of $4.2 million last summer. While the Melbourne festival raises about $1.5 million in sponsorship, Sydney scored a whopping $4.1 million.

This means that Sydney is $5.8 million better off, offsetting the difference of state grants ($3.3 million compared to Melbourne festival's $5.5 million).

Edmunds did eventually win a coveted fourth year extension to her contract, which now ends in 2008. That extension did not sit well with several artists and arts administrators, including one performing arts company director who, on condition of anonymity, chided Edmunds for “1970's and 80's avant-garde schlock” and said the director could do better with reaching out to Melbourne-based artists.

Other arts administrators in Australia were less interested in speaking about Edmunds' leadership.

Sarah Wilson, publicity manager for the competing Sydney Arts Festival, responded to emailed questions regarding Edmunds and her tenure at MIAF with the following statement:
“Sydney Festival enjoys a close relationship with Melbourne Festival. The two festivals are part of a very small group of annual festivals in Australia, often working closely together on co-presentations…With less than week til their opening, this is a very exciting time for Melbourne Festival. As always, we wish them the very best.”

Wilson declined any comment about Edmunds specifically, including any opportunity to praise Edmunds' stint in Melbourne.

[photo above: PICA founder Kristy Edmunds, courtesy of The Age]
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