New Mardi Gras (NMG) released news on significant changes to the 2010 festival (interestingly initially embargoed allowing their media partner to release the news as an exclusive). As well as The Theme for the Festival ‘Mardi Gras’ History of the World’ which seems to be a follow on from Nations United theme from 2009. It will be honouring historic events and persons as well as the usual fun reworking of reality into a pinker hue.
The 2010 Festival runs for 2 weeks only (Sunday 21st Feb to Sat 6th March) Starting with Fair day and Launch at Victoria Park (following the success this year) followed by the parade on the following Saturday (27th) with some as yet undisclosed post parade event ( details to be released later in the year).
The next day they corner the recovery market with Harbour Party at Mrs Macquarie's Point (Adjacent to the Botanic Gardens) , with the Mardi Gras party is on the following Saturday.
Note that the familiar Oxford/Flinders street route for the parade is being retained. However significantly missing from their press release is mention of the location of the party. All other significant events have a location noted.
Is this what was in the air a few months ago when there was discussion of moving the party or the parade to the Homebush Olympic site ? Of course it would be ridiculous to move the parade to homebush and having the party there and the parade on the same night would be impractical. Are new Mardi Gras brave (foolhardly?) enough to move to Homebush and risk losing crowds and our first preference deal with the Fox Studio's site? Stay tuned & don't plan your short walk to Centennial park just yet.
The idea behind the festival changes announced so far is to condense events into a 2 week period and increase the "Mardi Gras buzz" , with the hope that people will take holidays over this period , & with day and night events being planned for this period it will be a good time to be in Sydney and promises much excitement!
The impact on interstate visitors will probably be the most interesting - if they want to do both parade and party this means staying in Sydney for over a week with associated accommodation costs, or 2 return flights. Or just pick one event & miss the other. This begs the question - was pressure put on New Mardi Gras by Events NSW to try and increase visitor numbers and spend over the period, and how will the economic downturn factor effect the festival with this change?
International guests may be less impacted as they would usually stay longer than a weekend and this arrangement may suit them better with a less exhausting last weekend. Some travel juggling will have to occur - possibly with visitors arriving for parade & Harbour, heading interstate for the week and then back for the party weekend.
Whether this will make any difference to the current situation where many visitors arrive a few days before the parade & party weekend then head interstate after this remains to be seen. Hopefully book-ending will encourage more people to stay in town.
An additional issue is that Universities will all be well and truly back by the time the party occurs - this may equate to drops in the younger crowd and the recoveries the next day may have some issues. Although of course they may just go to the party on the Saturday and skip recoveries - another bonus for Mardi Gras.
Anna McInerney, NMG CEO refers to other events around the world that have many parties over their festival period. However one of these, Rio, has around 500,000 international visitors, we get a fraction of this (*3,633 in 1998 when Mardi Gras was at its peak). We should also not forget the lessons of the Gay Games - multiple parties over that period that were relied on for part of the event funding & the Games ended up significantly in the red. Care must me taken not to repeat those mistakes and overestimate the crowds and spend.
NMG quote extensive research and the online survey to support trying new things and experimenting with the format. The questions at the end of the Survey period did not include a question about splitting the parade and party, although anecdotal evidence suggested that this was asked earlier. Focus groups have been utilised as well so maybe they decided a change is as good as a holiday & refreshing the festival with a big change was required.
David Imrie discusses the issue of Parade participants not having energy for the party afterwards after a full day on their feet; and the party goers not going to parade as they are getting ready for party. This is definitely true, however many people will also do both; and there is the risk that many party participants will still not go to parade due to the crowds that are already there.
Mardi Gras itself does not get income from the parade, but this may assist the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation (BGF) if they are still running the parade seating. Was this change on the wind when NMG were planning to take this away from BGF this year? It would definitely be in NMG best interests to be collecting funds from an expended parade crowd - also allowing them to provide more funding to charities of course. We would hope that there would be room for both BGF and NMG - with an increased crowd the opportunity could be taken to provide more secure seating areas to entice the missing GLBTI crowds.
Post parade raised more issues though with all the venues are packed even with the MG party following, and Oxford st is full of aggressive drunks. Will this leave the parade participants easy pickings to violence? The Post parade event will have to be well planned and secure and keep in mind the safety of our community as its primary goal.
The Costume pageant will presumably not be at the MG party, but maybe they will incorporate this into the post parade event.
Now before we all get up in arms, note that David Imrie says that this is the plan for 2010 - as they want to try something different each year to maintain Mardi Gras momentum. If it's not the success they hope it's not set in stone forever.
The hope is that by Spreading events over the full 2 weeks will maintain a "Mardi Gras buzz" . Hopefully this is what happens instead of a dilution of the buzz. Several years ago there was definitely a big buzz from Harbour Party weekend through to the Flinders lane recoverie. If this can be restored it can only bode well for the whole community.
*Overseas Visitors to NSW: Present trends and Future possibilities - John Wilkinson NSW Govt Briefing paper no 8/99