A decade ago, Sydney was a ghost town in winter with locals staying home and tourists shying away from the city in the off-season. In 2009, however, Destination NSW decided to add some color to the drab winter nights with Vivid Sydney, a spectacular light festival.

Ignatius Jones, Vivid's creative director for the past eight years, has helped create Australia's most celebrated winter fest, the biggest event of its kind on the planet. This year at Vivid Sydney 2018, award-winning Australian artist Jonathan Zawada will present an installation on the Opera House. He has titled his piece, Metamathemagical, combining kinetic digital sculptures with metaphysical themes and quintessential Australian motifs.


The festival, which takes place from May 25 to June 16, features LIGHT, which includes displays and installations, LIVE, which showcases musical performances, and IDEAS, which hosts roundtable discussions. Last year, over 2.33 million people visited the festival, adding A$143 million to the local economy.

"It takes in a lot more than art. It's where art meets technology and changes our lives... It's very forward-thinking -- this is what arts festivals will look like in the future," Jones says. "One gelato shop told us they sold more gelato over the 23 days of Vivid than they did over the entire three months of summer! There are so many people attending ... we had the police come to us last year and jokingly say, 'Next time, can you make it less fabulous!'"

Not likely. Vivid 2018 will include a record-breaking 90 light installations, designed by 100 artists, 120 musical performances and 260 guest speakers.

The hub of the festival is Circular Quay, home to the Customs House building. On its facade, images of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, two characters created by Australian author May Gibbs over a century ago, will be displayed. Their adventures will be narrated by Sydney actor Noni Hazlehurst.

The Museum of Contemporary Art's exterior will feature Virtual Vibration by Jonny Niesche, a spellbinding display of colors accompanied by music from Mark Pritchard, which "brings together cheerful dissonance of psychedelia with the formal concerns of high modernism."

Most light installations at Vivid are meant to be interactive, encouraging visitors to participate. For example, artist Iain Reed's Skylark’s display, which stretches from the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Circular Quay to remote areas of Sydney Harbour, involves choreographing a laser and light sky show.

Also, the boats cruising the harbor will feature LED lights that coordinate to display the entire color spectrum, and at the top of Harbour Bridge, a LED floor will change colors while people dance. The Light Walk will also be interactive.

"With the Light Walk, which is close to four kilometers of installations, we've created the largest outdoor gallery ever. We're taking art off the walls and putting it on the streets where people can touch it and feel it and interact," Jones says.

Other displays include, larger-than-life animal sculptures at the Taronga Zoo, a pop-up Light Market in Chatswood, an illuminated promenade in Barangaroo, a light-and-laser show in Darling Harbour, and a projection of David Attenborough's Blue Planet II on the rooftop of the Australian National Maritime Museum.

Musical performances will include St. Vincent at the Carriageworks, the Curve Ball, featuring artists such as Alison Wonderland, Vera Blue, Poloshirt, Crooked Colours and Haiku Hands, and four Solange shows at the Opera House with Mazzy Star, Ice Cube, Cat Power and Dreams, featuring ex-Silverchair frontman Daniel Johns and Luke Steele.

Also, at the Sydney Town Hall, the Heaps Gay Qween's Ball will host a costume party with DJs and drag queens, as well as Orange Is The New Black star Lea Delaria, who will perform a musical comedy and jazz show at the City Recital Hall.

RELATED NEWS: Sleep Under The Northern Lights In Your Own Mini-Planet At This Planetarium

Finally, Vivid Ideas will gather intellectuals, innovators and artists for a series of talks, workshops and debates, as well as a conversation with Titanic director James Cameron. Also, Dare Jennings, the founder of Mambo clothing, Phantom records and Deus Ex Machina, will discuss how to start a business, and Jane McGonigal, a game designer, will explain how to use mobile and digital technology to encourage positive collaboration. For more information, visit www.vividsydney.com.