I arrived in Melbourne four years ago with one defining question: ‘What do you give the city that’s got everything?’

Once the Board had confirmed that an iTunes voucher wasn’t going to cut it, I sat with everyone I could, from Kulin Elders to artistic visionaries, from festival tragics to city legends, to begin the dark art of defining the grand vision from which to summon a set of festivals.

‘Only connect!’ said E.M. Forster in Howards End, ‘Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted.’

For 35 years the Melbourne International Arts Festival has looked for new and unexpected ways to connect Melbourne with the rest of the world, to connect a complex past with the emerging future, and to connect
the passion of artists with the prose of society.

These three imperatives are as alive today as ever, but a fourth has emerged: to allow us all to connect with each other, in new spaces and contexts.

In a world in which digital disruption has become business as usual, in which we think of ‘connecting’ in terms of how soon we can politely ask someone for their Wi-Fi password, the role of this festival is to create the most astonishing individual and group experiences both digital and analogue, with artists as the navigators and us, the audiences, as the explorers.

This year’s Festival has been designed to be sharply focused, to create energy and urgency. Following the build-up of pressure and tension, we want the Festival to be the moment of lightning: charged by the
friction of ideas, engagement and exploration, harnessed in the aftermath to create energy, debate and inspiration.

We start where we should always start, with the first words being spoken by the First Peoples of this land, the Eastern Kulin Nation, sharing some of the oldest culture on earth and welcoming us onto their land.

From there we each follow our own paths around the city and around the world, experiencing the solitary and the communal, the epic and the intimate, magic and truth. Experiences selected to be irresistible in this
already well-served city, to be constantly surprising and fresh, to give you what you want but not what you expect.

And so please find enclosed my final Melbourne International Arts Festival. I am deeply proud of the incredible moments we have shared over the past few years and am equally excited about the ones that lie ahead.

Festivals are fuelled by hope, one of the few infinitely renewable resources, and are equally audacious. In this year’s Festival I hope we will all find endless opportunities to truly connect. 

The Wi-Fi password is Melbf@st1, by the way.

Jonathan Holloway