By JULIUS DENNIS
Perhaps the best way to judge the success of Parrtjima is the number of smiling children there.
It was my first time at the festival, and what struck me was the joy that it sparked in kids of all backgrounds.
It’s easy to be cynical about the “festival in light,” especially from the winding queues after the shuttle bus, and considering the “world class” tagline thrown around so easily by government figures when discussing the event.
Light dances on the range more like spotlights than targeted art. In the distance, a deep voice speaks of culture while dramatic and highly produced music plays. The line moves quite quickly.
It is also easy to be cynical when thinking of the cost, as this paper has done in the past on an annual schedule.
In past years we have been provided figures for the cost of the festival, which have ranged between $2m and $5m annually.
However this year, a spokesperson for NT Major Events has said the figure is “commercial in confidence”.
The design of the Desert Park lends itself to the installation based nature of Parrjtima. Paths wind and people follow through the collection of glowing art.
The Grounded Culture installation, where works by seven artists from different Central Desert Nations were projected onto the sandy ground of the Desert Park, received the most genuine engagement from what I could see.
While seating for the lightshow on the range had another long line, Grounded Culture was less of a spectacle and could be enjoyed by simply bathing in the light and watching the works snake and swerve around you.
The kids loved it, running around chasing light or simply watching the show go by. Many people sat on the small grandstand next to the show or stood right in it, sipping coffees or eating soft serve choctops.
The light show on the range is what it is: a touch excessive. It was more engaging when seated directly in front of the projection, but it didn’t bring an added perspective to the art offering of the evening.
That said, without it I wonder whether even the locals would attend in the numbers as they seemed to over the weekend. It’s a drawcard if not much else.
The people I attended the festival with, on their first evening in Alice Springs, were impressed and saw value in the way it represented local culture.
The Parrtjima website says that the “light and sound show that will take audiences on a guided journey into the Spirit of Arrernte Kultcha,” but the language being sung throughout the light show was Yankunytjatjara, from the APY lands to the south of here, which comes with its own complications.
We weren’t there more than an hour and accidentally missed the musical performance of the night.
Outside of the installations the talks and performances seem worthwhile and well organised. Overall the evening was enjoyable.
Anecdotally, other visitors seemed to come away with a similar feeling. However, of the two groups of tourists I spoke with on the night and the following day, neither had planned their trip to Alice to witness the Festival in Light. They had simply been here and had a look around.
The day before Parrtjima began, Tourism Minister Natasha Fyles said: “We have already seen impressive booking figures with 12,000 visitors registered and 80% of them from interstate.
“Operators have seen incredible demand for hotel rooms, tourism experiences and car hire during the Parrtjima dates, which is great news for local businesses and the Alice Springs community.”
Indeed the hotels in Alice are jam packed. From a quick ring around to the five biggest hotels, the earlest the News could find a room was on Tuesday at the Diplomat. If you were hoping to stay at the DoubleTree, you will have to wait until April 22.
A statement from Minister Fyles’s office today says that “almost 8000 attendances were recorded for Parrtjima’s opening weekend”.
Tourism Central Australia CEO Danial Rochefort says that a broad effort from tourism bodies and government has led to a situation where there is “unprecedented demand over the next couple of months” to visit Central Australia.
Mr Rochfort says, once again anecdotally, that what he is hearing from visitors is that Parrtjima is driving visitations: “I listen to the comments given to me by visitors in the Information Centre. A lot of them are being attracted to Alice Springs to come directly to Parrtjima.”
He admits that some people will simply find out about the festival when here for a holiday, but says a “majority of them are absolutely here for the event”.
If the figure of 9600 interstate attendees is the case, this will be by far the most successful Parrtjima in that regard, but Partjima attendance statistics need to be taken with a grain of salt.
In 2019, Major Events claimed “attendances” of 25,625 overall, 15,631 locals and 9994 visitors.
But the “average number of nights attended” was 2.1, making the “people” numbers 12,202, 7443 and 4758, respectively.
That’s quoted from a report in this paper from 2019.
In those days, samples of attendees were questioned to establish those statistics.
This year even if the costs stay confidential, the statistics should be clear; everyone entering registered their visit and was scanned in by a worker upon entry.
Still, if people are coming on multiple days, it isn’t a bad thing. Most likely, they are families with children returning to see the lights again after the little ones enjoyed it so much the first time around. Or maybe they are adults, come to enjoy another talk or musical performance.
Either way, there’s nothing wrong with that, in fact surely it is a good thing that people want to attend more than once a year?
What’s wrong is the obsession with setting a world class standard unnecessarily. For all the things that Parrtjima is, it may never be what the government wants it to be.
Last updated 13 April 2021, 11.33 am.