Rising is back and bigger than ever. Taking over central Melbourne for 16 days from June 1, this year’s program brings together 651 artists for 116 events, transforming the city’s iconic landmarks and venues with provocative performances, large-scale installations and unmissable gigs.

And because art and performance are for everyone, this year’s program also features plenty of free events. From photo series that require quiet contemplation to concerts that demand you get up and dance, these are our top picks.

The Blak Infinite and Embassy

Head to Fed Square throughout the festival to experience The Blak Infinite, a collection of First Peoples art and culture. The large-scale commissions, artworks and live events will be anchored by Richard Bell’s installation Embassy, inspired by the tent embassy set up outside Old Parliament House in Canberra in January 1972.

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Federation Square, June 1–16, free.

The Rivers Sing

This communal music project first premiered over six weeks in 2021, as a way of keeping Melburnians company during lockdown. Composed by Yorta Yorta/Yuin composer and soprano Deborah Cheetham, together with artists Byron J Scullin and Thomas Supple, this audio was work played across the Birrarung and Maribyrnong rivers to greet the evening. Returning for two weeks in June, this moving and melodic project invites everyone to listen together in a celebration of place.

Melbourne city river banks, June 1–16, free.

Pay the Rent

Another powerful installation by Richard Bell, Pay the Rent will be displayed outside the State Library in June, its enormous screen showing an increasing number in bright red digits. That climbing figure represents a continuous calculation of the rent owed to First Nations people for use of their lands by the Australian Federal Government since Federation in 1901. The reason for the artwork, according to Bell, is “to show that it’s too expensive to play this colonisation game. Don’t do it, because you’ll never be able to pay for it.”

State Library Victoria, June 1–16, free.

Acid Brass

For nearly two decades, Jeremy Deller’s rebellious, subversive musical concept Acid House on Brass has invigorated audiences across the world, including at the Tate in London and the Louvre in Paris. The performance sees a brass band playing classic acid house anthems, often sending crowds wild. Deller first conceived the concept in 1996, in an attempt to explain British history through the alchemical power of music. The Victorian iteration will bring together musicians from all over, including rotary clubs, RSLs, high schools and retirement homes.

Melbourne Town Hall, State Library Station and Town Hall Station, June 1–16, free.

Melbourne Out Loud

For decades, photographer Rennie Ellis captured the richly diverse people of Melbourne on camera. Delving into different social circles and scenes, he photographed everyone – from footballers at the Grand Final to protesters to superstars like Tina Arena, Mick Jagger and Grace Jones. Now, his life’s work will be on display in a special exhibition called Melbourne Out Loud at the State Library. If you can’t manage to catch this one before the festival ends, don’t worry – it’s showing until January next year.

Victoria Gallery, State Library Victoria, until January 2024, 10am–6pm, free.

Searching for Sanctuary

Asylum seeker Barat Ali Batoor’s tale of escape and survival takes centrestage in this powerful photo essay, also showing at the State Library. After publishing an article in the Washington Post exposing underage sex slavery in his home country of Afghanistan, Batoor became the target of death threats and was forced to flee. What followed was a two-year journey across three continents, which Batoor documented on camera in vivid detail. Go behind the headlines and see this double Walkley Award-winning photojournalist’s inspiring story up close.

State Library Victoria, June 1–16, 10am–6pm, free.

Shouse Communitas

With over a billion streams and counting, Shouse’s sleeper hit Love Tonight propelled the Melbourne electronic music duo to international stardom in 2020. The club anthem, recorded in a Brunswick warehouse, topped international charts and captured European dancefloors as people re-emerged from lockdowns. Now, they’re completing their victory lap back in the city where it all started with Communitas. At this massive communal concert at St Paul’s Cathedral, every attendee is invited to sing, dance and play as part of the band.

St Paul’s Cathedral, June 15, from 4pm, free

Events Under $50

Beyond the free events, there are also ticketed options that won’t break the bank. Highlights include One Single Action, the new show from acclaimed contemporary dance company Chunky Move, with performances from June 13 to 16.

You’ll also want to catch Burnout Paradise at the Malthouse Theatre, with performances from June 13 to 15. A mockery of the work-life balance myth, this experimental show sees four performers trying to accomplish a series of escalating tasks, all while running on treadmills.

And be sure to check out Library Up Late on June 7, with tickets available for only $15. With a stacked line-up of DJs and visual artists, this party will turn up the volume at one of Melbourne’s most famously quiet landmarks – the State Library Victoria.

Broadsheet is a proud media partner of Rising.