Wed 26th May, 2021 – Sun 6th June, 2021
Various locations
White Night and Melbourne International Arts Festival have been replaced by a single new festival of impressive weight. Expect large-scale public installations, kooky private experiences, live gigs curated by Meredith’s Woody McDonald and plenty of eating and drinking in winter.

Rising promises to transform and invigorate Melbourne on a scale never before seen, and stake its claim as “Asia Pacific’s pre-eminent cultural festival”.

The inaugural program comprises 133 events and works by 750 Victorian artists. It’ll take over rivers, the sky, streets, laneways, important building and a rooftop car park, unfolding over 12 nights across five main precincts, with a mix of free and ticketed events.

The Birrarung precinct encompasses various parts of the Yarra and its banks. Flow State, by Sarah Retallick and Amanda Roff, is an experiential “sonic bathing” piece on Herring Island. The island has been installed with several large baths for participants to bathe in naked, with underwater speakers inside.

Alongside Birrarung Marr is Wandering Stars, a 200-metre-long eel sculpture adorned with lanterns created by various grassroots organisations. In Birrarung Marr itself, informal kitchens will be grilling ’roo, emu and other native meats over open flames.

Throughout the festival, The Rivers Sing will cruise the waterways at dawn and dusk, playing harmonised voices of First Nations and local artists. It’s a collaboration between soprano Deborah Cheetham AO, and artists Byron J Scullin and Thomas Supple.

In Chinatown, you’ll find Lonsdale Street’s Golden Square car park, which is being converted into a rooftop art gallery and cocktail bar, with the ever-creative Fancy Free crew shaking and stirring drinks.

Artist Reko Rennie is presenting his signature camouflage across the floor and a new video work. A total of nine people are presenting work at Golden Square, covering sculpture, performance and more.

Nearby, artist Stuart Ringholt presents Club Purple, a non-sexual, alcohol-free, over-18s naked disco under a mirror ball and by a jukebox loaded with 5000 songs.

The Nightline, kicked off last year with a dedicated late-night hotline that insomniac Melburnians could call to leave anonymous messages. Those messages have been collated for a “mysterious underground listening club”.

Renowned visual artist Atong Atem, meanwhile, is presenting Banksia, a free-to-view projection scored by Melbourne composer Petra Salsjö, that deals with the little-known history of early African settlers in Australia.

Over at the Arts District, Sidney Myer Music Bowl will be transformed into a sprawling bamboo forest titled The Wilds with mirrored illusions, architectural tunnels and nooks, large sculptures, video art, food and more. The stage is becoming an ice-skating rink, with English artist Luke Jerram’s enormous scale model of the moon suspended above.

Over the road, at the Arts Centre, Back to Back Theatre will restage two of its most notable works, Food Court and the bizzaro Ganesh Versus the Third Reich, while Small Metal Objects will be performed at Queensbridge Square.

At Hamer Hall, Bunggul will see Dr Gurrumul Yunupingu’s posthumously released album, Djarimirri (Child of the Rainbow) celebrated by Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Yolngu dancers and songmen. Outside, artists Maree Clarke and Mitch Mahoney’s Ancestral Memory, a digital projection of the spirit eel, will swim across the building’s facade.

Midtown is Rising’s main hub for music, food and drink, with takeovers at Melbourne Town Hall, Max Watts, The Capitol Theatre and The Comedy Theatre.

Melbourne Town Hall will become Mess Hall for four nights, with a flagship four-course banquet, The Dinner Party. Dave Verheul (Embla, Lesa), Andreas Papadakis (Tipo 00, Osteria Ilaria), Rosheen Kaul (Etta) and Kay-Lene Tan (Coda, Tonka) have all signed on to present a course, the beginning of which will be heralded by the building’s awe-inspiring, 147-pipe organ.

Also at Mess Hall, chef and author Tony Tan will present Late-Night Yum Cha with help from four of Melbourne’s best Chinese restaurants. It’ll be a chance to try all their best dishes in one place.

Mess Hall’s third big event is the revival of Tjanabi, N’arweet Dr Carolyn Briggs AM’s former restaurant at Federation Square. Her multi-course dinner will showcase First Nations food culture, using ancient techniques and flavours from Melbourne and surrounds.

Out front, on Swanston Street, the cleverly named Stock Exchange will pour affordable soups, stocks and broths for those wandering down the strip, for the duration of the entire festival.

Rising’s music curator, Woody McDonald (Golden Plains, Meredith), meanwhile, has brought together an eclectic program that includes avant-garde jazz trio The Necks, Laughing Clowns and Saints co-founder and guitarist Ed Kuepper, Kiwi folk singer Marlon Williams, indie darling Julia Jacklin, Sydney rapper Barkaa and house producers Sleep D.

The biggest story in Midtown might be the return of Patricia Piccinini and Flinders Street Station Ballroom. The Australian artist is taking over the abandoned space (and 15 attached rooms) for what’s being billed as her first major Melbourne project in nearly two decades. A Miracle Constantly Repeated will combine sculpture, video, light and sound, bringing the French Renaissance-style ballroom to life like never before.

Beyond the four main precincts are innumerable exciting projects at Trades Hall, North Melbourne’s Arts House, Newport’s Substation, and other sites, stretching as far afield as Dromana.

Around the city, six new Art Trams designed by First Nations artists will act as moving canvases, while floating high above, Museo Aero Solar, a hot-air balloon made from 400 upcycled plastic bags, will encourage us to reflect on climate change and sustainability.

At a secret inner-city location, Chunky Move will present Yung Lung, a hybrid dance party and dance performance. It’ll see seven dancers navigate a huge Mount Rushmore-like sculpture built by Callum Morton, while frenetic video art from director Kris Moyes will dominate the backdrop. Italian-Australian techno producer Chiara Kickdrum has written an original score.

This., a wild, unclassifiable production by internationally renowned theatre-writer David Woods, will premiere at The Substation across three floors as a direct response to the infuriating events of last year and involves lots of mud, we’re told.

Head to Dromana for Deep Throat Drive-In, a project by queer cinematographer Sandi Sissel and proven-party throwers Willoh S Weiland and James Brennan (the duo behind Mona Foma’s infamous Faux Mo parties). The queer, feminist and erotic program celebrates classic cinema, while at the same time exposing its misogyny.

Tickets are on sale now. More information here.