Morse-code messages of love beamed into the sky. Lasers and light installations in the Botanic Gardens. A multi-sensory outdoor Van Gogh exhibition. The Avalanches live in concert with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. An enormous west end block party.

Midwinter festival Illuminate Adelaide debuts this July, presenting a brand-new event concept for the city – merging future technologies with art, music, performance and discussion.

The inaugural program comprises more than 150 installations, performances and events, including 41 world premieres and local and international collaborations. It’ll unfold over 17 nights, taking over Adelaide’s city streets, laneways and buildings with a mix of free and ticketed events.

Highlights include the world premiere of Light Cycles from Canada’s acclaimed Moment Factory, a site-specific work of light projections, lasers and audio encompassing nearly two kilometres of the Botanic Gardens; and City Lights, a free program of kaleidoscopic projections, inflatable installations, augmented reality and interactive exhibits throughout the CBD. (The full City Lights program and map will be released in May.)

As the “luminary artists in residence”, influential electronic duo The Avalanches double as guest selectors for a program within the program, which includes a performance of their acclaimed debut album Since I Left You with the ASO, and a DJ set at a massive closing-weekend block party in the west end. They’ll also appear in conversation with artist and collaborator Jonathan Zawada and Double J’s Zan Rowe; curate an exhibition of works that influenced their latest album, We Will Always Love You; and collect Morse-code messages of hope, love and solidarity from the public that will get beamed into the sky. Submissions for the messages open in May.

Another coup is the Adelaide debut of Van Gogh Alive – the Experience, a multisensory tribute to one of the most famous figures of Western art. The show will bring Van Gogh’s greatest masterpieces to life – using light, sound and fragrance – in a pop-up exhibition on the former Le Cornu lot on O’Connell Street.

At Adelaide Zoo, Light Creatures will feature animal-shaped lanterns and illuminations developed by local artists in collaboration with Kaurna and Narungga man Jack Buckskin, Anangu artist Elizabeth Close, Melbourne-based design company A Blanck Canvas and animation studio Monkeystack. The night-time exhibit will include towering giraffe lanterns, a colourful underwater world and giant panda illuminations, all paired with dramatic lighting effects and haze.

The festival is co-founded by Rachael Azzopardi (Sydney Theatre Company, Sydney Festival) and Lee Cumberlidge (Mona Foma), who have both returned to Adelaide after several years interstate.

“We’ve both worked on big events in different cities and really felt there was a gap here in wintertime,” Azzopardi tells Broadsheet. “And we wanted it to be more than an arts and cultural event – one that embraced the city and had a huge, diverse audience.

The concept has evolved significantly since its early draft. Initially conceived as a two-day festival, it’s now ballooned to 17 days, including three weekends and a complete takeover of the CBD.

The festival will also make use of the city’s rapidly growing science and tech industry. “We’d both noticed the activity of the future technology and creative scene [here],” says Cumberlidge. “Given what’s been happening in Adelaide with Lot Fourteen and [tech] companies like Rising Sun and the VR companies that are here, there’s a bit of a critical mass. So we thought this is something we can tease out and grow … as well as bring in really interesting things that are happening all over the world.”

“And bring them into the public realm, so people can actually see what’s happening behind those doors,” adds Azzopardi. “Covid has brought a lot of people back to Adelaide too.”

“It’s very fertile ground to be working in,” Cumberlidge says.

As a result of these efforts, the festival will present the world premiere of two virtual-reality works: Thin Ice (which retraces Sir Ernest Shackleton’s trek across Antarctica and maps some of the effects of climate change) and Squares Circles (co-created by acclaimed didgeridoo player, composer and multi-instrumentalist William Barton, and drawing upon his country, culture and dreaming), which will unfold in a specially designed dome inside the Queen’s Theatre.

In partnership with the University of Adelaide, Illuminate will also bring back a reimagined Adelaide Festival of Ideas with guest curators Kirstie Parker, a Yuwallarai journalist and activist; Isobel Marshall, 2021 Young Australian of the Year and co-founder of social enterprise Taboo; and John Carty, head of humanities at the South Australian Museum. The Festival of Ideas program will be out in May.

Other program highlights include Kinara, a free curated event exploring music, culture, kin and Country, led by a line-up of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and co-presented by Tandanya and Music SA; Being Different Together, in which children of first-generation migrants and refugees tell stories of diaspora and belonging, as well as their visions for the future; Maad (Music and Art After Dark), a giant west-end block party taking over Lion Arts Factory, Nexus Arts, Ace Open, Jam Factory, Mod, Jive, West Oak Hotel, Peter Rabbit, APY Gallery, Samstag and more; and Club Satellites, a series of late-night club nights at Ancient World, Mary’s Poppin and Sugar.

“Rather than create separate hubs or clubs, we’re working with these three [venues] – just as we’re working with all the west end institutions, just as we’re working with all the restaurants and bars on [food and beverage],” says Cumberlidge. “We’re amplifying what’s happening in the city all year round.”

As part of that brief, the festival will tie together Adelaide’s existing winter events and activations, including Umbrella Festival and Sala (South Australian Living Artists) Festival, by encouraging exploration of the city’s arts, music and tech scenes.

“Illuminate Adelaide will be a key highlight on South Australia’s events calendar, helping entice visitors to the city in what is the usually quieter winter period,” says Events South Australia executive director Hitaf Rasheed. “For the events and festivals sector – which has been hit hard, with Covid-19 causing the postponement or cancellation of so many events – the news of a major wintertime festival can help bring hope to this sector as they start to plan ahead.”

Illuminate Adelaide runs from July 16 to August 1. For the full list of highlights visit The full program will be released in May.