With more than 800,000 attendees in 2013 (almost five times more than in 2009), Vivid Sydney is “almost like 18 New Years Eves in a row – but without the alcohol,” says creative director Ignatius Jones.

In spite of its already enormous growth, the festival, underwritten by Destination NSW, plans to focus even more this year on the “democratic” value of what is largely a free event, except some Vivid Ideas and Music events, spanning 18 days. “Everyone, rich or poor, gets the same chance to see, well, [almost] everything,” says Jones.

This year, Sydney ferries covered in LED lights controlled by navigational software will light up the harbour en route and Martin Place will host an interactive sculpture that will map participants’ likenesses to its own face. The Sydney Harbour Bridge will also be converted into the “world's largest interactive artwork”, according to Jones.

The biggest draw card (again) this year will be the Lighting of the Sails at the Sydney Opera House, created by 59 Productions – the same studio that worked on the opening ceremony of the London Olympics.

The 2014 music program features Boston rockers Pixies, a collaboration between the Australian Chamber Orchestra and ARIA-winning, electronic duo The Presets and a performance by veteran Italian record producer and DJ, Giorgio Moroder.

This year Carriageworks in Redfern will also be in on the act. It will host Modulations – a three-day program that combines music art and design – as part of the Vivid Sydney program, headlined by UK legends Pet Shop Boys.

For its ‘Ideas’ program – a series of public talks, workshops and debates – Vivid 2014 will, as usual, present keynote talks from luminaries in creative industries. Artist and urban designer Candy Chang, who is well known for creating artworks in public spaces that bring communities together will speak, as will Sara Critchfield, editorial director of Upworthy – the rapidly growing viral media company.

Vivid Sydney opens on May 23 across locations around Circular Quay and the CBD.