Dark Mofo, Tasmania’s premier cultural and tourism event is back but it is different this year in comparison to the DarkMofos of the past. A number of significant changes have taken place since the festival’s beginning; the most obvious to us all is the COVID 19 Pandemic, which has affected us most dramatically in the way we are able to live our lives, most noticeably our freedom of movement.

It’s very clear that the festival organisers have spent about 18 months since the last iteration of the festival reassessing the meaning of Dark Mofo, after the festival has been commercialised. Thankfully, they seem to have decided to bring the festival back to its roots. Carmichael, Dark MoFo Creative Director admits it has become too big. The 2019 festival was a $7 million event and a chaotic logistic nightmare.

The 2021 Dark Mofo Festival has been undertaken without sponsorship for the first time in a long time, and without the financial support of the Hobart City Council. This is a most interesting development given local governments history of sponsorship of other events like “The Taste Of Tasmania”. Biting the hand that feeds you is one interpretation of this short sighted development from Local Government.

Carmichael is on record saying they have been wracking brains for almost a year trying to understand our position in a transformed world. Last year we lost our sense of purpose overnight and experience seems to have had a huge impact on this year’s festival program. Let’s not forget the noise surrounding one of the controversies in the lead up to this years Festival, the Spanish artist Santiago Sierra’s work, Union Flag, soaked in blood from the First Nation people. The public response to the controversy was just another issue that is part of the journey of the Dark Mofo Festival in 2021 and beyond.

Hobart City Council’s financial support has definitely affected the scope and scale of the event, shortened to five nights. Their future is a bit uncertain, the organisers believe but they are optimistic that there will be enough money to drive the festival into 2022 and beyond.

I believe we have some visual clues to a future format from this years event scattered through the Hobart’s CBD with a focus on Downtown. As a seasoned Mona/MoFo tragic, I went expecting change. what I found was not entirely unexpected, the CBD venues had been cleverly used to provide a visual environment bathed in colour and painted by light. The effect was a visual experience and comfortable in a strange sort of way, like walking inside a painting where all the patrons were bit players in something larger.

There were some things that were the same but different, like the Winter Feast at Salamanca’s Princes Wharf No 1. This has always been popular among visitors for a taste of the best Tasmanian food and wine, or perhaps something from the pagan grill for the carnivore, eaten along side fire pits spread about an an enclosed area amongst a sea of smoke and light.

Carmichael’s use of venues, light and music to guide visitors from site to site is a clever response to challenging times. His concept may be considered from both a financial point of view in terms of sponsorship and what can be done when you are forced to reinvent a format that has been such a success and been so well supported by the community.

In 2019 the Festival funnelled 100,000 visitors through various sites. David Walsh, the owner of Mona, has spent an estimated $14 million on Mona Festivals since 2009. No one in Tasmania these days questions David Walsh’s ability to create cultural experiences that have made Hobart one of the most important contemporary art destinations in the country.

At this point the organisers have a chance to re-assess the format based on the challenges ahead, while examining the positives and negatives, as well as the current issues around festival sponsorship from local sources. Would Walsh and Carmichael ever move the Festival off site to a favourable area framed around a palatable sponsorship deal? This is the question that needs an answer and one Hobart City Council should contemplate.

Mike Briggs, Hobart Dark Mofo, 20 June 2021

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