For those who came overwhelmed and weary from the weekend before’s White Night event in the Melbourne CBD, Reservoir’s inaugural arts festival offered some welcome respite. There were no crowds to fight your way through, no bewildering array of venues and performances to choose from and no light and laser spectacles to over-excite and befuddle the hapless punter.
The lack of anything resembling a street party left some who turned up nonplussed, and not everyone hung around to discover the handful of street and shop-front installations or decipher the scattered tree trunk decorations which encoded information about the suburb’s demographics.
Those who did were rewarded with a brush with the real, varied community of the place and a reminder of the individual effort, gaffer tape and string that goes into getting these sorts of events off the ground.
There was a sense of beginnings and of camaraderie in the small but crowded “pop-up bar” at the civic centre on Saturday night, which around 150 people had squeezed into for a comedy night. MC Nelly Thomas cracked jokes about isolation and gentrification, and apologised to the single audience member who identified as “original local” for her part in raising rates and real estate prices.
Comedian Kate McLennan told the crowd it was great that residents were interacting with the festival street art. The day before she’d seen a couple of blokes settle into the lounge suite installation on the busy corner of Spring and Edwardes streets to share a bottle of wine. ‘At nine o’clock in the morning!’
Meanwhile, out the back in the car park, 20-30 people were watching Fritz Lang’s Metropolis projected onto a besser block wall. And there had been a good turnout the night before for a screening of Citizen Kane.
Despite confusion about what was going on and where it was happening—many residents were unaware that an arts festival, piggybacking on the popular annual kite festival, was taking place —organisers were “incredibly impressed” with public support for the festival, director Craig Rogers said, and attendance at scheduled events was better than expected.
According to Rogers it’s the right time for a festival in Reservoir, which he says is changing rapidly.
“Even the people who may not have known about the festival have been coming in, and are grateful for something to be happening in the area … People really haven’t been so concerned with what’s happening; it’s more about just the idea that something is starting to happen here.”
Aside from comedy and cinema, what was happening, in small doses, over the three days was bands, burlesque, craft activities, performance and a smattering of visual art. A short walking tour took in the pieces of the commissioned art project ‘Lost in Translation’– a sort of mixed-medium game of Chinese whispers that started as a story about writer Stella Glorie’s struggle to adjust to life in Reservoir and ended as a diorama in a suitcase depicting a woman on a sea voyage.
A theme of journeys and “other places”, organisers felt, resonated with both the original immigrant population of Reservoir and the new wave of residents who’ve headed north from more urbane Melbourne suburbs. The “Compass Club” bar was festooned with suitcases, maps and boats, while stories about actual journeys could be heard and comparisons with other places made in a tent set up by the Darebin Overseas Students Association to offer passersby “a conversation”.
Whether the trees tell the story of Reservoir’s rapidly changing demographics at a True North festival in years to come remains to be seen. In 2013, despite the excitement of the closing night strip show it seemed likely everyone would be home in time to get a good night’s sleep.