Millions of dollars in tourism revenue in the dead of Tasmania’s winter is not enough to warm the heart of Hobart’s Lord Mayor, who wants to snuff out the flame of the city’s annual winter festival, Dark Mofo.
Dark Mofo is quickly becoming one of Australia’s leading cultural events with international and national artists celebrating the winter solstice through occult, century-old winter rituals and sometimes sinister modern art.
But Hobart Mayor Ron Christie has flagged cutting funding to Dark Mofo’s popular Winter Feast event, with the council’s annual $258,000 sponsorship ending this year and up for review.
The festival’s director Leigh Carmichael said an economic report in 2015 found the festival generates around $50 million, but the festival’s ongoing popularity is expected to see that figure grow.
“They say the mark of a good city is how well you look after your citizens, and I think the citizens have expressed their concerns about different aspects of Dark Mofo and which way it’s going culturally,” Mr Christie said.
“Hobart is a community city, and it’s Hobart, not Mobart.”
Destination Southern Tasmania chief executive Alex Heroys told The New Daily the City of Hobart had supported the festival at all levels, and the comments made by the Lord Mayor had “not gone down well with the community”.
He pointed to the council allowing controversial performance artist Mike Parr to bury himself below Hobart’s busiest street – a sign of the council and community’s overwhelming support of the winter festival.
“There’s only one voice that doesn’t support it, and it seems to be him,” Mr Heroys said about the Lord Mayor.
The brainchild of the winter festival, art collector, professional gambler and founder of Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art, David Walsh, has defended the event and its darker themes.
Mr Walsh told Hobart’s newspaper, The Mercury, Dark Mofo could “become tame” and “die in three years” if curators yielded to the concerns of critics.
He acknowledged that while the festival was “not a family festival”, it was a festival about “resisting the centre”.
“We are not driven by a need to shock, but a need to test the merit of the status quo,” Mr Walsh told the newspaper.
“The measure of this festival is not its repeated successes but its willingness to risk honourable failure. We can’t back off, because we care too much.”
The festival’s program offers special exhibitions at the MONA gallery, but also transforms the city into a dark wonderland, inviting revellers to feast all of Tasmania along the Salamanca waterfront, take a nude solstice dip in the River Derwent and party in transformed historical buildings.
Controversial art has dominated the program since the festival’s inception. This year, large, red inverted crosses, known as the Cross of Saint Peter, mounted along the waterfront have offended the Christian community.
Last year, Austrian artist Hermann Nitsch’s artwork involving the slaughter of a bull, with blood-covered, fighting actors prompting animal rights groups to protest against slaughter in the name of art.
Mr Christie told Hobart’s newspaper, The Mercury, “the line had been crossed, based on feedback” he’d been getting following the Australian Christian Lobby in Brisbane sending an online petition calling on glowing inverted crosses dotted around Hobart’s CBD to be removed.
Mr Christie has also expressed his distaste towards performance artist Mike Parr, who buried himself under the bitumen of a busy Hobart road for this year’s winter festival.
“This is what Dark Mofo is all about. They bring enormous tourism and dollars into our city and we thank them for that,” Mr Christie told ABC Radio Hobart.
“But when it comes to this I thought ‘no, not appropriate. Not in this location’. There are plenty of other locations,” he said.