Kristy Edmunds hasn’t been getting a great press as she prepares to present her second festival in the city that cringingly calls itself the nation’s cultural capital.
The Melbourne International Arts Festival kicks off tonight amid concern that box-office takings could be down on previous years thanks to Edmunds’ stridently non-mainstream programming, which her critics say is too far removed from “traditional mix”.

The Australian today reported rumours of slow ticket sales and cast doubt on whether the festival would meet its $1 million box-office target. It’s a ridiculously low target in any case, considering that the festival has a total budget in excess of $8 million, with the vast bulk of the money coming from the State Government, City Council, corporate sponsors and private donors.

There are two reasons for the relatively low box office. Firstly, Edmunds is unapologetic about not chasing bums on seats for the sake of it, believing that a festival should include work that local audiences wouldn’t be able to see at other times of the year.

As she told The Age earlier this year, “I don’t do mainstream”. Secondly, given that the festival enjoys such a huge public subsidy, Edmunds believes in programming a lot of events that are either free or moderately priced. Edmunds is scheduled to do one more festival after this one, and there is talk (that’s alarmed some people) that her contract could be extended beyond next year.

Peter Fray

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