National arts leaders Neil Armfield and Rachel Healy have been announced as the new co-artistic directors of the Adelaide Festival from 2017 in what Arts Minister Jack Snelling describes as a coup for the city.
The pair will take over from current director David Sefton, who delivers his fourth and final Festival program next year.
Armfield’s extensive career across film, opera and theatre includes 17 years as artistic director of Sydney’s highly regarded Belvoir Street Theatre and a period early in his career as associate director with the State Theatre Company of South Australia. His most recent directing success was Opera Australia’s production of Ring Cycle, which won five 2014 Helpmann Awards.
Adelaide-born Healy helped drive the recent review of Sydney’s live music scene while working as the city’s executive manager of culture, and has held roles at the Sydney Opera House, State Theatre Company and Australian Ballet, as well as working alongside Armfield at Belvoir Street.
“It is a coup for Adelaide to have secured two of the most highly regarded arts leaders in Australia who I have no doubt will curate a series of rich and unique festival programs,” Minister Snelling said.
“Rachel was born in Adelaide and Neil has worked in the Adelaide arts scene as well, so it’s a homecoming of sorts.”
Healy said that the theatre performances she saw growing up in Adelaide shaped her life in many ways, “not least of which has been through a career dedicated to supporting artists and enlarging the cultural capital of cities”.
“Iconic cultural events like the Adelaide Festival prove the catalytic impact the arts can have on the social, economic and intellectual confidence of a generation.”
Armfield said his artistic practice had also been influenced by memories of great companies he had seen at the Festival.
“Adelaide is the perfect city for this cultural feast and its Festival remains among the finest in the world.”
It will be the first time two people have shared the artistic director role, with the appointments made following a national and international search by recruitment company Odgers Berndtson Executive Search.
Armfield and Healy will serve a three-year term and begin planning immediately for the 2017 Festival.
David Sefton, who is originally from Liverpool and founded of the Meltdown alternative music festival in London, was appointed as artistic director for three years from 2013 but had his tenure extended by a year to 2016. His final program will be announced in October this year.
Sefton oversaw the transition from a biennial to an annual Adelaide Festival and has gained a reputation as a risk-taker, increasing the contemporary music component of the program and launching the Unsound series of experimental electronic artists in an effort to broaden the event’s audience base.
The 2015 Festival achieved the highest attendance numbers in five years, with 42 music, theatre, dance and visual arts events, including the free digital art exhibition Blinc.
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