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Sunday, June 20, 2021

Enjoying Enlighten in a vaster, emptier space

The Enlighten Festival, beginning on Friday night, marks the first return of a major ACT festival since COVID-19 began. Seventeen days of culture and creativity for autumn, the festival runs in the Parliamentary Triangle until 14 March. But this year, numbers will be restricted to remain COVID-safe.

“Ironically,” Chief Minister Andrew Barr said, “one of the biggest challenges in staging the event in the past has been the sheer vastness of the space, and needing to fill it to create a sense of intimacy, activity, and buzz – because otherwise it can be a very long traipse between the different architectural projections. That, of course, is a major benefit in COVID, because there’s all this space!”

The festival takes its name from the Enlighten Illuminations, when iconic Canberra buildings like Parliament House, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Library, and Questacon are lit up after dark. Numbers have been capped at 8,000 people per day, said Ross Triffitt, executive branch manager of Events ACT.

Similarly, the BentSpoke beer garden and the Enlighten Alley will operate for four sessions of two hours 15 minutes each day, with a maximum capacity of 2,000 people at each session.

The precincts will be cleaned between each session. Start times will be staggered to manage crowd congestions, while pedestrian traffic in certain potential choke points will be one way only during peak times, Mr Triffitt said.

The Lights! Canberra! Action! film screening at Stage 88 on 5 March; the Symphony in the Park on 7 March; and the Canberra Day Breakfast at Balloons on 8 March have also been limited to 2,000 people.

So has the Canberra Balloon Spectacular, relocated to the Patrick White Lawns to be more separate from the festival’s main precinct and the illuminations.

The Night Noodle Markets will not go ahead this year; Mr Triffitt expected that would lower attendance and alleviate congestion.

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The festival’s events will follow the ACT Government’s COVID-safe protocols. All ticketed events require free registration for contact tracing, Mr Triffitt said. The public can attend the Illuminations (architectural projections) without registering, but must sign in with the Check In CBR app.

He said extra security, cleaning staff, and COVID-safe marshals will be in place to manage physical distancing and increased hygiene measures during the event.

The Chief Minister said the Enlighten Festival had a bigger space and a lower population density than the Multicultural Festival (“about as jam-packed as you ever get at an event in Canberra”).

“Throughout the history of Enlighten – an event that we started more than a decade ago – the biggest challenge has been trying to get enough critical mass to make it work,” Mr Barr said.

“This time around, it will be about enjoying things with a lot of space around you.”

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