Meet Upstream Festival, the arts and culture extravaganza bringing two cities together
29.01.2020

Meet Upstream Festival, the arts and culture extravaganza bringing two cities together

Photo by Genius Laser Technology
Photo by Ian Sutherland
Photo by Alex Sanson
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Words by Marnie Vinall

Albury and Wodonga join forces in a celebration of art and culture spanning the two cities.

Many find state borders as an excuse to argue over sports teams and claim the superiority of homegrown beers. But two cities going against that grain are Wodonga Council and AlburyCity, who are hosting a joint-council festival of art and culture this March.

“Born under the banner of Two Cities One Community, the festival embodies the theme of partnership which makes Albury-Wodonga unique. Government and community, commerce and cultural institutions, creators and audiences – this is art made by cocreation; an active cultural exchange”, Albury Mayor Kevin Mack explains.

“Albury-Wodonga has always been a welcoming place that celebrates diversity. Now, this festival continues that tradition through immersive experiences where people can connect with each other.”

“The festival is a celebration,” Wodonga Mayor Anna Speedie adds. “We’re inspiring partnerships, stimulating our visitor economy, and reminding ourselves of the diverse and talented cultural community we live among throughout the year.”

Upstream is inspired by the Murray River, which represents the border between the cities and states.

“The festival is inspired by the unique properties of its location – two cities and two states connected by the Murray River,” Mack says. “The program embraces this geography with events in multiple locations, and with an emphasis on outdoor art.”

Mack further notes that the location of the festival also shapes a lot of the work within it. “A sense of place also defines the festival content. We are telling our own stories, with enthusiasm and pride. We’re also shining a spotlight on the people and organisations which make this such a creative community, and we’re leaving a legacy of public art, a lasting reminder of the artistic spirit of this place.”

As well as the Murray River being a significant location of the festival, many hot spots across both cities will be on show over the four days, with their doors open to visitors and local festival-goers.

“Upstream will be staged in significant public spaces across the two cities. From our gala opening event on the Murray River foreshore at Noreuil Park in Albury, to Junction Square in Wodonga’s city centre, to Gateway Village in Wodonga which is an arts and cultural hub,” Speedie says.

Festival-goers can also explore the region on the Monday by following the culture trail, which weaves its way through the many workshops and exhibitions opened by local creatives.

The festival has a major emphasis on inclusivity and on cultivating the unique, unusual and unexpected. Mack believes spontaneity is important.

“An element of surprise runs through the festival, bringing spark and an undefinable X-factor. While we have a time-honoured creative tradition in our community, our festival wears its contemporary approach on its sleeve.

“We’re for the new, the inspired and the challenging – while also being fun, family friendly and accessible. Opening eyes and opening minds, we want to create experiences people can share across generations, and leave taking a sense of wonder with them.”

From young families to couples and solo wanderers, the festival is making sure everyone who attends will be catered to.

“Upstream has more than 100 activities across the four days as well as the week leading up to the long weekend, so I think it’s safe to say we have something for everyone,” Speedie explains.

But it’s just as much about the artists and community endeavours, as the visitor experience. As Mack continues, the festival has the ambition to bring together multiple concepts, communities and cultural organisations to achieve a variety of outcomes.

“Through this festival, local artists can connect with local audiences; the region can connect with a wider audience through tourism; creatives can connect with new skills through workshops; individuals and families can connect with each other through immersive events and quality time shared; and two cities can connect in a festive atmosphere across multiple sites.”

A few top program picks of the Albury Mayor’s include the gala opening in Albury on the Friday night, the street party in Wodonga on the Saturday night, The Dogs Breakfast on the Saturday morning (for the pooches) and the Messy Arty Party where children will have a ball with lots of colour, creativity and a little bit of crazy.

With so much to do and see, those who attend will be privy to a diverse and wonderful range of art and culture from both states.

“This is a great way to showcase some of our local creativity and that these experiences can be enjoyed outside a metropolitan city,” Speedie concludes.

“It’s a way of fostering connection among our creative industries and we hope to build on Upstream and have it known as not only a regionally significant event but perhaps something noteworthy on the national stage as well.”

Upstream Festival takes over Albury- Wodonga from Friday March 6 to Monday March 9. Find out more via the festival website, upstream.org.au.