Bleach* Festival’s creator and inaugural Artistic Director Louise Bezzina has been appointed as the Brisbane Festival’s new Artistic Director. She will present her first Brisbane Festival program in 2020, taking over from David Berthold who will present his fifth and final festival next year.

Bezzina launched the Gold Coast’s Bleach* Festival in 2011, building it from a pilot project to a major annual event. She will deliver her eighth and final program for the festival next year. She led the festival through last year’s Commonwealth Games and was listed as one of the 11 inspiring women of the Commonwealth Games on International Women’s Day in 2018.

Louise Bezzina, Brisbane FestivalLouise Bezzina. Photo: supplied

Bezzina has been a fixture of the arts scene in Queensland, with previous roles including Program Manager for the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, Producer at Brisbane Festival and Director of the Mackay Festival of Arts.

“After a competitive international search, the Board of Brisbane Festival is incredibly excited to appoint exemplary cultural leader Louise Bezzina to role of Artistic Director to guide Brisbane Festival future development alongside CEO Charlie Cush,” said Brisbane Festival Chair Paul Spiro.

“Louise’s deep understanding of festivals, her curatorial rigour and vision for the future of Brisbane Festival made her an irresistible choice,” he said. “Brisbane Festival celebrates and reinforces Brisbane’s international cultural reputation and I look forward to Louise being part of Brisbane Festival’s ongoing development and change.”

“It is very exciting and such an honour to be appointed to this role,” Bezzina told Limelight. “It is a great responsibility to create a Festival that ‘turns the City on’ that appeals to so many people and provides numerous ways to engage, and I am really looking forward to starting and working with the fantastic team at Brisbane Festival. It will of course be very hard to leave Bleach* Festival. I have absolutely loved my time on the Coast making and building the Bleach* Festival but it is in a good place now to move on after the 2019 Festival.”

Are there lessons learned from leading Bleach* Festival that Bezzina will take to Brisbane? “Understanding a city’s character and quirks takes time and this needs to be carefully considered when curating and designing the flagship Festival for a city,” she said. “The combination of Brisbane’s rich history, its contemporary dynamism and future ambitions offer a great thematic foundation for a Festival and its artistic program. Having lived in Brisbane for so long before the Gold Coast, I have a really strong connection to the City. My style and aesthetic in creating Bleach* Festival is to make it unique and I believe this has contributed to its success. My vision has been to ensure that it felt, looked and smelt like the Gold Coast without being parochial. A celebration of the City, ensuring visitors experience an arts program that provides insight into the City.”

“David has done a remarkable job curating and directing Brisbane Festival and I look forward to building on this in 2020,” Bezzina says. “The Festival has incredible attendance and has built significantly over the past few years. I would like to showcase what is unique to Brisbane, celebrating its artists, delivering a rich Indigenous program as well as thoughtfully curating a bold international program that makes sense for the City and the narrative of the artistic program. Articulating the Festival’s character as symbiotic with Brisbane itself is vital.”

Spiro also paid tribute to Berthold’s legacy as Artistic Director. “Queensland audiences have benefitted from the extraordinary vision of David Berthold,” Spiro said. “Over the past five years, the festivals that he curated have confirmed his status as a truly international festival director, able to connect with audiences of all ages, tastes and sensibilities. He has brought unseen and unforgettable worlds to Brisbane for which we are deeply grateful.”

The search for a new Bleach* Festival Artistic Director will commence immediately. “Under Louise’s exemplary leadership, Bleach* has engaged more than 1 million people, provided artistic platforms for more than 700 local artists, and garnered national attention and acclaim, including five Helpmann Award nominations and a win in 2018,” Bleached Arts Board Chair, Leigh Tabrett, said. “While we will of course be sorry to see Louise go, we have a strong Festival team, and have no doubt that Bleach* Festival will continue to surprise and delight audiences and artists for many years into the future, continuing to build the reputation of the City of Gold Coast as a place to visit for beautiful and surprising arts experiences. We wish Louise every success in her role at Brisbane Festival.”

So what does the future hold for the Brisbane Festival under Bezzina’s leadership? “As the Artistic Director for Brisbane Festival, I would like to bolster the program around the river ensuring it continues to resonate and attract the critical mass with the addition of a new bold and exciting program in and around this iconic landmark,” she says. “The river is one of the City’s defining characteristics so celebrating this environment with contemporary performance, installation and compelling Indigenous presentation would be part of my vision.”