Enlighten Festival A Highlight Of Autumn In Canberra

Autumn in Canberra. Vincent Namatjira: Indigenous All Stars, installation for Enlighten Festival, 2024, National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra, 2024.
Vincent Namatjira: Indigenous All Stars, installation for Enlighten Festival, 2024, National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra, 2024.

Autumn in Canberra is our favourite time of year. Making it even more special is the huge number of things to do, from concerts and art exhibitions, to the Canberra Balloon Spectacular and Enlighten. On until March 11, Enlighten is an annual celebration of art, culture, and creativity that lights up Canberra. Now in its 14th year, the festival includes a spectacular display of light and sound projected onto some of our most iconic national attractions.

While it is nowhere near the scale of Sydney’s Vivid, nor does it have Sydney’s enormous crowds, making it a much more comfortable and leisurely experience as you stroll from one attraction to the next. Fittingly for an event in the National Capital, many of the illuminations have a First Nations focus, a tribute to Australia’s remarkable indigenous heritage and a celebration of the world’s oldest living culture.

2020 Archibald Prize winner Vincent Namatjira designed the Indigenous All Stars artwork that is being projected onto the façade of the National Gallery of Australia every night from 8pm during Enlighten. The design highlights his Indigenous heroes, including historical and political leaders Eddie Koiki Mabo, Vincent Lingiari and Albert Namatjira, sporting stars Adam Goodes, Cathy Freeman and Nicky Winmar, and the Tjilpi (senior men/elders) from Namatjira’s home on the APY Lands of South Australia. The projection is accompanied by an original score created by Namatjira in collaboration with Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara guitarist-composer Jeremy Whiskey, also from Indulkana.

Dylan Mooney's design on the National Portrait Gallery (above) and Mooney at work on the design in real time (below).
Dylan Mooney’s design on the National Portrait Gallery (above) and Mooney at work on the design in real time.
Enlighten Festival Dylan Mooney

The National Portrait Gallery has an exciting illumination with artist Dylan Mooney present during the festival to transform the façade with his digital drawings projected onto the building in real time. Mooney has Yuwi, Torres Strait and South Sea Islander heritage and it is amazing watching him at work on this giant digital canvas.

Questacon’s projections celebrate the stories that shape our understanding of science – a reminder that science is not confined to laboratories. The National Library draws on its pictures collection and oral history recordings to represent diverse connections to place and Country, from First Nations stories to stories of migration, multiculturalism, sadness, joy and courage.

Parliament House has a colourful and quirky display of Lego projected onto its façade, while Old Parliament House, home to the Museum of Australian Democracy (MOAD), looks back to the 1980s for the theme of its illuminations.

A Lego-themed design lights up Parliament House for Enlighten.
A Lego-themed design lights up Parliament House.

The artist behind the Old Parliament House projections is none other than Nordacious, aka Brisbane-based James Hillier, whose drawings have adorned massive billboards in New York’s Times Square. His design for Enlighten represents behind-the-scenes workers who were indispensable to the functioning of democracy in the ‘80s, including the Serjeant-at-Arms, Comcar drivers, and librarians, along with memorabilia such as video games and Rubik’s cubes.

There’s also a great program of after-dark experiences running in conjunction with the festival. Enlighten After Dark includes both ticketed and non-ticketed events. Parliament House, for example, is hosting a degustation dinner on March 8 that includes cocktails on the terrace and a 6-course menu of local produce served in its Members and Guests Dining Room.

MOAD’s after dark events include a cocktail masterclass on March 9 (ticketed) and free evenings where visitors are encouraged to explore the museum after dark to uncover little-known facts, secret spaces and other quirky surprises. Audiences can get physical with freestyle aerobic sessions from 8pm, join the karaoke room or groove to the tunes of Olivia, Kylie and Madonna. As well as badges with drawings by Nordacious that you can collect, MOAD has even created a Spotify playlist of tracks from the 80s. How cool is that?

Autumn in Canberra Enlighten Festival Old Parliament House
It’s all 1980s at Old Parliament House and the Museum of Australian Democracy.

The National Gallery has extended its opening hours during Enlighten, remaining open until 9pm each day. Entry to the main gallery is free, and there is a special two-for-one offer for its Emily Kam Kngwarray retrospective and Vincent Namatjira exhibition which we have written about in a separate post.

Vincent Namatjira: Australia in colour is the first survey exhibition of acclaimed Western Aranda artist Vincent Namatjira. Not only are his works exceptionally striking and colourful, they’re also thought-provoking, giving you pause for contemplation before you head outside to see the projection on the National Gallery façade.

Every Friday and Saturday night during Enlighten, the Gallery is presenting live music, kids’ and family activities, and food options. The live music line-up includes performances by Thelma Plum, Jem Cassar-Daley, Dan Sultan and Briggs.

The National Film & Sound Archive is getting into the spirit of Enlighten with Neon Nights, a series of visually stunning late-night screenings, including high-action crime drama Drive and 1980s fan favourite Tron. Grab a drink at the bar and explore some of the NFSA’s interactive experiences before the films.

Autumn in Canberra Enlighten Festival National Library of Australia
The National Library illuminates diverse connections to place and Country.

On March 8, the 21st edition of Lights! Canberra! Action! returns. This short film festival spotlights the talents of local emerging directors. Be among the first to discover cinematic gems that might propel these filmmakers to stardom.

Symphony in the Park on March 10 sees the Hoodoo Gurus playing with The Canberra Symphony Orchestra in Commonwealth Park. This world premiere directed by composer Alex Turley promises a symphonic journey transcending genres.

As the Enlighten illuminations draw to a close, the focus will switch from dusk to dawn with the Canberra Balloon Spectacular filling the sky with colour each morning from March 9 to 17. Early risers will be able to see dozens of hot air balloons floating across the city. Anyone who has attended in previous years knows that this is an event not to be missed.

A sea of lights at Enlighten 2024.
A sea of lights at Enlighten 2024.

Both locals and visitors from out of town should check out some of Canberra’s new culinary offerings such as Bada Bing, Botswana Butchery, and Paloma’s. And while you’re in Canberra, don’t miss the opportunity to see the National Museum of Australia’s latest exhibition, Discovering Ancient Egypt (on until September 8).

Visit enlightencanberra.com for more information about the festival.

Head to visitcanberra.com.au to check out the top things to see and do in Canberra this autumn.

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