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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Six Things We Learned From Our Chat with Vivid Sydney Festival Director Gill Minervini

We sat down with the legendary creative director to discuss career highlights, her creative process and her plans for the festive season.
By Melanie Colwell
December 16, 2021
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By Melanie Colwell
December 16, 2021
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in partnership with

Think of your favourite major events that have happened across the country — chances are Gill Minervini had something to do with them.

The legendary creative director has been behind some of Australia's best festivals and parties. So, when you're wanting to bring some excitement to local communities, Minervini should be your first call.

Wanting to encourage Aussies to support small, local businesses that have done it tough this year, American Express did just that. We recently spoke with Minervini about this special partnership — read on to learn about her creative process and the small businesses she loves supporting.

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Winter Feast, Dark Mofo by Remi Chauvin

HER CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

It's hard to play favourites when you've been at the helm of many of Australia's best events in the past two-plus decades. Minervini has been involved in Adelaide Festival, Sydney Lunar New Year and Art and About Sydney to name but a few. The ones that she seems most proud of are those that really drove positive change.

"I was the first professional festival director that Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras had," Minervini says. This was in the late 80s and early 90s, which Minervini describes as the "golden era".

"We were really crashing through some of those political barriers, and I'm very proud of the work I did there," she continues.

Another career highlight was the birth of Dark Mofo's Winter Feast, now a beloved highlight of Tasmania's annual winter festival. "It brought together all the things I love: food, music, events, outdoor activations, community," Minervini says. "We didn't know if it would work or not. Clearly, it did."

And, of course, one of her career highlights is still to come. In April 2021, Minervini was appointed one of her most exciting roles to date: Festival Director of Vivid Sydney. However, with the festival postponed till 2022, she's yet to make her Vivid debut. "I'm really looking forward to my first Vivid. We're working on programming that now" she tells us.

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THE SILVER LININGS OF LOCKDOWN

It's impossible to discuss a career in the arts right now without acknowledging the big COVID-shaped elephant in the room. The past two years of lockdowns and ever-changing restrictions have decimated an industry already struggling. But, Minervini suggests, there are some silver linings to be found — for herself, for the industry and for audiences.

"It's given me a lot more time in the planning and research phase. It's made audiences a lot more grateful in terms of the vast array of live events we have and what it looks like when they're not there," she says. "That sense of anticipation is a positive thing. It's going to take a while to recover, a lot of people have left the industry. But the renaissance is coming."

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HER CREATIVE PROCESS

Minervini's mention of planning piques our curiosity. How does she approach the mammoth task of producing a creative event, be it a big citywide affair or a small activation? Where do you even begin?

"It's really about research. It sounds boring but it's the most fascinating part of the job for me," says Minervini. "I always try to pare it back to: what is the story that we want to tell? And, most importantly, who are we trying to tell it to? It's that simple and that complicated. Finding that overriding narrative is really crucial. If you get that right, people will connect with it."

Minervini also places a lot of importance on working with community members — from Indigenous leaders to LGBTQIA+ voices — to ensure their stories are central. "I try to make sure I'm as collaborative as I can be and that there's a sense of ownership and a sense of self-determination in terms of working with diverse communities. When you do that, the resulting event has a lot more power," she says.

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Handsom

HER FESTIVE PARTNERSHIP WITH AMERICAN EXPRESS

Minervini's creative process was practiced in her recent partnership with American Express. The brand enlisted Minervini to create spectacularly festive installations in the shop windows of Sydney's Collector Store and Art on King and Melbourne's Handsom for two important reasons. The first: to bring a dose of festive joy to local communities. And the second: to encourage Aussies to shop up a storm at small businesses that have done it tough this year.

As a small business advocate, Minervini jumped at the opportunity. "It seemed like a match made in heaven," she says.

She began by interviewing the business owners to understand their backgrounds, the shops' histories, the communities they operate within and their customers. The creative direction Minervini landed on was 'Great Things Come in Small Packages'. "These shops are small but there are amazing things in them. Things you wouldn't find anywhere else," she says.

Designer James Dide then took Minervini's concept and put it into reality. The end result was three vibrant wreaths handmade out of paper through 3D printing — each completely unique and reflective of the shop they represent.

"Each of the wreaths has elements of the area that the shop is in and elements of what they sell. For example, Art on King has some real urban elements in the wreath, everything from the local buses that run up King Street to birds of the area and telegraph poles," says Minervini. "Handsom had a really interesting take on what they love at Christmas time and what they sell in the store. The shopkeepers met in Ibiza, so some of the designs of their clothes are really inspired by Spanish summer vibes. So we really picked up on the colours, Spanish fans, stars, candles and florals."

Collector Store's wreath is trying to convey the Aussie Christmas experience with florals, cockatoos, Australian natives and cocktail glasses, with Minervini saying it has "a real summery vibe".

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Collector Store

HER FAVOURITE SMALL BUSINESSES

Minervini's passion for small business is evident all throughout our chat. She partly attributes this to having come from a family of small business owners (publicans to be precise), but also to the unmatched experience one can expect from a small business.

"If we lose those small local shops, we lose the diversity of what's on offer to us," she says. "The three shops that we're doing these installations in are a really good example of the curation of goods that you won't find anywhere else. You get an individualised experience."

So, where in Sydney will she be hitting up for her Christmas gift shopping? "I'm a big reader and I love giving books, so I love Better Read Than Dead and Pentimento. And I'll be going to Collector. They have some of the most luxe towels — that's my present to myself," she says.

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Casa Mia Osteria by Kitti Gould

HER SUMMER PLANS

After such a busy and tumultuous year, it's safe to assume Minervini deserves a break (hell, we all do). And she has some pretty enviable plans for the next few weeks. "I will be doing a lot of swimming, a lot of reading and a lot of eating," she says.

As an inner west local, she mentions a couple of restaurants that she'll be frequenting over this time: much-loved vegan pizzeria Gigi and King Street newcomer Casa Mio Osteria. "It's just brilliant," she says of the latter.

She also plans to check out lots of Sydney Festival, which kicks off on January 6, and then "back to work because Vivid will be here very soon". After two long years without Sydney's favourite festival of lights and ideas, we can't wait to see what Minervini has in store for next year's program.

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Shop Small this festive season and spend at least $100 with a small business. This small action will help inject an additional $2 billion into the sector to help it recover. To learn about American Express and the Shop Small initiative, visit here.

Published on December 16, 2021 by Melanie Colwell

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