Sydney WorldPride is coming, taking place on Gadigal, Cammeraygal, Bidjigal, Darug and Dharawal people’s land. It’s a gargantuan step up in scale from our beloved Mardi Gras. Ava Amedi caught up with the CEO of Sydney WorldPride, Kate Wickett, to learn about the landmark festival’s vision, structure and musical curation.
“For me the success of Sydney WorldPride is that anyone in our community can look at that festival guide… and see themselves in at least one event,” explains Kate Wickett, her office flanked with show memorabilia and a staunch illustration of Kylie Minogue. As Kylie looks on, arms raised with a beach ball in hand, Wickett explains her story.
Wickett came out at the age of 16 and soon began a storied volunteering career in the community. Working with organisations such as Mardi Gras, the Aids Council NT and Midsumma Festival, she developed a professional career as a corporate lawyer. So it was a “perfect intersection” of her corporate and volunteer backgrounds to step up as CEO of Sydney WorldPride.
WorldPride itself is a step up in many ways, a fitting occurrence on the 45th anniversary of Mardi Gras. “Our theme is ‘Gather, Dream, Amplify’. It’s about bringing a multiplicity of voices from across the world to Australia. When I was traveling around the world (during the bidding process), it became really apparent to me that lots of people still don’t know a lot about Australia, and our First Nations community. So that’s why we decided WorldPride is a great place to elevate voices that have previously been silenced.”
To achieve this ambitious goal, WorldPride is presented with interconnected parts. Major events including dance parties, the family friendly Fair Day and of course the Mardi Gras Parade itself dot the 16-day lineup. WorldPride Sports offers a variety of local, national and international activities for a variety of skill levels and passions. WorldPride Arts acts like a Sydney Festival within WorldPride. It will display a vast line-up of arts projects across multiple disciplines, demonstrating a raft of national and international projects. And finally, Pride Amplified presents an open-access program of arts, culture and party experiences for all.
“We were really focused on a diversity of Programming. What guided us were our curatorial priorities,” explains Wickett. These priorities are:
-First Nations People’s
-Culturally and Linguistically Diverse people
-People with disability and/or people who are d/Deaf
-Transgender and Gender Diverse people
-People with Intersex variations
To see these community groups celebrated in WorldPride, one can simply look at a slice of WorldPride. Wickett explains how there’s “The First Nations Gathering Space where with live music and performance, at Carriageworks for six days. You know, three parties at the greenfield site down at Domain… Our closing ceremony which has a real youth focus. You’ll find that the programming is a nod to the future, to our queer youth of today and tomorrow. It’s a real multiplicity of voices and different types of music.”
Central to WorldPride is the 3-day Human Rights Conference. With over 60 local and international presenters over three days, it’s the largest ever event of its kind in the Asia Pacific region. “Lots of people after the marriage equality campaign thought that everything had been fixed. And that’s just not the case here in Australia, our trans folks are still subject to great discrimination.”
Wickett reflects her perspective that “While comparatively Australia might be more progressive, in the Asia Pacific, that’s still where some of the most egregious crimes occur against our community. This conference has community, it has corporates, it has politicians, it has activists, it has civil society, all under the one roof. That kind of ethos exists across the entire festival program.”
Anchoring this buoyant celebration with a serious and considered conference was important for Wickett and her team. “It’s about bringing people together and shining a light on the work that we still need to do to achieve equality, which is why the Human Rights Conference is so important…. It’s about shining a light on the work that still needs to be done globally. But also locally, we need to look in our own backyard as well.”
Music is threaded throughout LGBTQIA+SB history, and so it is with WorldPride. “There’s something in WorldPride for everyone, where all boats rise. We’ve tried to program a multitude of different varieties and styles of music… They’re really diverse. There’s everything from circuit music, to drum and bass to pop,” explains Wickett.
There are fifteen major events with local and international artists. Amongst them is the 10,000 capacity Domain Dance Party. It’s set to be ‘the biggest LGBTQIA+ circuit event Australia has ever seen.’ Iconic child of destiny Kelly Rowland will be making an appearance. Closing the festival is the 20,000 capacity Rainbow Republic. Recent Grammy winner Kim Petras and local pop icon Peach PRC are set to make appearances.
The Carriageworks First Nations Hub kicks off with Djarraba Disco (Bringer of Fire Disco). A ‘sparkling heartfelt love letter to our community and queer history’, this bustling event will feature iconic performers from Warrane (so-called Sydney Cove) and Naarm (so-called Melbourne).
A raft of local venue music programming will occur with WorldPride Arts. This includes over 60 performances across the Belvoir, The Sydney Theatre Company, The Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Campbelltown arts and the Chatswood area.
WorldPride Amplified offers low-cost and open access music events occur across the many festival hubs – “That could be something as simple as Drag Bingo in a pub, or a specific night with a DJ.”
Locally-focused programming is essential to the WorldPride experience. Wickett reflects how “We’ve specifically programmed local DJs, which as a team we really focused on. Because we wanted to elevate our Australian voices, Australian DJs. They might not be the most well known internationally. But you know, that’s kind of the point, right? It’s about elevating voices.”
The recent impacts of covid on our music industry is never far from mind for Wickett and her team. “Pride Villages is where we’re closing Crown Street Riley Street and Oxford Street for the last couple of days. All of those performances are free. We’ve tried to spread the love as it were, particularly post COVID, where so many people were in the arts and music industry just didn’t have any work. So we’re really excited about programming so many different artists.”
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For Wickett, two artists sit high on her mind. “On Kylie Minogue, she’s been a stalwart of our community. A lot of people don’t realise this, but she’s been working with Mardi Gras for almost 20 years. She’s truly our queen. She’s a wonderful performer and a wonderful person. And we really couldn’t have chosen anyone else to open the concert. She has been a huge ally of our community. And we love her.”
And where might one find Wickett to share a pint? “100% Peaches, who’s headlining our women’s event. You know, I grew up listening to Peaches. I’ve seen her four times in concert. She speaks about self-expression, bodily autonomy, about being a woman and working with her womanhood. I just love her; her music is so powerful.”
“Mardi Gras has been around for 45 years. I’ve travelled the world and been to so many prides; it’s is actually the only night-time curated Pride Parade in the world. And no one does it at our scale with our curation” reflects Wickett, looking towards the upcoming festival with excitement.
“So when I say that, people don’t just rock up with a banner and walk up the street… people are witty and satirical. They build floats and costumes. We really express ourselves with artistic endeavour. And I love that about our queer community. We’ve done so much artistic and political expression through art, through music, performance and costumes. When people from overseas come to Mardi Gras for the first time, they just can’t believe what they’re seeing.”
Our discussion closes as Wickett reflects on how we may remember Sydney WorldPride in future. “I hope it will be a catalyst for some really systemic change. The Human Rights Conference is going to talk about what needs to be improved. I’d also really love to see some artists that are performing to have this as their full breakout success, whether that be in theatre or music or DJ-ing.”
And finally, she hopes that we’ll look back on this complex, loud and proud event as “Just a lot of bloody fun.”
Sydney WorldPride takes place from February 17th-March 5th 2023. More information here.