Vivid returns to the Botanic Garden – at a price

Vivid returns to the Botanic Garden – at a price

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One of Vivid’s most beloved venues is no longer free this year, with the festival planning to charge up to $128 for a family of four to see the light installations at the Royal Botanic Garden.

The garden will host Lightscape as part of Vivid Sydney, opening with the festival on May 26 but running a month longer, until mid-July.

The garden will close to the public at 5pm and reopen exclusively to Lightscape ticket holders from 5.30pm for a 2.1-kilometre journey through an “after-dark oasis of botanical brilliance”.

Pooja Antil is a regular visitor to Vivid Sydney and is considering paying to attend the light walk in the Botanic Garden.Credit: Kate Geraghty

Tickets at peak times cost $40 for an adult, $28 for a child or $128 for a family with two children. Children aged two and under are free, but children aged 13 and older pay the adult price.

The event marks the first Vivid for the Botanic Garden since the pandemic began, but access was free when it previously participated from 2016 to 2019.

A number of Sydneysiders have taken to social media to express dismay at a formerly free community event becoming a paid event, especially when many families are feeling financial stress.

Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore said Vivid, Place Management NSW and the Royal Botanic Garden should “drop their proposal to make money from a community event”.

“The Vivid Festival was created with the aim of attracting people to the city during the quieter winter months,” Moore said.

“To monetise entertainment means to create a class system where some people can afford to visit Sydney, and some cannot.”

Moore said it was a similar situation with Sydney’s New Year’s Eve celebrations, which the NSW government had “also monetised” by requiring ticketed access to vantage points along the foreshore.

Father and son at the cathedral of light installation in the Royal Botanic Garden as part of Vivid Sydney in 2016.Credit: Tobias Rowles

Independent MP Alex Greenwich, whose seat of Sydney covers the Botanic Garden, said charging money undermined Vivid as both a community event and a tourist drawcard, and he opposed the increasing commercialisation of Sydney’s parklands.

“I’m increasingly concerned about events that used to be free on public land suddenly becoming ticketed,” Greenwich said.

“We’ve got to really watch that as we continue to deal with the cost of living crisis, that we don’t become an ‘us and them’ city with public events that only people who can afford to pay for can attend.”

Vivid started in 2009, and while it has long had some paid events such as the light walk at Taronga Zoo, the light installations in the city are traditionally free.

The Botanic Garden was part of Vivid from 2016 to 2019 and access was free at the time.

A Vivid Sydney spokesperson said the programmers decided to host Lightscape as a paid ticketed event in the Botanic Garden because it provided a “unique experience” and it had run as a paid event in the United States, Britain, Perth and Melbourne and always sold out.

Some of the previous Vivid installations in the Botanic Garden appear similar to what is planned this year. Vivid Sydney promotions on social media depict an arched walkway of golden light known as the “winter cathedral” Lightscape installation, which many social media users have mistaken for the free “cathedral of light” installation previously held in the garden.

A Vivid Sydney spokesperson said the Vivid Sydney Light Walk from Circular Quay to Central Station via Barangaroo and Darling Harbour, and many other events remained free.

Pooja Antil from Stanhope Gardens plans to visit Vivid with her two daughters, aged 12 years and 18 months, and is considering the paid walk in the Botanic Garden.

Antil said she did not mind paying for the experience because her children got so excited by it, but she thought many people would think twice, especially tourists.

“I’m fine with it but it would be a bummer if somebody wants to see it and they can’t afford it,” Antil said. “I don’t know why they’re charging this time.”

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