Sydney (CNN) — A decade ago, venturing into the central business district of Sydney on a chilly winter night was virtually unheard of.
Sydneysiders love to nest, you see, and a drop in temperature is the only excuse needed to stay at home and hibernate.
This, coupled with dwindling tourist numbers over the colder months, made the city feel like a ghost town after dark. Something needed to be done to reinvigorate the streets -- and the winter economy.
In 2009, Destination NSW launched an event that was essentially four festivals in one. But there was little apparent synergy between the various components, and to potential visitors it was disjointed.
"Back then it was trying to be so many things for so many people," says Ignatius Jones, Vivid's creative director of eight years. "It was confusing people. My brief was to give Vivid a purpose and identity, and that happened remarkably quickly."
Since taking creative control, Jones has helped streamline Vivid into the country's coolest winter fest -- and the largest event of its kind in the world.
"A lot more than art"
Held over 23 nights (May 25 to June 16), it now has three clear offerings: LIGHT (the displays and installations), LIVE (the music and performances) and IDEAS (the discussions).
"It takes in a lot more than art," says Jones. "It's where art meets technology and changes our lives... It's very forward-thinking -- this is what arts festivals will look like in the future."
Last year more than 2.33 million people descended on Sydney to see it set aglow, injecting some A$143 million (US$108 million) into the economy.
"One gelato shop told us they sold more gelato over the 23 days of Vivid than they did over the entire three months of summer!" says Jones, adding that other retailers claim to have made an entire year's rent over the festival period.
"There are so many people attending ... we had the police come to us last year and jokingly say, 'Next time, can you make it less fabulous!'"
There's no chance of that. In 2018 organizers have expanded Vivid's program of events (and its footprint) to involve more than 90 light installations created by 100 artists, 120 musical performances and 260 speakers.
Bathed in 'Metamathemagical' lights
Like previous years, 2018's festival hub will be Circular Quay.
It's here you'll be able to gaze at the Customs House building, its stone façade lit up with images of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, two beloved gumnut characters created a century ago by Australian author May Gibbs. (If you were born Down Under, you were raised on Gibbs' books.)
Local actor Noni Hazlehurst will narrate their adventure through the Australian bush.
Nearby, the Museum of Contemporary Art's exterior will be transformed by Jonny Niesche, whose Virtual Vibration creation "brings together cheerful dissonance of psychedelia with the formal concerns of high modernism".
This translates into an eye-popping show of colors and shifting sensory experiences, with the soundtrack provided by musician Mark Pritchard. (Throughout Vivid, the MCA will extend opening hours to 9 p.m. on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays -- it's a great vantage point to take in the rest of the city.)
A tribute to the Australian children's classic, this light installation retells the story of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie.
Ample Projects/Vivid Sydney
Highly anticipated is the Lighting of the Sails, which sees the soaring white peaks of the Opera House doused in color. This year the creative baton has been handed to award-winning Australian artist Jonathan Zawada, who has revealed that his concept, titled Metamathemagical, will morph kinetic digital sculptures featuring metaphysical themes and distinctly Aussie motifs.
Harbour Bridge night climbs
Unlike most festivals, you're not just an audience member at Vivid -- you're also a participant. Many of the light installations are interactive and encourage visitors to get tactile and make some noise.
Through artist Iain Reed's Skylark, for example, you can help choreograph a laser and light sky show, controlled through 40 pillars stretching from the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Circular Quay to outer areas of Sydney Harbour.
Other ways to get involved include jumping on a ferry at Circular Quay, with boats draped in LED lights becoming part of a coordinated display that moves across the color spectrum as vessels cruise across the harbor.
Or you can climb the Harbour Bridge -- throughout Vivid, night climbs culminate at the bridge top with a spot of dancing on a LED floor that changes hues as you boogie.
Jones says the Light Walk will once again have a participatory focus.
"With the Light Walk, which is close to four kilometers of installations, we've created the largest outdoor gallery ever. We're taking art off the walls and putting it on the streets where people can touch it and feel it and interact."
The light installations are not just confined to Circular Quay.
For the first time ever, the city's Luna Park fairground will be transformed into a Vivid precinct. On the north bank of the harbor at the foot of the Harbour Bridge, the site will have projections cast over its iconic Coney Island façade, and thousands of LED lights will adorn the Ferris wheel to give it a dizzying sparkle as it spins.
Also on the North Shore, Taronga Zoo's grassy grounds will once again host fantastical, larger-than-life animal sculptures, this year shining a light on conservation and the wonders of wildlife through themes that include Sydney's endangered aquatic life and the Sumatran jungle -- book ahead for seats on the Sky Safari cable car, offering dazzling views over the zoo and the entire city.
Tanronga Zoo features larger-than-live illuminated animal sculptures.
courtesy Vivid Sydney
Nearby in the northern suburb of Chatswood, a pop-up Light Market will unite food stalls with an illuminated installation by Sydney-based scaffold sculpture artist Alejandro Rolandi.
The sails of the neighborhood's performing arts center will also become a canvas for large-scale projections of NASA imagery, and nightly shows will highlight extraordinary creations exported from New Zealand's World of WearableArt design competition.
Closer to the CBD, new western harbor precinct Barangaroo will see its waterfront turned into an illuminated promenade inspired by water, earth and fire, with a giant luminescent creature (operated by a team of performers) at the heart of a theatrical sound and light display.
In adjacent Darling Harbour, a light-and-laser show called Fantastical Oceans will bring the surface of the water to life by emulating jellyfish, ocean ripples and coral, while the Australian National Maritime Museum's rooftop will feature a projection of BBC Earth and David Attenborough's "Blue Planet II" (check out the free viewing vantage point from the Action Stations Lookout on Friday and Saturday nights).
Enveloping the Opera House, the city's Botanic Garden will showcase a range of floral-themed installations, from Rejuvenate (a "tree" that sheds bark to reveal a rainbow of colors) and Parrot Party (a flock of brightly hued birds that chatter, chirp and sing) to a path of light that changes color as you walk along it and Bloom, a giant electric flower with mirrored spirals that refract light -- there's a hole in the middle so you can become part of the display.
The festival will welcome a lineup of Grammy-winning as well as up-and-coming artists.
Bangarra Dance Theatre/Vivid Sydney
In the inner-west suburb of Eveleigh, the Carriageworks contemporary arts precinct will be dedicated to live music. Goldfrapp and Bjork have taken the stage here for Vivid LIVE in previous years, and in 2018 the headlining artist will be Grammy Award-winning St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark), performing highlights from her 2017 album "Masseduction."
In the same space is Curve Ball, an immersive musical and visual experience featuring artists such as Alison Wonderland, Vera Blue, Poloshirt, Crooked Colours and Haiku Hands.
Another Grammy-winning artist, Solange, will have four shows at the Opera House, alongside American dream-pop outfit Mazzy Star, west coast rap icon Ice Cube, singer-songwriter Cat Power and local group Dreams, a colab between ex-Silverchair frontman Daniel Johns and Luke Steele.
Sydney Town Hall will be transformed for the inaugural Heaps Gay Qween's Ball, a huge fancy dress party with DJs and drag queens, while Orange Is The New Black star Lea Delaria (aka Big Boo) will perform her musical comedy and jazz interpretation show at the City Recital Hall.
This year there's also Vivid X Celerate, a program to promote new talent and up-and-coming bands.
Skylark is an interactive lightshow.
32 Hundred Lighting/Vivid Sydney
The third and final part of the festival, Vivid Ideas, brings together the world's greatest minds, innovators and creatives for a program of public talks, workshops and debates.
There are dozens of discussions to look forward to, including a conversation with director James Cameron, discussing how his passions have influenced his films -- "Titanic" and "Avatar" among them.
The Australian founder of Mambo clothing, Phantom records and Deus Ex Machina, Dare Jennings will talk about creating leading businesses -- without any formal business training.
And American game designer Jane McGonigal will chat about the use of mobile and digital technology to channel positive attitudes and collaboration in a real world context.