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December 1, 2016

Meet The Garden of Unearthly Delights’ architect

The Garden of Unearthly Delights announces its full 2017 program today, so we've sought out Sarah Stewart – the mastermind behind the design of Adelaide's original pop-up festival venue.

  • Words: Johnny von Einem
  • Pictures: Joshua Fanning

There are some major works currently underway at the Dequetteville Terrace end of Kadlitpina Park, but if you ask Sarah Stewart, the park itself never stops changing.


The Garden of Unearthly Delights publishes its full program tomorrow, but highlights of the 2017 program include LIMBO Unhinged, eternal favourites Amazing Drumming Monkeys; live music acts Tasha Coates and Kate Cebrano; comedians Adrienne Truscott, Hannah Gadsby and Sam Simmons; and the return of last year’s party favourites Massaoke.

Tickets for The Garden shows go on sale Friday, 2 December, meaning the 2017 iteration of the event is only around the corner.

Every year at around this time, Sarah surveys the site and begins planning how The Garden of Unearthly Delights will fit amidst its contours for the festival season ahead.

Just don’t ask what her job title is.

“We don’t have that many titles around The Garden, because there’s four of us that essentially deliver the event, and have from the start, so we don’t tend to give ourselves titles, we all do a bit of everything,” she says.

“At the phase we’re at at the moment, we have a pretty concrete site map, but because it’s a park, it changes each year.

“So trees will grow, or councils will put more trees in, so you have to have a pretty big level of flexibility.”



For the average punter, it may not seem like The Garden changes much year on year, but part of Sarah’s job since 2002 has been to maintain the familiarity of the site as the event has expanded.

“We don’t make it easy for ourselves, because we change quite a few of the venues we use each year,” Sarah says.

“For example, say we have a really big circus program that we want to happen and [we] bring in a big top that’s suitable for that program, that changes the site massively.

“Every year is quite a big reinvention [and] I think that makes it more interesting for us and the whole team that work on it as well.”

As well as the layout of the park, a large part of Sarah’s job is to think about how people will want to interact with the space once they’re in it, and to try and give Garden-goers a natural flow to follow.

“It makes complete sense that most people are on Rundle Road, at restaurants, shopping and whatever, [so East Terrace] is sort of their natural entrance point to the park, and then once you cross the bridge, it kind of splits into a few different ways,” Sarah says.

“So we try and think about the fact that people will naturally try and stay to a path, so when you’re trying to go to a particular area, or a big venue might be situated off one of each of those pathways.

“You want people to be able to see that there’s something over there, for example, but you don’t necessarily want to give everything away at once.

“It’s not quite putting all of your milk in the back of the corner store, but it’s a bit of a mix of that. I think a lot of people do want to wander and explore what things have changed each year, but then you’ve also got to cater for the fact that some people have never been here.”

Sarah also attributes the site’s flow to The Garden’s art department and front of house staff (the dedicated bunch that they are), and the result for Adelaide each year is an increasingly fine-tuned and ever-interesting space that feels a lot like the city’s festive heart for the short time it exists each year.

Tight-lipped on what physical changes the site will undergo this time around, CityMag can’t wait to see what Sarah has planned.

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