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Melbourne’s latest arts festival offers slice of Big Apple life

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Melbourne jazz musicians launch the MEL&NYC festival in AC/DC lane.

Photo: Justin McManus

A festival celebrating everything that is New York – in Melbourne – appears to have as much substance as the centre of a bagel.

Premier Daniel Andrews announced the MEL&NYC festival on Thursday. It is timed to coincide with MoMA at NGV: 130 Years of Modern and Contemporary Art, which will see NGV International host the biggest collection of works ever to leave New York's Museum of Modern Art.

Funded by the state governments Tourism and Major Events war chest for an undisclosed sum, the one-off festival will involves a series of New York-themed satellite events happening all over town from June to August, including restaurant pop-ups, concerts, dance, film and more.

Major drawcards include a stand-up comedy show from Ilana Glazer of TV series Broad City, which had all but sold out at the time of writing; appearances by top chefs from acclaimed restaurant Momofuku; and an appearance from Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and son of Woody Allen, Ronan Farrow.

Participating venues applied for funding through the festival to bring New York-based artists and foodies to the city.

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A number of events in the program had already been announced in their own right or at other festivals, such as performances from Regina Spektor and John Cameron Mitchell at the Arts Centre; the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra's Leonard Bernstein program; Beautiful: The Carole King Musical; and performances at the Melbourne International Jazz Festival.

Creative Industries Minister Martin Foley said conversations with festival programmers were held months ago with an eye to New York-related content which would fit the initiative.

“Thats why the [Melbourne International] Jazz Festival is coming to NGV Friday Nights; its not by accident,” he said.

Farrow is appearing under two festival umbrellas as the first international guest announcement for the Melbourne Writers Festival, which will be held in August at the same time as MEL&NYC.

It is understood there are more big-ticket names to be announced under the festival banner.

Whether or not we need another festival – let alone one dedicated to another city – is a moot point, with plenty of New York-related activity happening year round in Melbourne. It would be an odd year if our jazz and writers' festivals did not include at least one New Yorker in their programs by default.

Mr Foley said it was about giving smaller venues a chance to benefit from the NGV's major Winter Masterpieces event, which it has been able to present in part thanks to renovations at MoMA.

But for some independent venues, the synergies between Melbourne and New York are more grass roots.

On Saturday, two of the city's trendiest bars, Section 8 and Ferdydurke, will host their Brooklyn Block Party in Tattersall's Lane, Chinatown, featuring New York DJs, bands, barbecues, $5 haircuts and a guest appearance from Chilean-born street artist El Cekis, who is painting a work as part of an artist exchange with New York's Bushwick Collective.

The other MEL&NYC festival: New York-based artist El Cekis on a street art exchange in Melbourne.

Photo: Justin McManus

"We're doing this with beer companies and street artists and no budget," said venue owner Maz Salt, who also runs nearby Belleville and Brunswick's B.East. Section 8 has been hosting New York-style block parties for more than a decade.

"Were used to being ignored by the major festivals … It highlights the fact that there is a multitude of New York Cities and a multitude of Melbournes.

"Theres a corporate New York – it has infiltrated all across the island of Manhattan – so to have Momofuku in the festival is no coincidence.

"Everyone else is pushed further and further out, and that's not dissimilar to the gentrification happening in Melbourne.

"Melbourne is a creative city and theres lots of creative people doing interesting things all the time, just like New York. There's stuff going on – DJs, art and great food – 365 days of the year.

"There's a lot to celebrate."

MoMA at NGV: 130 Years of Modern and Contemporary Art is at NGV International, June 9 to October 7. ngv.vic.gov.au

MEL&NYC is at various venues, June through August. melnyc.com

Brooklyn Block Party is at Tattersalls Lane, 2pm until late, May 20.

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Hannah Francis

Hannah Francis is Arts Editor at The Age.

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