"Ballarat is a logical place to do this," says White Night artistic director David Atkins. "It has a fantastic history, it's the home of the southern hemisphere's longest running Eisteddfod, Her Majesty's Theatre has been going for 150 years. There are a range of things that put Ballarat into the box seat."
The box seat on this occasion is for White Night Ballarat, an offshoot of the all-night arts event which has filled Melbourne's CBD with hundreds of thousands of people on one February night for the past four years.
With White Night Melbourne a huge success, Ballarat was chosen to be the first Victorian regional city to host a local version.
It's hard to know how many people will attend White Night Ballarat on March 4, 2017, though organisers are talking about 30,000 to 50,000 attendees. That would make it much smaller than Melbourne's turnout of more than half a million people, but potentially more attractive for those overwhelmed by the big-city throngs.
The footprint of White Night Ballarat will extend from the main train station along Lydiard Street with its many historic facades, and include a stretch of broad Sturt Street containing the city's spectacular town hall. Along with side streets and laneways, there will be plenty of space for the mix of illuminations and live performances.
Crowd-pleasing outdoor works include Nights of Gold, a Lydiard Street projection that explores Ballarat's raucous gold rush years via the poetry, stories and dance of the era. Another piece, Fibre Lane, will fill a laneway with dangling optical fibre emitting light and colour. A smaller scale work, Neon Angel Wings, will allow onlookers to take on a glowing winged form.
Another engaging interactive piece will be Lux Populi. A landmark building will be transformed into a virtual canvas with the aid of motion-sensing lights, which will enable passers-by to "paint" temporary images using body motion.
"I have a soft spot for Pitcha Makin Fellas," says Atkins about the Aboriginal art group creating the projection More Than 1 Nation, which will cover the former Bank of New South Wales with a depiction of Indigenous culture over 40,000 years. "They have a great sense of humour, but also some serious messaging underpinning their work.
"There are also a lot of wonderful live pieces. Crate Expectations is a mobile performance art piece with a music track. It's like a cabinet of curiosities, with automated body parts. It'll actually travel up and down the streets."
In addition to these prominent outdoor works, Ballarat's galleries will be open and running their own programs. The venerable Art Gallery of Ballarat will stage a work by Castlemaine-based Punctum, featuring Chinese scroll art responding to the Goldfields region's landscapes.
Next door in the former Masonic Hall, The Lost Ones contemporary art gallery will exhibit light sculptures by Canberra artist Michelle Day and kinetic sculptures by Goldfields local Alex Sanson.
There will be plenty of physical nourishment on offer, courtesy of Ballarat's ever-evolving food scene. The stylish Mitchell Harris Wine Bar has applied for an extended licence for White Night, and it'll be joined by a variety of outlets, including the convoy of food trucks.
One street over from the White Night action, The Forge is a local favourite for pizza, and nearby Meigas serves excellent Spanish food. For breakfast on the morning after, try Knife Fork Spoon; or to escape the crowds, Webster's Market and Cafe.
However many people show up, it's going to be a huge night. How does Atkins hope that people respond to the first White Night Ballarat?
"For the local people it'll be a sense of pride in the town, as there's some wonderful pieces dealing with the city's history," he says. "For visitors? It's another reason to come to Ballarat."
White Night Ballarat starts at 7pm on Saturday, March 4, and runs through the night to 7am, Sunday, March 5.
Ballarat is served by regular trains from Melbourne. See www.vline.com.au
The Provincial, theprovincialballarat.com.au. Attractive art nouveau hotel in the White Night zone. From $220 a night.
Craig's Royal Hotel, craigsroyal.com.au. Historic lodgings within the White Night area. From $260 ar night.
EAT & DRINK
Mitchell Harris Wine Bar, 38 Doveton Street; The Forge, 14 Armstrong Street; Meigas, 33 Armstrong Street; Knife Fork Spoon, 16 Lydiard Street; Webster's Market & Cafe, 61 Webster Street.
Tim Richards travelled courtesy of Visit Ballarat.
STATE OF THE ART
Five more big cultural events in regional Victoria
CASTLEMAINE STATE FESTIVAL
Major arts festival with a broad program. March 17-26. See castlemainefestival.com.au
WALL TO WALL FESTIVAL
Colourful murals in the streets of Benalla. April 5-9. See benallastreetart.com.au
WANGARATTA FESTIVAL OF JAZZ & BLUES
Live music from local and international acts, November 3 to 5. See wangarattajazz.com
MEREDITH MUSIC FESTIVAL
Open-air event with a diverse range of performers, December. See mmf.com.au
FALLS MUSIC & ARTS FESTIVAL
Popular event in Lorne, presenting live music and theatrical performances, December. See fallsfestival.com