MOFO 2014: Hobart's Festival of Music and Art sets stage for tourism boost

Tyondai Braxton's Hive.
Tyondai Braxton's Hive. 

Thousands of music-loving tourists converged on Hobart last week to attend the city's eclectic Festival of Music and Art, an event that is increasingly attracting visitors from around the country.

The festival, put on by the Museum of New and Old Art (MONA), this year featured a diverse range of artists from all over the world, including legendary jazz players the Sun Ra Arkestra, the Australian Chamber Orchestra Quartet and British dance music stars the Orb.

The festival, which takes place over five days in venues around the city and at MONA itself, features artists chosen not for their star status, but for how interesting their music is. Thus, an act such as Chris Thile, who entertained a large crowd playing classical and bluegrass on a mandolin, can be immediately followed by the experimental electronic music of New York composer Tyondai Braxton.

The Julie Ruin perform at MOFO 2014.
The Julie Ruin perform at MOFO 2014. 

The acts are chosen by festival director Brian Ritchie, best known as the bass player for US indie rock pioneers the Violent Femmes. Ritchie lives in Hobart and can be spotted in the crowd during most shows - or cycling between venues.

He has said the festival is not a commercial venture - it's about showcasing emerging or avant-garde artists (though the occasional big name does make an appearance, with David Byrne and Elvis Costello among the 2013 festival line-up).

From humble beginnings in 2010, when just 7 per cent of attendees came from other states, MOFO (as it is nicknamed) now attracts more than half its audience from the mainland.

The festival is just another way the success of MONA has become a tourism boon for Tasmania. The avant-garde museum - created by professional gambler David Walsh and marking its third anniversary on Tuesday - has grown in popularity to become the second most popular tourist attraction in Tasmania, behind Hobart's Salamanca Markets. Last year it was a key reason for Hobart being named as one of the world's top cities to visit by Lonely Planet.

The museum has spawned a second music festival, Dark MOFO, which takes place over the winter solstice and aims to attract interstate visitors to the city during the tourism low season.

The latest figures show that 280,700 tourists visited MONA over a 12-month period, representing 28 per cent of Tasmania's overall tourist numbers.

The museum has some permanent exhibits, but much of the collection is regularly turned over for new works. The current show, The Red Queen, runs until April 21 and features a diverse range of multimedia works from various artists.

A little over 1 million tourists visited Tasmania in the 12 months to September last year, up 15 per cent on the previous figure, bringing more than $1.5 billion into the state's economy.

While MOFO is drawing plenty of Australian visitors, the event is also beginning to attract international attention. Ritchie and the festival last week were the subject of an article in The New York Times.

The writer travelled as a guest of Tourism Tasmania and MONA FOMA.

Comments