The last two years exposed the arts community to unprecedented hardship. There have been casualties, such as Melbourne’s Rising, but on the whole Australia’s major festivals withstood the onslaught of the global pandemic, bookending the lockdowns in an uncanny case of déjà vu. With international participation curtailed, they shifted away from coveted exclusive events to embrace a more national focus, which built on the goals of the Major Festivals Initiative (MFI), founded in 1996 and administered through the Australia Council for the Arts. Now, as they roll out their 2022 programs, artistic directors are seeing their efforts to rejoin the festival circuit hampered by border issues that would drive Garibaldi to distraction.

The Adelaide Festival’s Joint Artistic Director, Neil Armfield, is in no doubt as to the vital role a broad platform plays in the development of new work. “We see productions in Europe, Asia and South America gestating over years for the festival circuit. With its stranded capital cities and country centres,...