After about 1160 opening nights, Wendy Martin is “exhausted but exhilarated”.

The outgoing Perth Festival artistic director is also emotional as she reflects on the “generous” WA arts community which welcomed her to this city in 2016.

“So many people are deeply committed to (the Festival) and love it,” Martin said during a chat at the State Theatre Centre.

“To work amongst all that sense of generosity, in a place that’s so beautiful and to be able to work with artists to celebrate this place, just felt like such a privilege.”

The Olympic cycle of Australia’s longest-running cultural festival claims another artistic director, with Martin’s four-year tenure sandwiched between the greatest showman Jonathan Holloway and local composer Iain Grandage.

Perth Festival artistic director Wendy Martin has made way for incoming boss Iain Grandage. Picture: Megan Powell

While corporate sponsorship dried up in the post-boom economy, Martin says local philanthropists filled the void. Tough decisions were made about where to focus energy and resources.

“The challenges are always negotiating the politics of a place,” she said. “You can’t please everybody with what you’re doing ... but you’ve got to stick to your intuition and your vision for what you want to do.”

Martin is most proud of WA-made productions that told local stories in local voices, such as the Museum of Water, A Mile in My Shoes and this year’s Five Short Blasts. The latter combined oral history with a boat ride down the Swan River.

She also highlighted The Last Great Hunt’s acclaimed Le Nor and Sunset, a site-specific collaboration between UK choreographer Maxine Doyle and locals Tura New Music, as productions which are likely to tour nationally and overseas after making their debut at this year’s Festival.

Boorna Waanginy: The Trees Speak attracted 230,000 people to Kings Park this year as part of the 2019 Perth Festival.

Under Martin, Perth Festival also celebrated artists with disabilities, starting with Glasgow-based dancer Claire Cunningham, who wowed audiences in 2016.

Subsequent festivals saw groundbreaking collaborations between Black Swan State Theatre Company and Fremantle arts and disability organisation DADAA, while one of this year’s big hits has been the British Paraorchestra production, The Nature of Why.

Martin praised WA audiences for supporting ambitious visiting works such as Michael Keegan-Dolan’s reimagining of Swan Lake as well as homegrown productions, such as opening events Home and Boorna Waanginy: The Trees Speak, which attracted 230,000 people to Kings Park this year.

“To work amongst all that sense of generosity, in a place that’s so beautiful and to be able to work with artists to celebrate this place, just felt like such a privilege.”
Wendy Martin

At least 450,000 people attended free and ticketed events this year to exceed the Festival’s box-office target of $4.23 million with five weeks of the Lotterywest Films and visual arts programs still to go.

“To think that over 66 years, the audience in Perth has been challenged and they’re open, they’re incredibly adventurous this audience here and I didn’t know that when I started,” Martin said.

There’s also a “really, really strong and healthy arts sector”, which embraces collaboration.

Crowds flocked to Boorna Waanginy: The Trees Speak at Kings Park in February this year.

“There’s an openness and desire for everybody to be a part of it,” Martin said.

As for what is next for Martin, who hails from Sydney and was head of performance and dance at Southbank Centre in London before lobbing in Perth, she is not sure.

“If I can make something happen here, that builds on some of the things that I’ve become passionate about, I’ll be really happy.”

Martin said that, right now, the idea of leaving Perth “breaks my heart”.

“Right now,” she added, “this is home.”