The minute that it was announced that Melburnians could travel to regional Victoria from Friday evening, ticket sales for the Ballarat International Foto Biennale's drawcard Linda McCartney exhibition "went through the roof".
BIFB director Fiona Sweet can't wait to open the doors to visitors from Melbourne who have been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to get out of the city and head to Ballarat to take in the Linda McCartney: Retrospective exhibition and others in venues across town.
While regional visitors have relished taking in Ballarat International Foto Biennale exhibitions without the crowds, Ms Sweet said she was ready for visitor numbers to increase.
There is still a cap of 500 people a day for the McCartney exhibition - far below the numbers she had hoped - but there is hope that once restrictions ease further around November 24, when the 90 per cent double-vaccinated threshold is reached, that more people will be able to visit the exhibition.
Even if they sell all 500 tickets each day it's still only around 15 per cent of the visitation they would normally expect to the drawcard exhibition each year.
"We can't get the numbers we were hoping to, to provide that really strong economic impact to Ballarat but it will still be a strong impact," she said.
"It's been wonderful to have the local community for the past three or four weeks and we have had a really consistently fair audience from regional Victoria.
"We've had tourists from Shepparton, Kyneton, Bendigo and a lot from Geelong, Ocean Grove and Barwon Heads, particularly for the music-inspired exhibitions."
The BIFB had originally been scheduled to close on Sunday October 24, but after regional and Melbourne COVID lockdowns has been extended until January 9.
Along with the drawcard Linda McCartney: Retrospective exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ballarat there are scores of exhibitions in galleries, cafes and other non-traditional spaces across Ballarat.
All visitors are now required to show proof of double vaccination, and check in via QR codes.
With limited staff and volunteer numbers some of the festival's core exhibitions have only been open on certain days but Ms Sweet said on the Monday and Tuesday of the Melbourne Cup long weekend they would open as much as possible for visitors from Melbourne and regional Victoria to enjoy.
"We are ready, we are very, very safe and have run all the correct protocols all the way through and we have managed with fewer volunteers because we haven't been able to get our Melbourne volunteers up here."
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The outdoor and open programs have been running since the BIFB kicked off on August 28.
Ms Sweet said Ballarat should be proud of the BIFB because it was the only festival that had opened throughout the lockdown period.
"Everyone else went online but when you are online there's no audience, there's nothing like going to a show where you are surrounded by all the other tourists and arts lovers, you talk to the person next to you, have a conversation about the works, share ideas and that connection is even more critical post-COVID."
See the full Ballarat International Foto Biennale program here.
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