I always look forward to the start of the year. Disregarding the steamy weather from left-over cyclones, there’s a freshness to the days - and less traffic on the roads. There are also a surfeit of festivals – everything from buskers to markets, and of course the yearly Fringes. This year for the first time we also have two major international arts festivals, occupying almost exactly the same dates – the Auckland Arts Festival (becoming annual for the first time this year) and in Wellington, the NZ Festival.
The Big Idea will be covering both of these. And since I’m based in Wellington these days, I’ll be your main correspondent for the NZ Festival. You may already have spotted some interviews – more are on their way. And Dione Joseph is also interviewing artists and covering the Auckland Arts Festival. Every week I’ll be posting about what I’ve seen, losing myself in the creative goodness (and sometimes taking my kids with me).
So why are arts festivals so important to have? They need a lot of funding, every ticket is heavily subsidised, and if you’re not in the festival your show can struggle for attention. But I think they’re essential to our local creative economy, for a few reasons (this may be obvious to some people).
Firstly, they are great patrons and enablers of local work, especially projects that are risky because they are new, try something different, or have unusual budgets or themes. They also have resources to offer for development, audience engagement and future touring possibilities (among many other things). Arts festivals are a great way of reaching new audiences – it’s three weeks of buzz, arty saturation or marketing and media, and targeted outreach. And finally, they bring in lots of international artists and presenters for us locals to mix with and learn from. In a sense, they energise the local scene and get it off to a good start for the year.
Two Festivals happening in two major cities at the same time also allows for cooperation: NZ co-productions, and bringing big international acts out. Thus the funding of ambitious works like chamber opera Brass Poppies, and theatre show Te Po which features giant puppetted giraffes and fish. By being able to afford these big works, each Festival stands to gain even more audience.
Just as important as the big works, festivals serve up community works and works for families. Thus Page Turners, a local-made smorgasbord of Wellington personalities emerging from the pages of a giant book, returns, and Tiffany Singh’s Fly Me Up to Where You Are featuring the dreams of schoolchildren, moves south from last year’s debut at the Auckland Arts Festival. There are some wonderful international acts too, such as the Contact Festival Playground (a playground made from recycled objects and powered by parents) and For the Birds, a sound and light show in Otari-Wilton’s bush (unfortunately the 8pm start makes it too late for my toddlers.)
There are many more exciting things to see. In my generosity I have read the programme from end to end with pen poised, using my (patentable) highly refined system of ticks and stars, and now have a full calendar. Stay tuned for more from festival-land.