06 Mar 2014
One of the more discernible arts trends over the last 20 years has been the growing number of arts festivals in Aotearoa.
City councils are major investors in many examples I can think of, and iwi are the major contributors to many others. Being in Auckland for the Auckland Arts Festival was a refresher on why cities and the folk that live in them like them so much.
In no particular order, festivals create a buzz, generate positive media and profile, and have an economic impact because of the visitors they attract. The vibe was tangible. The empty space of Auckland’s Aotea Square was transformed by temporary bars tents and performances.
Festivals lift us as individuals because of the art we experience, as communities because we see our stories given voice and status, and as cities because we like living in a vibrant place. This is not new. The City State of Athens at about 500BC had a major festival each year with lots of commissioned work (go Aristophanes), lots of civic discourse, and rich people competed for the honour of underwriting it. Some good ideas are around for the long haul.
Enjoying good company
One of the nice things I got to do was to work with our festival colleagues to introduce some 20 international festivals directors and programmers to New Zealand work in context. This was part of our Te Manu Ka Tau (Flying Friends) programme which aims to find overseas audiences for our artists.
A treat was seeing the Auckland Festival production of Hui. The work began with a $7,000 commissioning grant to Mitch Tawhi Thomas in 1999. Since then it has been honed by many hands without losing its authenticity. I laughed, I cried. This is not common and a good thing. Art needs to strike the bulls-eye of my human core for this to happen.
Our international guests loved it and volunteered that it was a better production than they had seen from internationally renowned British institutions. Not that it is a competition, but most of us would like to be seen as amongst the best company.
Enjoy your Easter break and if you are spending time away from home travel safe.