Thursday 6 December 2018

The New Zealand Festival has announced a major revamp of its operations designed to firmly cement Wellington’s place as New Zealand’s creative capital.

The changes include a fresh approach to programming the biennial festival, a Wellington-based artistic residency, a major new annual event for Wellington and the formation of an overarching organisational structure to deliver a growing stable of Wellington arts events.    

Executive Director Meg Williams says the organisation has “answered the call from Wellington City Council, Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency and arts-loving Kiwis who are looking for exciting, innovative arts events to enhance the creativity, vibrancy and economic strength of the capital”.

“We’re always striving to present transformative events and we already do that with our existing festivals. Now we are making deliberate plans to bring more creative experiences to audiences in the capital across a two-year cycle.

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester says: "As we celebrate a Decade of Culture it is great to see the fantastic team behind New Zealand Festival and Wellington Jazz Festival bringing even more to the capital. These festivals and events make Wellington a place where people want to live, do business and visit - they are the creative heart of our city."

Lance Walker, CEO of WREDA says: "Last year the New Zealand Festival alone contributed $50M into the Wellington economy, as well as hundreds of jobs for New Zealand crew and performers. We know that events and festivals are a key driver of visitation and economic growth as well as contributing to vibrancy and liveability, so the Tāwhiri strategy to deliver more to the region is something we are right behind."   


A fresh approach to programming the New Zealand Festival

Primary among the changes is a fresh approach to programming to increase the voice of artists in the creation of the New Zealand Festival. Previously the programme was selected by a single Artistic Director, but from now the programming process will be overseen by a Creative Director who will work with three Guest Curators, all practicing artists with international reputations, to programme one week each of the three-week event.

Creative Director Marnie Karmelita says the curatorial model will bring a programme that’s “fresh, exciting and unique”.

“Each Guest Curator will present a signature series of works they have chosen. It will give our audiences unprecedented access to leading artists with significant international reputations. You will discover their worldview, encounter their art, and experience the work of other artists who inspire and interest them,” she says.

The first of three guest curators for the 2020 festival is the internationally-renowned contemporary artist and theatre-maker Lemi Ponifasio.

“Lemi Ponifasio is one of New Zealand’s greatest living artists with a huge international reputation and we’re honoured to have his creative vision represented in the New Zealand Festival in 2020,” Marnie says.

Two more Guest Curators will be announced in 2019.


Made in Wellington artist residency

The New Zealand Festival is also launching Made in Wellington,  a performance artist residency programme to produce a new work that will be performed at the New Zealand Festival. The first  Made in Wellington residency will take place in February and March 2019 with high-profile international artist Michael Keegan-Dolan spending six weeks in Wellington working with local collaborators on a major new dance work, which will then tour internationally and be staged in Wellington at the 2020 New Zealand Festival.

Keegan-Dolan is well known to local audiences having presented three highly-acclaimed works at past New Zealand Festivals – Giselle (2008), Rian (2014) and Swan Lake (2018).


Second Unit  a major new annual event

In 2019 a major new annual event called Second Unit will be introduced to the Wellington waterfront. The event is currently in creative development and will be an immersive experience inspired by the world of film in which audience members become part of the production as an extra on a film set.

Marnie says further details are currently under wraps and the event will be formally launched early in 2019.

“Designed for a movie and comedy-loving audience who don’t often attend live theatre, Second Unit will be spectacular, participatory and unashamedly fun – that’s all we can say for now but watch this space.”  

Second Unit sponsor and life-long Wellington resident Alex Cassels, Managing Director of WMG, says he's genuinely excited about what Second Unit means for the city.

“In Wellington, events aren't just spectator sports – we really like the full 360 experience. I am looking forward to seeing Second Unit take that idea to a whole other level by blurring the lines between actor and audience / live-action and film.”

A new organisational structure to deliver a growing stable of events

The final change announced is the establishment of a new company, Tāwhiri, to deliver arts events for Wellington including the biennial New Zealand Festival, Lexus Song Quest and the annual Wellington Jazz Festival, as well as Second Unit.

Tāwhiri, a name gifted by representatives from mana whenua, refers to the spirit and vision of the company, which is to create transformative experiences that make great stories.