While our economic institutions are in a rut, get ready for the edgy arts scene to come alive. The next few months will bring a plethora of opportunities to experience art, dance, theatre, comedy and debauchery across the country, with a festival season like no other. Auckland Festival’s Natasha Beckman reckons the economic gloom just might have an artistic upside. “You look at the [Great] Depression, art forms like music really went off, so we’ll see what happens,” she says. “Art often flourishes in times of trouble.” Trouble or not, if it’s escapism you’re after, there’s plenty to choose from across Enzed.
Aucklanders will hit the town with the Auckland Festival, the Auckland Fringe Festival and the Titirangi Festival of Music. Have your fill of beer at The Beer Festival or head to Christchurch for a stronger drop, with a whiskey at DramFest, before hitting the Christchurch Arts Festival. Southerners can check out the colourful Dunedin Fringe Festival, while the capital hosts the New Zealand Fringe Festival, Cuba St Carnival and the Wellington Jazz Festival. And if you’d rather have your fill of reality, never fear: the DOCNZ Documentary Film Festival plays Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.
Three questions with organisers Mark Burlace and Natasha Beckman from the commissioning team for the Auckland Festival.
Describe the perfect festival show …
Mark Burlace: We look for excellence, for shows that will reach diverse audiences and engage with Aucklanders. But then you have to balance idealism with practicality. We have to work way ahead—some artists have been locked in for two years because they book so far out.
Natasha Beckman: We also hope people will experience the city differently during the festival. Seeing something on the street, or something that people walk past and think ‘That looks different’. We’re celebrating the city.
What’s the best thing about the festivities?
Natasha Beckman: We create a legacy! [UK filmmaker] Isaac Julien, who was here at AK07, showed a series called ‘True North’ then did a three-month residency at Two Rooms. This year he’s showcasing ‘True South’, which is his response to the New Zealand landscape. It’s great when you have something that lives longer than the life of just one festival.
Mark Burlace: The festival has a huge focus on entertainment—we’ve got the Red Square [the festival’s “party zone”], and we’re bringing the Spiegeltent back. We’re building a precinct around the Aotea Centre. People do want to go out and have a drink and many of the shows are very uplifting. I think Auckland likes that.
What’s the opportunity for the local creative scene?
Mark Burlace: We’d like to see ourselves as a springboard to international markets. There’s a much bigger push to get New Zealand work out to Australia and Asia. We’re ready for it—there’s enough brave work being created here.
Natasha Beckman: There’s already a lot of collaboration between local and international artists too. For example, after the MASH UP exhibition, curated by Julia Rodrigues, several of the New Zealand works featured will go on to Sao Paulo. It’s an opportunity for artists so go somewhere they might not have exhibited before. That’s what festivals do—they bring people together to spark off each other in different ways.