Festival organisers ponder a new look

17:00, Jul 15 2014
Power Plant
POPULAR WALK IN THE PARK: Of the 116,000 tickets issued this year, 22,000 were for Power Plant

Wellington's arts festival turned a profit this year, and pumped more than $70 million into the city's economy - but it is not sustainable in its current form, its chairwoman says.

According to a BERL Economics preliminary estimate of economic impact, published yesterday, ticket sales at this year's New Zealand Festival were up, but executive chairwoman Kerry Prendergast, a former Wellington mayor, said making the two-yearly event an annual one was being considered.

"The way we are running it now is not sustainable."

Wellington City Council funding had not risen in years, having a two-yearly festival meant good staff were lost, and other nearby festivals had become annual, she said. But there were also other options open to maintain it as the "leading-edge New Zealand festival".

The BERL assessment found the February and March festival put $70m into the economy, compared with $56m from the previous festival. Ticket sales rose from 104,000 in 2012 to 116,000, and total attendances at paid and unpaid shows rose slightly from 264,266 to 266,760.

Director Colin McColl, from the Auckland Theatre Company, who put on Paniora at Te Papa, said the Wellington event was a great "boutique festival", which gave local artists a chance to showcase their work, as well as to meet and talk to international artists.


But he questioned whether an annual festival would be viable. "Somehow it can make them less special when they're every year."

The hugely popular Power Plant show at the Botanic Garden was the big driver in this year's positive results. Of the 116,000 tickets issued this year, 22,000 were for Power Plant.

The best news for Wellington was the number of out-of-towners who attended the festival. International attendees went from 550 to 1006, while visitors from outside the Wellington region grew from 32,062 to 35,537.

There was also strong growth of local audiences, with a 46 per cent increase in regional audience members, and a 39 per cent growth in those from Wellington city.

Festival executive director Sue Paterson said that reflected the way Wellingtonians owned the event. "The success of the festival is Wellington itself."

This year 25 per cent of attendees were first-time festival-goers, which would hopefully translate to repeat attendances next time, she said.

Organisers were looking at options for a new model for the festival, and the focus was on getting a quality programme that would attract aud iences - "bigger and better and bolder programming for the city that will take audiences by surprise".

Prendergast said final audited reports had not yet come out, but this year's festival - like the previous one - should make a "small surplus".



Tickets sold:

2014: 116,000

2012: 110,000

People attending, including free events:

2014: 267,000

2012: 264,000

Economic impact on Wellington:

2014: $70 million

2012: $56m 

The Dominion Post