Visitors flock to savour arts festival

Paul O’Keeffe, left, Skip Walker-Milne and Rowan Heydon-White from the Australia circus group Circa at the Church Steps. The  performed as Beyond as part of the Nelson Arts Festival.
Paul O’Keeffe, left, Skip Walker-Milne and Rowan Heydon-White from the Australia circus group Circa at the Church Steps. The performed as Beyond as part of the Nelson Arts Festival.

Ticket sales were up 900 for this year's Nelson Arts Festival.

The 12-day festival finished on Monday, with more than 47 sold out performances from a total of 77 ticketed events.

The ticket sales were still being counted but were tracking at about 11,400 sales, up on about 10,500 last year, said the Nelson City Council.

The festival included theatre and music performances, writers' talks, community events, art installations, school performances and workshops in venues across the region.

The 14 Page & Blackmore Readers and Writers sessions all attracted good audiences, with seven of the events sold out, said organisers. Man Booker prize winner Eleanor Catton led the lineup, which also included poet Harry Ricketts, Wonky Donkey author Craig Smith, Sarah-Kate Lynch for a girls' lunch and two of the popular Thinking Brunches, one on New Zealanders' sense of identity and the other on public broadcasting.

Co-ordinator Jacquetta Bell said she was surprised to find the event, now in its 10th year, was attracting significant audience members from out of town.

"We had people from Wellington and Blenheim, Nelson expats who told me they make their summer return early to catch Readers and Writers, and there was a whole book club that came up from Christchurch.

"Being home to both the Neilson best bookshop and best publisher (Craig Potton Publishing) and staging this popular part of the festival made me think we could be flying the flag for Nelson as a literary city."

Now in its 20th year, the Nelson Arts Festival is presented by the city council as a celebration for locals and an attraction for visitors.

Community services deputy chairwoman Gaile Noonan said through its free and ticketed events, the festival touched a broad cross-section of Nelsonians.

"The Nelson Arts Festival is a significant council investment that sets our city apart from others as it's the only annual regional arts festival. The support it continues to receive every year is testament to a region that embraces arts, creativity and has a strong sense of community."

She thanked the community and businesses for their ongoing support and the festival team.

The festival's school programme saw 2882 school children experiencing top quality music and theatre at an accessible price. Entries were also strong in the Stage One performances, with high demand from schools across the region keen to take part.

It was the last festival for director Sophie Kelly who was pleased the programme was well received.

"For young and old, the festival programme had something in it for everyone. Audiences were particularly thrilled with the world class circus performers in Beyond and the talented crooners from Modern Maori Quartet.

"People loved the unexpected twists in modern dance show Back of the Bus, which went into someone's home, an art gallery and even into local bar Rhythm and Brown. The Bookbinder in the quaint St Peter's Church at Founders was another hit.

"Other successes were the free Nelson acts in the packed out Granary Sessions and the festival buzz at Founders with the spectacular video installation Winds of Time on the windmill every night."

The new festival director will be Axel de Maupeou, Palmerston North City Council's community services team leader, who will take over on November 10.

The Nelson Mail