Light Nelson organisers were caught off guard by the size of the crowd that turned out at the weekend, and the weather that condensed the majority into attending on a single night over the planned three-night event, said co-founder John-Paul Pochin.
He was responding to criticism over some aspects of the event, including Richmond man Mike Greenawalt, who has written to the Nelson Mail saying "the chaos observed was awful".
Others took to Facebook expressing similar concerns about it being "dangerously crowded". Krystel Kereama Lynch "didn't think much of it at all", Julie Meagher said it was "appalling" and wanted an apology from Light Nelson.
Kirstie Ashdown-Plimmer appreciated the "insane amount of people" who went but was "not very impressed at the attitude of a man working the gates".
Greenawalt said traffic flow patterns should have been designed in advance and then managed by appropriate staff or signage. He felt it might have been better to mark off viewing points for the various light installations, and include information indicating the theme of the display.
He also suggested selling tickets might control the number of people allowed in at any time.
Pochin said the trust that ran the event wanted it to remain a free event.
"That sends a really nice message that anyone can come. It's open to everyone - people are not pressured into donating, but if people want to, that's great. It's great that families can come along and enjoy the artworks."
Pochin said while they expected decent numbers, the crowd was particularly large on Sunday possibly because they lost a day when rain on Friday forced the cancellation of the first night of the show.
"We ended up with the numbers concentrated on one day. With it being a free event it was hard to guess how many might have turned up."
Pochin reminded people it was only their second event, and they were still learning about what worked and what did not work.
"We're an educational charity and we're all learning as we go along."
He said they had originally thought about expanding the show into nearby surrounds, such as the Maitai Walkway and while that was part of a longer term plan, they listened to advice that it was best to keep it concise and within the gardens.
"We didn't want to grow too quickly, but it would seem we have outgrown the gardens, but it was unusual circumstances that led to the numbers we had.
"It's a new event and we tried to predict things as much as possible. It was strange that people there complained about the number of people there, but they were among them. That seems odd."
Nelson Tasman Tourism chief executive Lynda Keene said events such as the World of WearableArt Awards and Marchfest did not grow without teething troubles. The positive response was overwhelming and she was sure plenty had been learned, including the potential to light up the Maitai River and other garden areas around the city.
"There is the potential for the event to become a new iconic attraction for the region and creative arts industry," Keene said.
Light Nelson trust chairman Brian Riley said the team would now think about the way forward. "Long term, we want to provide a promenade and spread it out a bit along the Maitai Walkway and into town."
Pochin said they did expand into Albion Square this year, and expanding into town and along the Maitai Walkway could help manage the flow.
He said many volunteers helped to run Light Nelson, and the months leading up to the event had consumed his time. "There was a real buzz in town and it was positive for Nelson.
"There are a lot of things we will look at and learn from. As for next year, that's a discussion we will have to have. A lot of people put their lives into this and while I'd like to see it happen each year, it's not down to just me."
- The Nelson Mail
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