Editorial: Arts Festival proves to be a standout

Last updated 13:00 29/10/2012

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OPINION: The curtain has come down on another successful Nelson Arts Festival.

What an amazing two weeks it has been. It has brought us an eclectic mix - everything from world-class musicians to folk music, real-life stories, lively discussion, books, memories, pop, drama and beats from all over the world.

There are no encores, but there should be for the team who brought us the festival.

Festival organiser Sophie Kelly and her team have delivered on every front, from the selection of performers through to the way that everything has worked like clockwork.

Some of the performers have been of truly international class. Anyone who was privileged enough to attend the Hahn-Bin concert in the Theatre Royal will understand that.

The centrepiece of the festival was the Masked Parade, which was staged in the middle of the event instead of at the beginning. That was an inspired choice and should be repeated. With 4300 taking part, it's been dubbed the largest ever. What was also encouraging was seeing an entry from Nayland College, possibly a sign that the parade hasn't finished growing if more high schools enter.

Many have remarked that the parade could replace WOW. Let's face it, nothing will ever replace WOW, but the Masked Parade represents the coming together of the region, both young and old. It's what the region does best.

What also worked was the venue. Founders Heritage Park is an ideal location, with the Mainstage and The Granary working in unison. It calls into question the decision to move it back to the city next year.

It's an odd decision. At least 50 per cent of the programme already takes place at venues in the CBD. What's also mystifying is that the reason the festival moved from the city to Founders was the temporary venue/marquee in town had ongoing noise complaints. There was little support from bars and businesses as they felt the festival was competing with their trade by bringing people to the festival cafe.

Every festival needs a heart and Founders provides it. Nelson City Council needs to have a rethink and reverse the decision. The artistic vision should stay with those who know what works best.

There are other challenges facing the festival. There is a question mark over whether a trust will be set up to run the event, as other festivals have, rather than a department of the council.

Then there is the question of funding. In the last financial year the arts festival operating budget was around $550,000, whereas this year's was $580,000. Of this, 35 per cent was provided by sponsorship, 34 per cent came from ticket sales and 31 per cent was rates funded. However, this year's box office return of around $200,000 exceeded last year's, and topped the projected budget as well.

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The current economic climate makes it difficult to get funding. Creative New Zealand is a key funder of the festival and has said its ability to provide support for the many regional arts festivals may be stretched in future. But for now, let's celebrate what has been the perfect start to spring - a festival that provided a huge array of talent for all tastes.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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