Behind the mask is a festival worth shouting about

Last updated 12:30 20/10/2012

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OPINION: As this is written, there are children clutching colourful masks and their mother's hand on the way to the Masked Parade.

The wind is a little too blustery, but it does carry their excitement through the office windows.

There is also excitement of a vehicular kind that you don't see much of in central Nelson - a mini traffic jam on Bridge St.

A taxi driver leans his head out the window with an expression of disbelief, as if he has never been held up going anywhere in the city.

Some things are worth being held up for. The Masked Parade is dubbed as Nelson's biggest community celebration. It's a simple, elegant idea that brings the city and its creative flair alive and onto the streets.

It used to open the Nelson Arts Festival, but its shift to the centre weekend this year has if anything boosted its appeal with record registrations of 4300.

It seems an ideal timing, with a week of festival shows creating a buzz that is amplified by the street party that in turn is a fine way to kick off a long weekend.

The Nelson City Council, along with other councils around the country, often gets it in the neck from hard-pressed ratepayers for spending on areas deemed outside their core responsibilities.

Yes, roading, water and sewerage systems need to function effectively, but there is a strong argument that a city needs its cultural infrastructure too.

That's not to say the cost-effectiveness should not be scrutinised.

In the last financial year, rates funding made up 43 per cent of total festival costs of $820,000, with 21 per cent coming from sponsorship, and 36 per cent from sales. Revenue was $590,000.

The budget for this year is set at about $100,000 less with projected revenue dipping under $400,000.

With a growing gap, the council is looking at options for an outside organisation to run the festival, as is the case for other regional festivals. With the Government likely to demand a more financially sustainable model to receive Creative New Zealand funding, that seems a likely step.

Whether the festival could be run just as well on a smaller budget remains to be seen.

Beyond the cold cash arguments though, there are intangible benefits from the community spirit generated in the parade, to the inspiration or just sheer pleasure that some of the top class acts bring.

Performances like puppet masterpiece The Grimstones, Canadian band Le Vent du Nord and Chad afro-pop group H'Sao have wowed audiences this week.

So have class New Zealand acts such as the weirdly terrifying live cinema production, Carnival of Souls and the intimate and diverse set from Kiwi musicians Don McGlashan, Julia Deans and Anna Coddington.

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Some of the international groups have come from performances at the Otago Festival of the Arts in Dunedin earlier this month, no doubt increasing the ability of both festivals to attract the best talent.

The good news is the festival still has another week to run, with an eclectic mix of performances, such as the exotically named Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen. The Australian ensemble will present a darkly humorous collection exploring death as an essential celebration of life.

You don't have to go that far to celebrate. A long weekend and a buzz on the streets will do nicely.

- The Nelson Mail

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