OPINION: When the World Buskers Festival started in Christchurch, there must have been more than a few sceptics who thought that, despite or perhaps because of its over-reaching title as a "world" festival, an entertainment involving such an inherently unorganised, anarchic group of people could not possibly survive for long.
Defying such sour expectations, the festival not only survived it flourished so that before the earthquakes it had become a fixture on the Christchurch events calendar.
Even last year, with most of its venues no longer existing, it got through, managing to attract audiences only slightly smaller overall than in previous years.
Its return during the next couple of weeks for its 20th year is all the more welcome as an interlude of light-heartedness and laughter after what seems to have been a year of grinding effort as the city's rebuild strives to get under way and, we can hope, establishes its permanence on the city's landscape.
This year's event gathers 56 performers - both street acts (as traditionally buskers usually were) and more conventional stage acts, including some top-flight stand-up comedians - at Busker Park (a collection of venues in North Hagley Park), Christchurch Casino, the Summer Pallet Pavilion (on the site formerly occupied by the Park Royal Hotel) and at busking sites in Re:Start Mall and at New Brighton.
While the "world" title may have been excessive at the beginning, it was deliberately adopted, as the founder and present artistic director Jodi Wright says, for the show to expand into and it has done so, becoming the premier event of its kind in New Zealand and one that can attract performers from around the world.
The process has also worked in reverse. It has introduced at least one Christchurch performer to the world stage in the form of Sam Wills, The Boy with Tape on His Face, who won rave reviews from the demanding English newspaper critics for shows at the Edinburgh Arts Festival and then in a mainstream venue in London last year.
This year, as last, the festival is sponsored by five construction partners - City Care, Downer, Fletcher Construction, Fulton Hogan and McConnell Dowell - in the Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team (Scirt).
It is an astute move. The firms are among the most visible in Christchurch and while their work is vital and positive - the reconstruction of Christchurch's sewerage, drainage and the like - their visibility can at times be irksome. The sponsorship is an imaginative and enlightened way to lift their image.
Without the sponsorship, it is unlikely the festival would continue, certainly not on the scale it has.
Like most such events around the world, it is not, in strict accounting terms, a resounding financial success. Even the economic impact on the city is not great. That impact was not measured last year, but it has been estimated in the past that it generated $3 million in extra spending. That compares with an estimated $15m from the Ellerslie Flower Show and $25m from Cup and Show Week.
But the economic calculation for the festival, for what it is worth, is the least of it. The true benefit comes from the intangible but very real rise in good humour and badly needed lift to the spirits that it brings to the city.
And that, as they say in the commercials, is priceless.
- © Fairfax NZ News