Art attack: Festival is upon us

21:15, Feb 10 2013

High summer in Hamilton: long, lovely nights. The city shakes out its picnic rugs and folding chairs, volunteers get their orange T-shirts, the organisers check the long-range weather forecast, and the 14th annual Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival is almost upon us.

This is the mouse that roared, the low-budget festival that each year delivers a feast of theatre, music, comedy, dance, ideas, film, visual arts, talky stuff, and more. Something for kids, baby boomers and everyone in between.

This year, February 15-28, there are 75 acts, 150 individual events.

Included are the magical Birds of Paradise (our cover image), a cabaret "birdlesque" comedy by Morag Brownlie, and the Slip of the Tongue Theatre Company's Shakespeare production (The Tempest), plus dozens of other attractions to draw people to Hamilton Gardens.

The not-for-profit festival has a cash budget of $450,000, and perhaps another $300,000 in contra deals - minuscule compared with many similar events.

It is heavily reliant on its sponsors and funders, and operates on a financial model similar to the famous Edinburgh Festival.

The Hamilton outfit provides the venue, marketing and technical support for all scheduled artists and events, and artists take most of the box office sales.

It works. In recent years the festival has drawn 80,000 to 100,000 people to Hamilton Gardens, where shows are matched to perfect performance spaces. This year, for example, Chinese musician Xi Yao Chen will perform The Resonance of Yin & Yang in the Chinese Scholars' Garden; the musical Italian Inspiration night will be held at the Italian Renaissance Garden; and the Jane Austen Summer Assembly occurs in the Pavilion.

Festival trust chair Chris Williams says there are no gaps in this year's "top quality" programme.

"There are events for the purist lover of the arts through to people who just want to come and have a look at something."

Williams says it is a great result in a tough financial climate.

"There's never been more competition for a diminishing pool of money from sponsors and funding organisations. It's a highly successful festival, but it is still a challenge to make the budget work. We appreciate the goodwill and every last dollar of cash."

Williams has several events marked, including the play Booom!, The Great Debate, and the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra.

"I try to get to something every night of the festival."