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A festival swansong

Carla van Zon
Power Plant
Lost at Sea
Natalia Osipova and Guests
Antarctica
Carla van Zon reflects on the past six years and what's in store for her last Auckland Arts Festival as artistic director.

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As Carla van Zon launches her last Auckland Arts Festival as artistic director she reflects back on her artistic vision when she started in 2011, how it’s changed in the past six years and the transition in 2015 from a biennial to an annual festival. Carla also gives us her picks for this year’s festival, on from 8-26 March, and why arts festivals are important.

"Arts festivals are celebrations of living, of art and community intertwined. They allow for risk-taking by artists and audiences, a chance to create work that can’t often be created otherwise, and offer an opportunity to collaborate. For audiences they offer immersion and indulgence – they are an arts degustation."

What gives you the biggest thrill as an artistic director?

There are many parts of the job I love but two in particular: When I see a show that I adore, which moves me, and I forget that I’m there for work. And when I see that same show at our Festival, with our audiences, and seeing them too getting the same thrill I did.

What’s a typical day as AD at Auckland Arts Festival?

The days vary depending on where in the festival cycle it is. Perhaps surprisingly, I do spend a lot of time on the computer, but a simple overview goes a bit like this:

During the initial planning stages there is lots of research, planning, meeting artists, travel, and seeing shows and exhibitions.  
Then there is big period of budgeting and decision-making
Then, contracting and marketing come into play
Now I am in speech-making and publicity mode
Soon, it will be meeting, greeting and talking time.
Rinse and Repeat.
Throughout the entire year, I see shows and exhibitions on a regular basis. 

What was your vision in 2011 when you joined? How has it changed?

To create a Festival that was accessible and welcoming for all Aucklanders, to create a programme that reflected the cultural diversity of this city and to present work that perhaps couldn’t be presented outside a festival programme. 

I also had goals around collaborating with arts organisations and artists, and commissioning, producing and presenting NZ work, across art forms.

How did your role adapt for the annual festival in 2015? What have been the pros and cons?  

It got busier with a lot more work and a need to work much more quickly. It has worked well for the Festival and I think for NZ artists and the arts in general in NZ.  

Among the many positive outcomes are that we have doubled the audience over the two-year period that we’ve been annual, and we have presented twice as much work by NZ artists.

It has also allowed us to retain staff and build a stronger brand, and to partner and collaborate with the likes of NZ Festival in Wellington, and other organisations, which extend the support for the work. It has also allowed for bigger productions, particularly when created in collaboration.

The cons, if any, would be related to workload, but that is flattening out now as we become more streamlined for an annual event. 

Based on your time at Auckland Arts Festival what’s your Biggest….

Success: Success is qualitative and never achieved alone - my collaborator David Inns and the fantastic Festival team are equally responsible.  Some examples could be about the Festival’s annualisation, making it a much more recognised event, growing the audience, and our successful education and family programme.

Creatively, I’m proud of commissioning an opera in English, Maori and Cantonese; presenting the NZ premiere of a play in Mandarin; a contemporary Korean theatre work, a Pacific musical, the opera Nixon in China, Akram Khan’s iTMOI, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Babel, a South African Macbeth, the James Plays and some great New Zealand work, including this year’s Whanui project. 

Lesson: Life is as important as work. The arts can change the world, and can be how a society is remembered.

Tip for surviving and thriving in the creative industries: Be organised

Tell us about Auckland Arts Festival 2017 - any swansong favourites?

The Bone Feeder, RESPECT, Cellfish, Natalia Osipova and Guests, The Encounter, Picturing Asia, Passio – all these works are unique, New Zealand premieres that are real festival shows, with something important to say. Audiences may spot little ‘themettes’, like the environment, which is referenced in Power Plant, The Encounter, Lost at Sea, RICE and Antarctica.  

Why is an arts festival important for Auckland and Aotearoa?

Arts festivals are celebrations of living, of art and community intertwined.  They allow for risk-taking by artists and audiences, a chance to create work that can’t often be created otherwise, and offer an opportunity to collaborate. For audiences they offer immersion and indulgence – they are an arts degustation.

Tell us about incoming artistic director Jonathan Bielski?

Each AD tends to bring themselves, their experience and their own flavour to a festival, as I am sure Jonathan will do.

What’s next for you? 

I’m on the hunt for a new kidney. Also, to be healthy and enjoy life, to buy a campervan and explore out-of-the-way places in NZ, and to re-invigorate my vege garden.

What’s your big idea for 2017?

Live life to the full.

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

7 Mar 2017

The Big Idea Editor