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A Different Kind of Disruption: CubaDupa Cancelled

Festivals are closing. Artists are hurting. The world is changing. Pandemic has begun. Eric Holowacz on why the arts are more important than ever.


It's been an interesting few weeks for cultural institutions and major festivals. Hell, it's been weird for everybody, including micro-organisms. Dark MOFO got ahead of the curve and cancelled in Tasmania. South by Southwest and Coachella were finished before they ever began. Here in Wellington last Sunday, the Arts Festival cancelled its final day as contagion appeared in the village. Homegrown was soon after postponed. Pasifika won’t go ahed in Auckland. And earlier this week, we made the hard decision to cancel our CubaDupa festival with just ten days to go. 

In the coming months, thousands of artists, performers, and cultural producers will be hit with a massive blow to the sustainable models they have built. The larger economy is in the grips of a rapid paradigm shift, and forecasts get worse every day. We are all washing our hands and trying to make sense of this shared epidemiology.

There have been 10 pandemics over the last 300 years. This one is ours, and dealing with it is serious business. History tells us to act early and across all social conventions. The New Zealand government’s recent measures now seem entirely necessary. It’s never too early to get ahead of a dreaded exponential curve and be conscious of what we can do for humanity as it faces an invisible crisis.

Our nonprofit organisation produces what might be New Zealand’s largest and most creative free outdoor festival—and we're almost always ahead of the creative curve. My CubaDupa team and artistic partners were ready to fill the streets of Te Aro with 1500 artists, 470 events, and a beautiful celebration of cultural identity. It is our late summer ritual and annual revelry involving tens of thousands of our friends and neighbours—maybe the most artists and performers assembled at one time in all of Aotearoa. But in the name of public health and safety, and flattening the potential epidemic graph, going dark and keeping audiences and artists safe seems like the right policy. 

Rampant outbreaks in Italy, Korea, Spain, and the United States are making a case for early and robust mass containment policies, even when they seem drastic. One salient observation puts it this way: Anything said in advance of a pandemic seems alarmist. After a pandemic begins, anything we do looks inadequate. 

As a Wellington cultural organisation and community partner, we are fully supportive of being drastic, of ensuring safer neighbourhoods, of lessening the impact of contagion and illness. There will be no 2020 CubaDupa this summer because the pandemic has begun. We now look less to Creative New Zealand and more to the Ministry of Health for current advice. Our organisation is converting to a workplace of temporary social distance and impending isolation—but continuing to nurture creative responses. This is a shared paradigm shift, and the arts have never been defeated by contagion or pandemic. We've weathered storms before, and as was proven last year: our team are brilliant pilots in a sea of change. 

As CubaDupa rides the swells of an unwanted disruption together with you, we remain committed to our mission as a champion of artists and facilitator of creative responses. Whatever comes next, a few things are certain: we intend to find new ways to advance the arts, to celebrate our amazing community, to be a post-coronavirus festival. 

My team and I are currently figuring out how to postpone all the plans made for 2020, suspend what can be put on hold, work on a few new ideas with CubaDupa artists, and keep on going. Then when times and communities are safe, we'll fire up the festival forge again and present CubaDupa in all its creative glory. We want you to stay safe for now and be right there with us. 

Even in the face of terrifying uncertainties and great unknowns, festivals and creative ideas will lead us from dark to light. So while this week we are concerned with public safety and lessening contagion, CubaDupa will never abandon our focus on artists, performers, storytellers, song-makers and the magical experiences they bring to our shared humanity. As we all work together to overcome this massive unwanted disruption, we keep in mind that there is a beautiful one to come.  Because that too is entirely necessary.  

Eric Holowacz
Chief Executive
Creative Capital Arts Trust
CubaDupa / New Zealand Fringe Festival


Written by

Eric Vaughn Holowacz

19 Mar 2020

Eric Vaughn Holowacz was born in Princeton, New Jersey and grew up in Columbia, South Carolina. He attended Irmo High School, and was a member of its National Championship academic Quiz Bowl Team in 1986.