New CCAT boss: 'I’ve written a lot of love letters'

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Gerry Paul. Credit: Benjamin O. Sayag.
Eric Holowacz with NZ Blues musician Michael Barker, during his band Swamp Thing’s residency in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Photo supplied.
Eric Holowacz and his daughter. Credit: David laChapelle
How do you score a job spearheading Aotearoa’s most exciting festivals? Turns out it’s all about communication, passion and finding your zen.

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The Creative Capital Arts Trust (CCAT) is a powerhouse of Wellington’s arts sector, producing the NZ Fringe and CubaDupa festivals, which revitalise the windy city’s creative community each year. They recently advertised two top positions on The Big Idea: Festival Director of CubaDupa, which went to Gerry Paul, and their Chief Executive, which was filled by Eric Holowacz. We chat to the two new recruits about how they scored their dream jobs. 

Gerry Paul, Festival Director for CubaDupa 

Growing up in Wellington, Gerry Paul has a very strong connection to Cuba Street; a connection that helped his love of music and the arts to blossom.

“When I was eight years old I started busking on Cuba Street outside the old working men’s club. My uncle Pat would go for a few beers at the club and check down on me every half an hour. I've had this long connection with the street for over 30 years, so I just feel really lucky to be helping to create a festival in the coolest street in the world.”

“I just feel really lucky to be helping to create a festival in the coolest street in the world.”

For many years, Gerry was based in Ireland, where he played in Irish folk bands and later toured with American bluegrass bands for 15 years. Impressively, he played at over 500 music festivals in 30 different countries. He learnt many skills during this time, often operating as band manager, agent, and even accountant. 

“The most important thing I got from that time was the ability to meet new people and experience new places. The thing I love about festivals is the inspiration you get from other acts that you see, hear, and sometimes collaborate with. A lot of the connections I made back then are the same ones that I’m now enlisting for CubaDupa.”

Scoring the dream job 

Five years ago Gerry decided he needed a change, and took on the role of CubaDupa’s music producer, before transitioning into the role of festival director four months ago.

“I know CubaDupa pretty well at this stage—I've been its music producer and I’ve also run the street food festival as well as many other areas. There's a lot going on at CubaDupa, so much surprising programming. I just love festivals. The role of festival director embodies everything that I wanted to do—it's my dream job.”

During the same period that Gerry began his journey with CubaDupa, he also developed his own festival called Coastella, a successful boutique music festival situated on the beautiful Kapiti Coast. Figuring out how to put together his own festival was great learning curve for Gerry and he was grateful for the mentorship of CubaDupa’s artistic director Drew James.

“When you start a small grass-roots festival, you have to function as production manager, marketing manager, programmer, and site manager. You start off doing it all. You can only hire more experienced people for each role once the festival flourishes. It was really important that I had an overview of how a festival worked, and to have done all the different roles, because it made managing people and understanding their roles a lot easier.”

Live in the moment 

To succeed in the arts, Gerry advocates for continually reminding yourself of the reasons you became passionate about it in the first place.

“That's always important because you can get caught up in so much admin, red tape, and bureaucracy. My core reason for participating in the arts is my desire to share high quality creative works with the public, and I try to frequently remind myself of that. CubaDupa is only two days, so I’m always in that planning process and need to remind myself to live in the moment as well. I do that by listening to music and playing my guitar.”

Gerry is currently busy programming and scheduling next year’s CubaDupa festival on March 28th and 29th, which will feature 1500 artists, over 300 performances,and 100 food vendors. Born from the Cuba Street Carnival developed by Chris Morley-Hall, the festival spans the entirety of Cuba Street, enveloping it in an incredible, vibrant street celebration complete with music, performance, theatre, and food. 

“Cuba Street is incredibly unique. There are heaps of owner-operated businesses and real diversity—it’s a great community with a lot of creativity. We try to celebrate all those things in CubaDupa. It’s about bringing the community together to celebrate creativity, diversity, and independent spirit.”

Eric Holowacz, Chief Executive, CCAT

 In 2002, Eric Holowacz relocated to Wellington from South Carolina with his wife and young daughter to begin a new chapter in their lives.Eric’s career in the arts is extensive: he’s been an integral part of many successful arts programmes or festivals including Spoleto Festival USA, The Studios of Key West, Cairns Festival, and Opening Notes Project. He had taken on the role of Arts Programme Manager for the Wellington City Council, and fell in love with the city and its creative community.  


Eric Holowacz and his daughter. Credit: David laChapelle

“My office was situated in an iconic building on Oriental Bay. I was there while they were enlarging the Oriental Bay beach front with 22,000 tons of sand from Golden Bay,” he says. “Basically, I was working in this trendy building, with a new beach being formed, in a prime place in the city. The first phase of my Wellington career was enchanting and I discovered something of New Zealand’s soul.”

“Every job I've had has been really gratifying and given me something amazing—hopefully I've left something meaningful to the artists or creative people too. I've had the good fortune of working in the arts all over the world, but I still think there is no place quite as fascinating, beautiful, and challenging as Wellington.”

“I still think there is no place quite as fascinating, beautiful, and challenging as Wellington.”

After his first stint in Wellington, Eric moved abroad for 12 years but felt a yearning to find his way back to New Zealand. In 2017 he was appointed director of Whakatāne Museum and Arts, although he found that it wasn’t quite the right fit.

Soon after leaving Whakatāne, I found that CCAT was looking for a new chief executive, and I readily put my hand up!” 

Looking to the future 

As chief executive, Eric hopes to increase opportunities for CubaDupa and Wellington Fringe Festival to work together and share resources. He also hopes that eventually CCAT will provide guidance and support to emerging music festivals, film festivals, or off-shoots of the Fringe. 

“I'm hoping to improve and work on the development, fundraising, and support that we get across the organisation, not just within one festival or the other. An aspiration for the next couple of years is for CCAT to umbrella emerging festivals.”

When Eric gives advice to young creatives, he tells them not to underestimate the power of a well-written love letter. This could mean writing to someone asking for a potential partnership, collaboration, or to advance a new project. 

“Communication is something I've never been afraid of, whether it’s writing, presenting, or being on TV. I’ll find any way to get a message across and tailor that message to a specific audience. I've written a lot of love letters and I still keep an old typewriter and fountain pen—I write to people in ways that some have forgotten. Communicating in a simple letter to reveal the essence of an idea and describe how a partnership might play out has helped me build very meaningful programming and relationships in the arts.”


Eric Holowacz withmusician Michael Barker, during his band Swamp Thing’s residency in Louisiana. Supplied.

The art of zen

Eric studied comparative religion at university and during his studies he came across a book from the late 50s called Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel. This book inspired a philosophical resolve that he carried with him over the years and injected into his work.

“It’s a very small book centred around explaining the Zen Buddhist mindset. The methods and thinking within the book were quite different from what I was used to, but it was so beautiful and simple that I began to think of it as a good reference that I could apprehend in my work in some way. When I talk to people I often ask what the zen of the project is, or what the elements are that make the zen. When you understand the elements, and how they interrelate, then you have a zen approach.”

In addition to helping realise CubaDuba’s extraordinary vision, Eric is involved in executing the NZ Fringe Festival, which is coming up to its 30th anniversary year.

“Our crew are planning a milestone season with 30-40 venues all over Wellington. It will have the most individual shows ever—there’s over 150 that have been selected from the application stage. Currently, we’re working on the programme book and planning the next step for marketing after our programme launch in early December. I think it's going to be quite a magical 30th anniversary.”

Eric’s main creative outlet is writing and poetry. Recently he has been translating poems from other languages including those by Spanish, Latin, and Eastern European writers.

“They challenge you to understand the language and transpose them. I translate them into  English and while they aren’t verbatim, they proceed from what I think the spirit of the poem is. I’ve got two separate books of poetry that I would like to publish as a compilation. One is the translations, and the other is my own original poems about the places I've been—it’s going to be called International Geographic.”

Who Got the Gig?

For 17 years, The Big Idea has helped creatives find work and opportunities in New Zealand and arts organisations and creative companies find the right people.

Did you advertise your new gig - or score it - through The Big Idea? Tell us about it! Email editor@thebigidea.co.nz.

If you have a new job or position to fill, list it in our Work section, or contact us on advertising@thebigidea.co.nz for more info.

Written by

Emanuella de Ruiter

11 Nov 2019

Emanuella is a documentary photographer and writer based in Ōtautahi Christchurch. She enjoys writing about people and their unique life experiences — especially when those experiences involve the arts!

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