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March 14, 2011 | by  | in Opinion |
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Kate follows Celia: Things Aren’t As Festive This Year

While Wellington’s politics are unlikely to have attracted you here, it’s entirely plausible that our festivals and events did. There’s a huge range of stuff on offer with the Wellington City Council’s website claiming over 200 events every year. The council has several ‘aspirations’ outlined in their ten-year plan, and festivals add greatly to meeting these aspirations by making Wellington more liveable, more eventful, more actively engaged, more inclusive, more prosperous, more innovative, and creating a stronger sense of place.
This year though, things aren’t looking too good on the festival front. Council funding has been diverted to the Rugby World Cup, resulting in some events being downsized or cancelled.

The biennial Cuba St Carnival was due to run this year, but was cancelled. Organisers cited difficult economic conditions and the Rugby World Cup (RWC) competing for funding.
The Fringe Festival has also been decreased, from 80 acts over three weeks in 2010 to 60 acts over two weeks this year.

The Jazz Festival has been cancelled—oh, did I say cancelled? I meant to say reduced: from a four-day celebration, to a one-off performance by jazz legend Sonny Rollins this winter. Organisers again state “competition for funding in the RWC year” as the sole reason. Festival organisers were half a mil short of funding (of the $1.2 million it cost all up), and unable to find any big sponsors to cover the bill.

That’s not the end of things: the annual Waitangi Day festival One Love has also been cancelled. Organised by Radio Active 89fm, the event draws 20,000 people at its peak, and has seen considerable growth in its 13-year history. Although the cancellation is because of the cost of government compliance, I think it’s at times like these that hardworking organisations should be able to request extra funds from the council to ensure an event breaks even, especially as they’re providing an inclusive experience on our national day. With so much funding already being directed to the RWC however, this is unlikely to happen.

It seems to me that sporting events are taking too much of a precedence over arts and culture events, which seems ironic considering Wellington’s tourism promoters touting the city as the arts capital of the country. Cuba organiser Chris Morley-Hall requested half a million in city council funding for 2011 (compared to $200,000 in 2009). While that is a fair chunk of extra funding, look at what WCC is spending money on: a $350,000 sculpture for the RWC. Although the RWC brings in a whole lot more money (an estimated $45 million of new spending), does a sculpture add $350,000 worth of spending?

I’m left pondering: are we blaming the RWC for too much? Is it time that these events became more commercially viable anyway (see, for example, the International Arts Festival spending $100 per ticket on average)? Will Celia’s first annual plan reverse this new trend of fewer festivals? And will the RWC be worth it?

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