Auckland Festival

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Formerly known as Auckland Festival, Auckland Arts Festival or Te Ahurei Toi o Tāmaki Makaurau is an annual arts and cultural festival held in Auckland, New Zealand. The Festival features works from New Zealand, the Pacific, Asia and beyond, including world premieres of new works and international performing arts events.


Auckland was the first city in the Asia Pacific to have a large festival, which it hosted from 1948 to 1982. Almost 20 years later, in 2000, Auckland City Council reinvented the festival, based on the premise that Auckland is a rich, dynamic, and diverse city. Auckland City Council voted to support the establishment of a unique arts and cultural festival for Auckland celebrating its position in the Pacific.[1] AK03, the inaugural event of the “new” Auckland Festival, opened on 20 September 2003. Subsequently the dates were moved to March and festivals were held in 2005 (AK05), 2007 (AK07), 2009 (Auckland Festival 2009), 2011 (Auckland Arts Festival 2011), 2013 (Auckland Arts Festival 2013), and 2015 (Auckland Arts Festival 2015) before going annual in March 2016. The 13th Auckland Arts Festival will take place 3-21 March 2021.[2] Shona McCullagh is the artistic director from 2021 - 2024 taking over from Jonathan Bielski.[3]

The festivals main objectives are to engage Aucklanders in the arts, to support New Zealand art and artists, and to reflect what is unique about Auckland in.[4] Its program features more than 100 events including dance, music, cabaret, burlesque, theatre, ballet, visual arts, film, and public forums, occupying most of Auckland's theatres, galleries and concert halls. In 2007 a dedicated music and cabaret environment (“Red Square”) was created, which serves as a hub where artists and public gather during the festival, day and night. In 2011 'Red Square' was re-branded as the Festival Garden and a new program element, White Night, modeled on Europe's 'Nuit Blanche' events, was introduced - the first such event in Australasia.

The 2013 Auckland Arts Festival was the most successful festival to date achieving record attendances and more than doubling the box office income. It featured more than 300 events and over 1000 artists participated including three national theatre companies. There were 63 sold out performances. Highlights included Group F's Breath of the Volcano, Urban (Circolumbia), Everything is Ka Pai, War Requiem (with the APO), One Man, Two Guvnors (National Theatre of Great Britain), The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart (National Theatre of Scotland) and Rhinoceros in Love (National Theatre Company of China). A new Maori work HUI by Mitch Tawhi Thomas premiered alongside the re-staging of the Pacific musical The Factory by Kila Kokonut Krew. Audiences were again welcomed over 19 days to the Festival Garden in Aotea Square, including the Festival Club (Spiegeltent), Tiffany Singh's Fly Me Up to Where You Are which she created with 4,000 Auckland children, and Srinivas Krishna's video artwork When the Gods Came Down to Earth, as well as free music, family days and the opportunity to relax and meet friends over food and drink. White Night took place throughout Auckland City with 83 galleries, museums and other locations opening their doors to more than 20,000 attendees.

In May 2014, Auckland Council voted unanimously in support of a trial annual festival as part of its budget meeting. The Council voted to provide for additional funding to the Festival for a trial annual festival in 2016.

The 2015 Auckland Arts Festival was a 19-day, high-energy celebration of our city, people and cultures with a programme that appealed to all ages and introduced Aucklanders and visitors to new, once-in-a-lifetime performances, mind-blowing art works and ideas. More than 900 artists from 33 countries delivered 145 ticketed performances and 208 free exhibitions and events in 86 locations across the city. From Leigh to Papakura, Titirangi to Howick, the Festival offered unique experiences for audiences and artists, reaching 180,000 people.

In March 2016, 1160 artists from 41 countries descended on Auckland to provide locals and visitors to the city with exceptional and, in many cases, once-in-a-lifetime arts experiences. For 19 days, at more than 100 locations, Auckland was delivered a brilliant cross-cultural, cross-geographical and cross-generational programme of music, performance and events. The AAF 2016 presented 125 ticketed performances across 35 shows, 200 free events, four world premieres, four season premieres and 15 New Zealand premieres to excited audiences.

Between 8 and 26 March 2017, AAF 2017 presented 132 ticketed performances, 300 free events, and seven world premieres, across 130 venues and locations across Auckland.

AAF 2018 took place 7-25 March and featured a major pre-festival season of English National Ballet's production of Akram Khan's Giselle. A feature of the 2018 Festival to mark the 10th anniversary of the festival was the Festival Playground at Silo Park. The Festival Playground ran for the duration of the festival and was visited by 60,000 people with ticketed and free music concerts, visual arts, and a food and drinks pavilion.

AAF 2019 took place 7-24 March and included the return of the Spiegeltent to Aotea Square with sizzling cabaret show Blanc de Blanc. The 2019 Festival saw the introduction of a new programme strand - Toitū te Reo. Translating as holding fast to our language, this signalled AAF's desire to champion te reo Māori through the platform of the arts with a goal that te reo Māori be seen, heard and felt every day of the Festival. The Festival opened with Tira, a free concert in Aotea Square attended by approx. 2000 people and live-streamed on AAF's website and Facebook page reaching a further 6000 people. The concert saw people sing iconic waiata together in te reo Māori. Other features of the 2019 Festival included Komische Oper Berlin and 1927's innovative production of The Magic Flute, a new dance work from Muscle Mouth, As It Stands, gripping theatre Ulster American, physical theatre The Dreamer, world-famous Silkroad Ensemble, and a contemporary music programme including Death Cab for Cutie, Four Tet, Beach house, Rhye and Neko Case. Halfway through the 2019 Festival, 51 people were killed in the Christchurch mosque shootings. As a result, Whānau Day was cancelled.

AAF 2020 was scheduled to take place 11-29 March, however was seriously impacted by the COVID-19 (coronavirus) global pandemic. In late February air cargo issues as a result of cancellation of flights resulted in the cancellation of the major outdoor event Place Des Anges. The Festival opened as planned on Wednesday 11 March with TIRA in Aotea Square featuring Hollie Smith, Hātea Kapa Haka and the six Auckland Everybody Sings choirs and was attended by 2000 people, and reaching a further 7000 people online. From Saturday 14 March, the New Zealand Government imposed border controls and limits on mass gatherings which saw the cancellation of a number of shows. On Thursday 18 March further restrictions limiting indoor gatherings to 100 people resulted in the cancellation of the rest of the Festival. New Zealand entered full lockdown on Thursday 25 March. Highlights of the eight days of the Festival which took place 11-17 March included: Ballet Preljocaj's Snow White, the trans-Tasman rom-com BLACK TIES from ILBIJERRI Theatre Company and Te Rēhia Theatre Company, the mind-blowing Cold Blood, Los Angeles Master Chorale's profoundly moving performance of Lagrime di San Pietro, circus-cabaret Limbo Unhinged, Silo Theatre's UPU, and the world premiere of Ka Pō, Ka Waiata: Songs in Darkness.

The Festival is run by an independent not for profit trust, the Auckland Festival Trust. It is principally funded by Auckland City.[5]

Festival Directors[edit]

Year Artistic Director
2002 Mike Mizrahi & Marie Adams
2003-2004 Simon Prast
2005-2011 David Malacari
2011-2017 Carla van Zon
2018-2020 Jonathan Bielski
2021- Shona McCullagh [MNZM]


  1. ^ "Without art, what is your city?". Interview with David Malacari. The Big Idea Web. 2007. Retrieved 2008-05-15.[dead link]
  2. ^ "Shona McCullagh in conversation with Indira Stewart". First Up. Radio New Zealand National. 2020. Retrieved 2020-05-20.
  3. ^ Christian, Dionne (2019-11-27). "Auckland Arts Festival names new head". NZ Herald. ISSN 1170-0777. Retrieved 2020-09-20.
  4. ^ "About Us". Auckland Festival 2007. 2007. Archived from the original on July 20, 2007. Retrieved 2008-05-15.
  5. ^ "Auckland Festival". Auckland City. 2007. Archived from the original on 16 May 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-15.

External links[edit]