Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Mini festival a bargain at $400,000

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Dumping four top-paid managers would enable council to put its money where its mouth is.

Councillors tossed the ball back to the festival organisers, pledging their support for a "smaller" event next year, but telling organisers to pay for the festival "from its own resources". Photo / Brett Phibbs
Councillors tossed the ball back to the festival organisers, pledging their support for a "smaller" event next year, but telling organisers to pay for the festival "from its own resources". Photo / Brett Phibbs

It was a bit like first day back at school yesterday as Auckland councillors sat around the meeting table trying to outdo one another with tales of the wondrous shows they'd seen over the past three weeks at the Auckland Arts Festival. Mayor Len Brown led the claque, declaring the festival "a stunner", and praising the "outstanding" work of the organisers.

But despite their great enthusiasm, councillors couldn't quite bring themselves to find the extra $400,000, festival organisers were seeking to underwrite an extra festival this time next year as a precursor to converting the biennial event into an annual attraction.

Instead councillors tossed the ball back to the festival organisers, pledging their support for a "smaller" event next year, but telling organisers to pay for the festival "from its own resources".

Councillor Sandra Coney opposed this "off-the-cuff" decision as "half-arsed", warning that a cut-down festival next year would confuse the public. She argued that the momentum needed to be maintained.

I couldn't agree more. Either that, or delay turning the festival into an annual event until 2015.

The thought of a poorly funded festival next year reminds me of the first "taster" festival in March 2001, which consisted mainly of a Mike Mizrahi-Gareth Farr "happening" called The Launching, where actors waded around a paddling pool set up in Aotea Square while the audience looked down from scaffold seating in bemused confusion.

The essence of a good festival is to provide a large marketplace of events, offering a mix of the old and the new, the familiar and the experimental, the highbrow and the popular. Somewhere for everyone to graze.

Councillor Richard Northey, who proposed the no-cost option, suggested it be funded out of this year's profits.

But at this stage, no one knows what these are.

Festival chairwoman Victoria Carter told councillors they had doubled box office sales and tripled audiences compared with the 2011 festival, but how that translates into profits won't be clear until all the bills are paid.

Festival organisers are budgeting on a 2014 festival costing $1 million. Of this, $400,000 cwill come from the council and the rest from sponsors and ticket sales.

The festival trust receives an annual grant through the council-funded Regional Amenities Funding Board of $2.23 million to provide a biennial festival. From 2015, it will seek an additional annual grant of $1 million, to produce an annual festival.

Everyone at the meeting seemed united that this year's festival has been a stunning success. Ms Carter said more than 100,000 tickets were bought, along with a still to be calculated number of attendees to free events.

This compares with the 2011 festival's total audience numbers of 120,000, which in turn was up 20 per cent on 2009 attendances.

The 2011 festival made a modest "operating surplus" of $40,000.

Of course if Ateed (Auckland Council's economic growth agency) could be persuaded to cast off its anti-arts blinkers, and appreciate the economic value of an annual arts festival, planning for the 2014 festival could go ahead forthwith.

What's $400,000 to an organisation with a budget of $68.7 million and that pays 30 of its 276 staff members $100,000 or more a year. A three-week festival versus four anonymous Ateed staffers.

It's no contest.

An official report to councillors called for a delay until May 9, to give time to prepare "a full business case", while agreeing that if the trust found other funding sources, or achieved "higher than expected profits from 2013" the 2014 festival could go ahead anyway.

No one is really expecting that.

On the other hand, with the great head of steam the festival has now developed, combined with the seemingly universal support from councillors and bureaucrats for it to become an annual event, it does seem it will be a huge missed opportunity, if the council doesn't come up with $400,000 now.

- NZ Herald

Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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