A new music precinct on Auckland's waterfront will be one of the highlights of the region's revamped and now annual arts festival.

Incoming artistic director Jonathan Bielski today released the full programme for the 2018 event, which runs through March, and says the precinct, at Silo Park, will be part of a new look Festival Playground unlike any seen in Auckland before.

Created by designer and lighting specialist Angus Muir, it includes an arena stage and will open with a funk concert featuring some of New Zealand's top recording stars - the lineup will be announced in the Herald's TimeOut on Thursday - with gigs and co-labs throughout the three-week event.

As well as music, the Festival Playground hosts House of Mirrors, an outdoor, walk-through labyrinth made from 40 tonnes of steel and 15 tonnes of glass and composed of seemingly endless mirrors, and family activities including Whanau Day.

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But the Aotea Centre will remain as a hub for Auckland Arts Festival (AAF) which has seen 1.7 million attend since it was started by the Auckland Festival Trust in 2003. Bielski, who replaces Carla van Zon as artistic director, says he wanted his first AAF to bring people together and tell stories of communities, histories and cultures.

"Auckland Arts Festival is the home for ambitious and compelling ideas that celebrate humanity and uplift the spirit. We champion the storyteller, the adventurer, the provocateur and the creator," he says, adding that it has a commitment to tangata whenua while also celebrating contemporary and cosmopolitan Auckland.

"We invited everyone to come along to the festival to be entertained, inspired, provoked and - most importantly - included."

Auckland Council's finance and performance committee last month voted unanimously for the AAF to become an annual event.

The council contributes, through the Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Board, around $3.35 million towards the festival which is also funded by Creative New Zealand, charitable foundations and private donors. It is up to ARAFB to decide how much the festival trust receives each year.

Despite increasing, ticket sales alone don't generate enough money to sustain the event which, until 2015, had been held every second year since 2003. But Auckland Council agreed to consider making the AAF annual if a business care could be presented; the last three years served as a testing ground.

OrphEus - a dance opera by Michael Parmenter.
OrphEus - a dance opera by Michael Parmenter.

Several factors played into the decision to approve funding for an annual festival. Last year, despite some of the worst weather the Auckland region has seen, the highest number of attendees ever - 196,000 - was recorded while box office revenue hit $2.38m - the AAF's second highest take.

It also noted that AAF has made significant efforts to diversify audiences, widen its geographical spread with venues in Warkworth, Manukau, Glen Innes and the North Shore included and has continued to attract world-class international and national acts.

"Having a major annual arts event helps build Auckland's reputation as a vibrant, creative city," says councillor Ross Clow, chair of the finance and performance committee. "It brings a great sense of pride to Aucklanders that they can take part in, and enjoy, these fantastic events that energise our city.

"This development will help to differentiate Auckland culturally, leading the arts as the first city of the Pacific. I have no doubt that having an annual event will also attract a greater number of visitors to Auckland and boost our economy."

George Orwell's 1984, newly adapted for the stage by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan.
George Orwell's 1984, newly adapted for the stage by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan.
God Bless The Child.
God Bless The Child.

Playwright Hone Kouka's newest work, Bless The Child, is billed as a thought-provoking look at the consequences of violence against children and will be performed at the AAF and NZ Festival in Wellington. Meanwhile, feminist theatre-makers Eleanor Bishop and Julia Croft continue to explore the impact of the male gaze on female sexuality in their latest show Body Double.

On Saturday, the Weekend Herald announced The Naked Samoans Do Magic, which brings together the comedy troupe behind Sione's Wedding and bro'Town and Wellington-based theatre company The Conch, for "The Nakeds" 20th anniversary.

Dance aficionados will be happy with acclaimed choreographer Michael Parmenter's first full contemporary dance work in a decade, OrphEus - a dance opera, and the Royal NZ Ballet's The Piano - The Ballet, a dance version of the iconic NZ film.

The festival commemorates the late Mahinarangi Tocker, a musician and champion for Maori music, gay rights and mental illness awareness who wrote more than 1000 songs. Anika Moa, Annie Crummer, Shona Liang, Nadia Reid and Emma Paki - among others - perform a selection of Tocker's song in Love Me As I Am.

There's also a continuing commitment to family events, which will include a tour of the Auckland region - from Wellsford to Waiuku - by Moa who takes her family show Chop Chop Hiyaa! on the road.

The festival also joins with Auckland Council to present Pop projects across the city. It's a council programme of temporary projects designed to bring "creativity and surprise" to Auckland's public spaces.

The community participatory arts programme Whanui will return, with the community artists who will make work in their neighbourhoods to be named in January.

LOWDOWN:
What: Auckland Arts Festival
Where & when: Venues across Auckland, March 8 - 25