Editorial: Aucklanders spoiled for arts choices

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Twelth Night by William Shakespeare performed at the pop-Up Globe Theater in Auckland. Image / supplied
Twelth Night by William Shakespeare performed at the pop-Up Globe Theater in Auckland. Image / supplied

Although Wellington makes claims as the country's artistic capital, with Sir Peter Jackson's Weta-based machine and the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, the diversity and range of events performed around Auckland suggests the Queen City could easily wear the crown.

Take this weekend for instance. A visitor to Auckland could catch Shakespeare's Henry V just off Queen St at a striking pop-up version of the bard's 17th century theatre. If the visitor prefers a musical, they could get along to The Phantom of The Opera at The Civic. The Andrew Lloyd Webber show, which has sold 30,000 tickets, has a week to run. Out of the city, but still within Auckland's boundaries, four talented young Pacific singers who perform as Operanesia are running through a repertoire from Puccini to Elvis Presley in a garden setting near Omaha tomorrow evening.

Clearly, those who enjoy what Auckland has to offer in the arts - and 91 per cent of Aucklanders say they attend at least one event a year - are spoiled for choice.

The scale of the creative sector has become apparent this week from the Herald series, Auckland and the Arts, which concludes today. Nearly 18,000 people are employed in the sector, 2.8 per cent of the city's workforce. Their efforts - in visual and performing arts, design, publishing, screen production, digital content creation, music and radio - generate $1.8 billion a year, getting on for 3 per cent of Auckland's GDP.

More than 9000 businesses serve the industry, and those who run them say they feel the impact when a big show hits town. A senior hospitality executive remarked that without a vibrant arts, entertainment and cultural scene the restaurant, cafe and bar trade would feel the pinch and hotel beds would lie empty.

And not just in downtown Auckland. There are performing arts venues scattered across the city, all supporting shows throughout the year. The cultural foundations of the sector are broadening. Last year, the first Mandarin language theatre company kicked off, and put on two shows this week, at North Shore's PumpHouse Theatre.

Critically for a diverse city such as Auckland, festivals and shows reach families who might struggle to afford tickets to some. The Lantern, Pasifika and Diwali festivals draw 250,000 people, which reinforces findings in Toi Whitiki, Auckland Council's arts and culture strategic plan, that nine out of 10 Aucklanders say they learn about different cultures through the arts.

The numbers support the case for the council's continued and broad engagement with the sector. In a city where council investment is often regarded with hostility and suspicion, the public appears comfortable with arts funding.

Financially the council is already heavily engaged through the provision of infrastructure, grants and art buying. Its part in growing the creative pie might not involve extra injections of cash, but its role should ensure essential leadership and co-ordination.

For the visitor to Auckland, the annual Arts Festival starts next week. The choices will be all the more richer. The hardest part is getting the schedule and selecting some of the treats.

- NZ Herald

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