One of New Zealand's top choreographers has been named as the new artistic director of Auckland Arts Festival.

Shona McCullagh, co-founder of the NZ Dance Company, was chosen from national and international candidates and will lead the programming for the annual festival until 2024. She replaces Jonathan Bielski who steps down after three years at the festival's helm with 2020 being his final one.

McCullagh, who began her career as a dancer in the 1980s, is a NZ Arts Foundation Laureate and was made a Member of the NZ Order of Merit in 2000 for her services to dance.

Her work extends to theatre, film and television and a talent agency, The Human Agency.
That has seen her direct a number of major events including the Steinlager Rugby Awards and serve as head choreographer for the 2011 Rugby World Cup Opening Ceremony.

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McCullagh also has a growing reputation as a film-maker and for integrating real-time interactive technology with live performances.

Taking up the job will mean stepping back from the NZ Dance Company. NZ Advancement Trust chair Sharon van Gulik says she will be missed but has built a "legacy arts company" which creates work for NZ audiences and has gained an international reputation.

AAF Trust chair John Judge says McCullagh will continue to deliver an event which serves Auckland's diverse communities. He says as an Aucklander, McCullagh has a strong understanding of the local arts environment.