The Auckland Arts Festival will likely seem familiar to those that have been to other arts festivals around the world. But there are some big differences that make it stand out – and make it a compelling arts festival to attend.
First of all, while there are shows, acts and exhibits from around the world, the biggest emphasis – by far – is on New Zealand artists in general, and Auckland artists in particular. It's a true celebration of national pride in the arts, as opposed to the publicity cycle of getting famous stars so that the next time you can get even bigger stars.
This local and national theme is carried through by the strong Maori presence in every arts category. In the typical New Zealand style, Maori culture is synonymous with New Zealand culture – no one is throwing crumbs to the native minority just to 'show' that they care. Another way that the festival lends itself to an inclusive environment is that it isn't an excuse to jack up prices. Sure, some shows are expensive, but there are plenty that cost less than a dinner out and there's lots of free events as well.
Speaking of free events, the highlight of the festival isn't the opening or closing nights, but rather the White Night. On a single night, from 6pm-12am, scores of galleries in Auckland throw open their doors to the public, and the whole city becomes one big gallery opening.
The Auckland Arts Festival isn't just a month-long concert for one demographic – that demographic being the festival circuit that sees every show as a party. Special student shows are scheduled throughout the month, and there are traveling shows that visit schools throughout the country. And there are workshops with individual artists as well as other curriculum-friendly events.
And then, of course, there's the vibe of the city during the festival. It seems like everyone knows someone who's involved with the festival, and the festival happens in a lot of different venues throughout the city, so it's like one big festival instead of just something that's happening at this theater or that arena. Many of the events have Q&A panels afterward, which adds to the collaborative atmosphere.
Each year the festival is given a code and as anyone who's attended knows, since 2007 the main meeting place has been the Red Square, named in honor of the Westpac brand, one of the festival's sponsors. Within the Red Square is the fantastical Spiegeltent, which resembles an old-style cabaret and features acts from a capella groups to Cirque du Soleil; outside the tent, artists, performers and attendees hang out together.
The festival was the first ever arts festval to be hosted in the Aisa-Pacific region, which began in 1948. From 1982 to 2000 the festival wasn't on, and then came back as an odd-year biennial and has been going strong ever since, taking up the city's social schedule for more than two weeks in March.
If you're going to be anywhere in New Zealand in March, I highly recommend attending the Auckland Arts Festival. It not only shows the city at its best, but it gives you a sense of the culture in a way that no other experience can.
Written by Amanda Lansdown for Travel Insurance Cover (www.travelinsurancecover.co.nz). For those attending the Auckland Arts Festival, Travel Insurance Cover offers the Discover NZ Policy for travel within New Zealand (available to both residents and non-residents of NZ).