Festival Fever

Words by Virginia Winder

While the rest of the world copes with COVID-19, Taranakians are about to be hit with Festival Fever.

During lockdown, a group of gutsy women in the region’s creative sector collaborated to bring Taranaki back to life.

The result is a pulsating 17 days of vibrant art, gardens, food, music and theatre.

It all began with Zoom, initially pulled together by New Plymouth MP Jonathon Young, who invited a whole bunch of people to an online meeting. The outcome can be seen in two double-sided jam-packed programmes created by Taranaki Arts Festival Trust.

One features the Taranaki Garden Festival partnering with the Taranaki Arts Trail for the first time, continuing its relationship with the Taranaki Sustainable Backyard Trail and embracing events provided by Feast Festival, local businesses and Discover Taranaki. The festival runs from October 30 to 8, with the arts trail on for the first three days.

The other programme presents RESET 2020 – A Festival for Aotearoa, which runs from November 5 to 15, and includes a huge array of daily performances and workshops. On the flipside of the programme is Feast Festival showcasing Taranaki’s hospitality sector. 

TAFT CEO Suzanne Porter says that Zoom meeting gave her much to mull over. TAFT had two festivals planned for this year, but had to cancel both the Right Royal Cabaret and Box of Tricks. 

“During that period, bored out of my tree, it got me thinking about collaboration,” she says. “We discussed with Venture Taranaki (VT) what the rest of the year could look like in terms of events. They brought up the arts trail.”

The trail, originally planned for June, also had to cancel because of Covid-19 restrictions. 

“We have always thought there was a connection between arts and gardens,” Suzanne says. “It was a natural marriage and the same with RESET and the Feast Festival. We know that people like to go to shows and out to eat.

“The whole collaboration was a breeze because nobody’s territorial. These are women not working within bureaucracy, so they are able to move very quickly; it’s very refreshing. One phone call, one meeting and get on and do it.”

Taranaki Garden Festival manager Tetsu Garnett says it was that easy.

“It was also about gardeners being brave and saying ‘yes’. Without them we wouldn’t have a festival,” Tetsu says. 

There are 40 properties in the 33rd garden festival, 35 in the 5th backyards trail and 85 artists in the arts trail. 

“We have got a louder voice if we all shout together.”

Taranaki Arts Trail coordinator Niki Jenkinson says: “We have definitely benefited from the marketing. It’s like we have been picked up and carried by this wonderful big team at TAFT. Working with them is a joy.”

The programme also includes the backyards trail, which co-ordinator Erin Strampel says is all about working with others.

“Collaboration is so key. It’s just showing that everyone is supporting each other through these times and sharing expertise,” she says.

“Research shows gardening helps lessen anxiety and depression, which a lot of people are going through with this whole unknown.”

Visitors can see everything from small urban gardens to sustainable lifestyle blocks and farms, watch demonstrations and join informal tours. 

“Our garden hosts are part of the trail because they are excited to share their knowledge and their journey.”

MUSIC, THEATRE, COMEDY & FOOD

Once the Garden Festival ends, RESET 2020 kicks in, along with 10 days of feasting.

RESET 2020 manager Lisa Haskell says the partnership with Feast Festival is a perfect fit. 

“It’s a way of supporting another event and the hospitality sector. It’s about attending events and not just getting food for the mind but food for the body.”

For RESET, the goal has been to profile and umbrella as many creative events as possible right around the region, plus highlighting street art, public art and visual artists. 

“We’ve been fortunate due to the enormous support of our funders, sponsors and patrons that tickets have been kept to an affordable $25 or less,” Lisa says. 

“It’s about profiling the region and offering a smorgasbord of things for people to do. It’s bigger than us, than our festival, this is about our region.”

Feast Festival founder Rachel Church has pulled together a programme to support the hospitality sector hit hard by lockdown. 

“This year is all about having people support them for what they do, which is pretty amazing. These people are so hard-working and so creative,” she says. 

These collaborations are all about breathing life back into Taranaki, in a year like no other.

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