As part of a wider journey to recognise diversity and uniqueness, the New Zealand Festival has been working towards creating a more accessible Festival. For me, this continues a journey started when I worked at the Perth Festival and became aware of the challenges faced by some members of our audiences.
Some of these were people who had been festival-goers for many years, but age and other circumstances meant it was now harder for them to attend and engage with live performance. Others were potential new audiences for whom the barriers to attendance made them feel excluded from an experience so clearly enjoyed by many.
But what we had in common was a love of the arts and the belief that festivals should be about bringing people from all walks of life together.
Arts sector a champion of inclusion
The principle of inclusiveness is one that has been championed in the arts sector across the world. The role that a vibrant creative sector can play in creating and strengthening communities and dealing with difficult issues has been well-documented.
A turning point for me was when I attended the Unlimited Festival at South Bank Centre during the 2012 London Paralympics. A festival celebrating the artistic vision and originality of disabled artists, alongside the celebration of sporting achievements, gave this sector a profile never seen before.
It completed the circle, not only bringing audiences with accessibility challenges into the theatre but putting their stories on stage in the most exciting way.
Being a more accessible organisation opens the potential for our own communities and artists to express their stories and achieve their aspirations. In 2016, the New Zealand Festival presented the renowned Australian theatre company Back to Back with their hit show Small Metal Objects.
Everybody Cool Lives Here
The uncompromising ambition of this company has taken them to leading festivals around the world and it has been a delight to see the growing profile of Wellington company Everybody Cool Lives Here as they work with similar ideas.
Looking forward, we will continue to try and create opportunities for all audiences to experience a range of events across the New Zealand Festival from sign interpreted to audio described, relaxed and tactile experiences.
However, we are always open to suggestions for other ways we can make it possible for audiences to share the experience of some of the world’s best artists in Wellington.
Shelagh Magadza is the Artistic Director of the New Zealand Festival. The 2018 Festival runs from 23 February to 18 March. Visit its website to find out more about its accessible events.