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Event: Nelson Arts Festival – Oct 2023

A stunning line-up of theatre, dance, comedy, music, poetry, visual art, literary talks, cultural conversations, and community events are set to transform and fire-up residents and visitors to Whakatū Nelson from 19 – 29 October 2023.

Encouraging curiosity, regeneration and unbridled joy, the 29th annual Nelson Arts Festival will transport audiences to new realms and back with over 50 events running over eleven art filled, mind altering days.

Some of our most exceptional performers, creators and thinkers are confirmed for the 2023 line-up. The programme boasts renowned Māori literary legend Witi Ihimaera, trailblazing director Anapela Polata’ivao, award-winning doctor and writer Dr Emma Espiner, alt pop/folk superstar Theia/Te Kaahu, Ockham Book Award winner Tusiata Avia, Persian-NZ rapper CHAII whose music is featured in Charlize Theron’s recent Netflix movie, Taskmaster and Shortland Street star Kura Forrester, and The Great Kiwi Bake Off, Have You Been Paying Attention and ZM host Hayley Sproull and leading journalist and author Guyon Espiner.

The theatre and dance programme showcases some of our finest in Aotearoa. Audiences who flocked to Wild Dogs Under My Skirt will be excited for the follow-on event The Savage Coloniser Show. Fierce, furious and fabulously unforgiving, this show was the sell-out hit of the Auckland Arts Festival and Wānaka Festival of Colour.

Currently thrilling audiences and garnering five-star reviews at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, circus comedy trio Laser Kiwi’s Rise of the Olive and leading choreographic voice Sarah Foster Sproull’s (Foster Group Dance) Double Goer take over the Suter and Theatre Royal stages. An experience unlike any other, World of WearableArt Show Director and internationally renowned dance artist Malia Johnston’s Tōrua will take you on a journey through our streets – walking shoes required!

From our news headlines to our stages – another highlight is the timely commission and world premiere of Tense. Combining Māori Theatre with pūrākau, taonga puoro, waiata and poetry, Motueka-based Donna McLeod’s work is inspired by the Nelson Tenths, one of the largest litigations against the Crown in Aotearoa New Zealand’s history.

After ten years apart, Aotearoa/Ireland’s award-winning Gráda return to our stages as part of their world tour, for an exceptional intimate afternoon of Irish music at Neudorf Vineyards. The contemporary music programme at The Deville Music Hub hosts some of our most groundbreaking musicians including “must-see live band” KITA, indie darling and rising star Jazmine Mary, South African born Amapiano/Hip Hop artist Jujulipps with explosive DJ INFORDIN, and internationally renowned CHAII. Classical music is well represented in this year’s programme with Chamber Music New Zealand presenting the Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir and instrumentalists performing a stunning new arrangement of Mozart’s Requiem by Robert Wiremu. From sell out seasons at Auckland Arts Festival and Festival of Colour, NZTrio and friends present an evening of chamber music and taonga pūoro celebrating the conservation work of Forest & Bird.

The Festival’s transformation of Whakatū begins as soon as people touch down at the airport where they are greeted with Elisabeth Pointon’s seven metre inflatable monolith. This bold work spearheads a fantastic visual arts programme which also features the work of neurodiverse artist Bailee Lobb, whose giant textile bubbles and live sleeping performance installation, will soothe the senses. Kanohi Kitea (the seen face) an exploration of moko kanohi at The Suter Art Gallery and Melissa Banks’ photographic homage to kapa haka Te Ara O Hine Rēhia, join a vibrant array of exhibitions with their focus on Te Tauihu stories and experiences.

Free community events bookend the 2023 programme and take over the city centre: Night Vision opens the festival with gallery twilight hours, roving performances and rangatahi-led music performances in Tune Up. The beloved Mask Carnivale returns to the programme for the first time since 2019 on Friday 27 October to ring in the final weekend of the Festival season. Participants from across the community will join the bright, highly visual parade donned in hand crafted masks and costumes, whilst others line the streets to enjoy kai, music, pop up performances and world class dancers.

Nelson Arts Festival is also proud to present its renowned literary programme Pukapuka Talks, which features 29 of our most beloved authors and exciting new voices from across Aotearoa. From intimate poetry performances in temples/sanctuaries to the splendour of the Witi & Friends Gala Night, we celebrate storytelling in all its forms, traversing subjects that matter: from addiction to wellness, fragility to resilience, ignorance to culture, mycorrhizal networks of fungi to human interconnectedness, and groupthink to critical analysis. Witness what happens when these writers and editors, thinkers and commentators come together to inspire us and expand our sense of what is possible, featuring wordsmiths such as Ruby Solly, Caroline Barron, Anne Tiernan, Monty Soutar, Dr Emma Espiner, Liv Sisson, Alia Bojilova, Ariana Tikao, Paula Morris, and Madeleine Chapman.

The 2023 festival will again offer the revolutionary Pay What You Can (PWYC) ticketing model, where audiences can choose between five price points per ticket. This model was successfully trialled in 2022 offering options for both those for whom price is a barrier, and those who are keen to pay it forward and enable others to access the arts. This trial is funded by The Cultural Sector Innovation Fund, Manatū Taonga | Ministry for Culture and Heritage and supported by Nelson Building Society.

The Nelson Arts Festival is made possible with core funding from Nelson City Council and major grants from Creative New Zealand, Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage, and Rātā Foundation, as well as community funding grants and the generous support of the Festival whānau of partner organisations.

Photo credit – Steve Hussey


19 – 29 October 2023

Full Programme is now live


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