March 28, 2009


By BRITTON BROUN – The Dominion Post   

The axe is hanging over Wellington’s Fringe Festival, with organisers unable to guarantee it will go ahead next year.

Director Mark Westerby’s contract has not been renewed because of a lack of money and Fringe Arts Trust chairwoman Miranda Clayton is uncertain if the festival will reach its 20th anniversary next year.

The New Zealand Fringe Festival showcases hundreds of plays and performance and visual art from throughout the country and draws up to 50,000 people a year.

It gets most of its funding from Wellington City Council (about $65,000), sponsorship and community grants. But Ms Clayton said the global economic crisis had led to a substantial drop in sponsorship and community support.

Grant money had fallen from more than $100,000 five years ago to just $4000 this year.

"It’s worrying, absolutely, but getting money in has become trickier and trickier. We’re reassessing the fringe’s future it’s just a sign of the times."

She said the budget was cut back for this year’s festival in February including getting rid of printed programmes but organisers could not keep scraping by each year.

The trust had held focus groups and spoken to stakeholders to find out if the festival was still needed.

"It’s time to go, ‘Right, how much does our community want us?’ And it’s time to step back and reassess how things are done.

"The framework that has worked for the last 10 years just ain’t working no more," Ms Clayton said.

The Wellington festival, New Zealand’s first, began in 1990 and has been used to develop material by groups such as The Flight of the Conchords.

Mr Westerby, who ran the 2005, 2008 and this year’s festival the biggest in its history with 108 acts said it attracted up to 50,000 people. Every second year it runs alongside the New Zealand International Arts Festival and swells to even greater numbers.

"It would be a massive loss to Wellington, the arts community and the audience. This year it did quite well considering the economic climate we’re in."

Wellington city councillor Ray Ahipene-Mercer said the Fringe Festival was important to the city and the council was committed to it.

"More than orchestra or ballet it brings an edginess. It’s really a showcase for emerging talent … and we want to help."

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