Arts Inc Heretaunga held its AGM last week, where most of the discussion centred on the cancellation of this year’s Arts Festival. And along with that, the departure of Pitsch Leiser, the initiator and prime mover for the Festival since its inception.

Clearly a tough call for the Arts Inc Board.

The main activities of Arts Inc have been the Festival, the Blossom Parade, the Art Guide and Trail, and the day-to-day operation of the Community Arts Centre.

Pitsch Leiser Photo Florence Charvin

Interestingly, both the Arts Festival and the Centre attract the same level of participation – 31,691 for last year’s Festival audience and 30,766 visitors to the Centre. And the Blossom Parade, an entirely different creature, attracts about 25,000 spectators on the day.

But it’s the Arts Festival that has provided most of the sizzle as perceived by the public; however at significant cost, much of which must be incurred during months of pre-planning, not to be recouped until ticket sales begin later in September/October.

Hastings Council has been the most significant funder of the Festival at $120,000, but the current post-cyclone fiscal crunch has jeopardised that funding, while weak ticket sales for last season’s Festival has left Arts Inc with insufficient reserves to front another Festival’s planning and organising costs. And left unsaid … uncertainty over what corporate support and ticket sales might look like for a coming season.

In the 2023 Festival, 25,203 people experienced free festival performances, while 6,488 paid tickets were issued. Moreover, ticket prices were discounted to accommodate the financial climate left by Cyclone Gabrielle.

The Arts Inc Financial Statement for the year ended 31 December 2023 shows the organisation ran at a loss of $147,093 for the year, with net assets dropping from $171,710 to $24,618.

Hence a decision to cancel the Festival for 2024, with a promise to return in 2025.

It would seem the Festival has tried to navigate the challenge of being commercially successful while striving for extensive reach deeper into the community, including engaging young people and others without deep pockets.

It’s the latter aspiration that has elevated the ‘public good’ aspect of the Festival and the basis for Hastings and Napier councils’ support. They need to decide now just how important that is. The Festival has evolved significantly from the Havelock North-centered Spiegeltent days, with perfect attendance and high-priced tickets.

Stay tuned!


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1 Comment

  1. Providing an artistic canvas , landscape, environment for the public good, is enriching for any society, I understand the fiscal constraints on councils, but this is too important to leave unfunded, certainly wouldn’t want a return to highly priced tickets for the privileged few. The arts are for everyone.

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