The Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival has launched a crowdfunding campaign to help it bounce back from Covid-19 related setbacks.
Festival director Geoff Turkington says planning for next year’s festival, was well underway when the sudden loss of $150,000 from multiple funding sources meant the future of the festival was looking bleak. Last minute support to the tune of $100,000 by WEL Energy Trust, Brian Perry Foundation, Grassroots Foundation and Hamilton City Council has brought the festival back from the brink but a shortfall of $20,000 is still being sought to ensure the 2022 festival goes ahead.
“They all came forth with more money over and above the already generous money that they contribute towards the festival each year,” he says.
As a charitable trust, the festival, Waikato’s premiere arts event for over 20 years, relies on the support of local businesses and funders to go ahead each year. But Turkington says traditional funding bodies are diverting their financial support to assist those hardest hit by Covid and the festival has had to contend with an unexpected shortfall in funding.
“In the scheme of things when the festival costs $1.5 million to stage each year, that’s not a lot of money; the festival literally runs on the smell of an oily rag.
“We’ve stripped the festival right back and there’s not a single cent in that budget that isn’t necessary; it’s all core.
“We decided to start the Boosted crowdfunding campaign and go out to the community and say – come on, we’ve come this far we just need 20 more grand to get us over the line,” he says.
Turkington stresses that the trustees and management are now feeling cautiously optimistic that the festival will be going ahead next year – and reaching the crowdfunding target is the last stage of a massive effort to raise the funds to secure the festival’s future in challenging times.
“Unlike most arts festivals, who rely almost solely on existing venues to deliver their events, we’re lucky enough to have the iconic Hamilton Gardens as our primary venue and point of difference.
“However, what that does mean is that infrastructure, staging and technical costs are a significant outlay.
“As a festival we’re also committed to being accessible to everyone. We’ve traditionally presented one of the largest free event programmes within regional Aotearoa and this campaign will ensure that we can continue to do so while supporting Waikato’s own musicians and entertainers.”
Turkington highlights the festival not only boost people’s spirits, especially in times of continual Covid upheavals, but it also contributes to the Hamilton economy.
“Research undertaken by the Ministry of Culture and Heritage in 2019 identified that the arts and creative sector contributes $10.8 billion to New Zealand’s GDP and creates over 92,00 jobs
“It’s a huge industry, but also you can’t put a price on the wellness of the community.”
With Hamilton, and the greater Waikato, languishing under a reputation of not being cultured and cosmopolitan, Turkington says, the festival helps showcase the region to the rest of New Zealand.
“Hamilton is one of the fastest growing cities in New Zealand and we sometimes struggle to attract the people that need to live here in the positions that we need them to be, because of the false impression that Hamilton isn’t a destination of choice.
“The scale of the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival shows people that we have something really special here.”
Turkington says the ramifications of Covid-19 have been devastating for the arts.
“The logistical challenges presented by lockdowns and border closures make tour planning near impossible.
“Across the entire ecosystem of the arts, whether it’s artists, directors, actors, musicians or presenters like us, everyone’s feeling the burn.
“Already we’re seeing the closure of venues and theatre companies as well as other cities’ festivals either cancelling or postponing indefinitely.
“The problem is one of national significance.”
He says the programme for next year indicates a bold shift in direction for the festival with a line-up that is a “celebration of humanity”.
“For the last few years with the borders being shut we have been celebrating everything about being Kiwi.
“All our acts are New Zealand-based and next year we anticipate employing well over 600 performers and then you have your technical and infrastructure crew.”
Most of the costs involved in staging the festival, Turkington says, is spent within the local economy.
“Where possible we employ local companies to ensure that we’ve got a cyclical economy happening here.
“Other than the artists coming from other parts of New Zealand, all the money we generate is spent within our own community.”
With the latest Covid traffic light system thrown in the mix, Turkington says, at the forefront of their minds is ensuring the safety of their staff, performers, volunteers and audience.
“The government is consulting the industry to be able to work through it and by February I expect that the systems and processes will be in place.
“We rely on around 600 volunteer hours per festival and the last thing we want to do is put volunteers at risk of animosity and aggression.
“We will be looking very closely at what the mechanisms look like and make sure that we comply from a best business practice perspective, as well as keeping everybody safe and happy.”
Despite being squeezed in between lockdowns in February, this year’s Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival was among the few festivals of its scale that managed to go ahead in spite of the uncertainty around Covid.
Providing a lifeline to many New Zealand artists and local companies, it proved to be one of the most successful Hamilton Gardens Arts Festivals in recent years, showing just how essential the arts are to the wellbeing of a community in crisis.
“There were more tickets sold despite living in a Covid world.
“People are desperate to get out and desperate to be able to celebrate.
“Our programming next year will be a celebration about everything wonderful about being Kiwi.; it’s a positive festival where people can get together and be thankful.”
The festival’s campaign is hosted through arts-focussed crowdfunding platform Boosted and will run for one month. Boosted works on an ‘all or nothing’ funding model, meaning if the festival falls short of its campaign target, all donations will be returned to donors.
The fund is currently sitting at 84% of the target with a few days remaining.
“It’s incredibly encouraging to be so close to our target with a week remaining till the campaign ends. With 173 donors (and counting) supporting the cause thus far, and so many beautiful messages of encouragement, our hearts are full and we’re feeling more excited than ever about HGAF’22.”
The Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival will be held from February 18-27 next year.
To learn more and to donate, head to www.boosted.org.nz/preview/hamilton-gardens-arts-festival