The tenacious Topp Twins, who were at the very first festival in 1995, are returning for its 25th anniversary. Photo: Supplied.

Arts festival aims to expand


The Nelson Arts Festival aims to become the festival for the whole top of the South Island, with events expanding across the region.

The festival programme was officially launched last week at Pic’s Peanut Butter World. It is the first time that the festival has been under the umbrella of a new trust, rather than the Nelson City Council.

Director Charlie Unwin said that it was the right move for the festival, which was now in its 25th year. It is also Charlie’s last festival, having been involved with it for almost a decade.

He revealed that some of the events would also be performed in Mapua, Richmond and Blenheim. This was a move to become recognised as the arts festival for the whole Te Tau Ihu region.

Charlie said there were events from all over the world coming to Nelson – including the USA, Germany, Scotland, Australia and New Zealand, as well as spotlighting Nelson’s own Bhutanese, Colombian and Sri Lankan communities.

Loved by locals and visitors alike, the festival is a mix of theatre, music, dance and free events including the Mask Parade & Carnivale and the return of Pic’s Piki Mai, with its spectacular projections on the Cathedral and Church Steps, on every night for free. This year, the Festival is presenting a re-vitalised readers and writers programme, scheduled across four consecutive days, and sporting a new name: Page & Blackmore Pukapuka Talks.

Highlights of the 2019 programme include the charming tale of Mama and her unexpected new best friend in Still Life with Chickens; the powerhouse sass of Tami Neilson; the gentle wonder of theatre for babies with Up and Away; the stunning prowess of Footnote New Zealand Dance’s The Clearing; the all-ages slapstick hilarity of Kaput; the charm of Witi Ihimaera speaking about his second memoir, Native Son; and the non-stop wit, energy and yodelling of the tenacious Topp Twins, who were at the very first festival in 1995.

Charlie said that the festival will also play all the Rugby World Cup games for free at the Granary at Founders Park.

He was particularly excited about the 2019 programme.

“It’s always an honour to programme the Nelson Arts Festival, and with this being a special anniversary, we took extra care to include some events that are a nod to our history.”

“Right from the beginning, the Mask Parade & Carnivale has been a centrepiece of the Festival. It’s a much-loved and cherished event, not only for its welcoming embrace to all the community, but also because it’s a whole lot of fun! While this sets the tone for much of the Festival, and for many signifies the beginning of the Festival, we know that our audiences also look out for the range of events that will entertain, astound, engage, question and challenge.”

Charlie said that he particularly loves the thought that people continue to talk about events long after the festival.

“As New Zealand’s longest-running regional arts festival, Nelson Arts Festival has become part of the fabric of our smart little city, creating shared experiences and memories that will linger for years to come.”

Chair of the Nelson Festivals Trust, Brent Thawley, said the board was delighted to launch this programme, the first under the trust’s umbrella.

That full programme is available at and in the Nelson App.