9 Feb 2022

Omicron impact: Wellington's Homegrown and Auckland Arts Festival events cancelled

7:39 pm on 9 February 2022

The Womad and Homegrown music festivals, as well as dozens of events at the Auckland Arts Festival, are the latest cultural victims of Omicron's impact on New Zealand.

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Music fans of all sizes flocked to previous Womad festivals Photo: Isabella Brown

Womad cancelled for second year in a row

The Womad (World of Music, Arts and Dance) festival has been cancelled for the second year in a row due to uncertainty from the Omicron outbreak.

Last year's three-day event was also cancelled - for the first time since it moved from Auckland to New Plymouth in 2005 - due to Covid-19.

Headliners were expected to include Fat Freddy's Drop, Salmonella Dub, Ria Hall, LatinAotearoa and the Topp Twins among many more.

In a statement, the organisers said the decision was not made lightly but there was "too much uncertainty surrounding large festivals and events, and what the growing threat of Omicron's spread in the community means".

"It is heartbreaking to cancel for the second year in a row due to circumstances entirely out of our control.

"Ensuring the safety of our festival and the people of Aotearoa continues to be at the forefront of our response."

The organisers thanked partners, performers, and all those working behind the scenes for their support, as well as New Plymouth District Council for its $2 million underwrite to allow Taranaki Arts Festival Trust (TAFT) to run the festival this year.

They also acknowledged the Events Transition Support Scheme, in which the government pays out 90 percent of costs for events cancelled that were booked in areas at alert level 2 or higher, the red traffic light setting or localised lockdown; or because at least 50 percent of ticket-holders were in red, alert level 3 or lockdown.

But last month, the organisers said about 500 early-bird tickets had been returned by people unwilling to show a Vaccine Pass to gain entry to the event as per the Covid-19 Protection Framework setting rules.

Womad has a capacity of about 14,000 on each of the three days it runs and tickets could be bought for one, two or three days.

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Womad international director Chris Smith says the festival attracts thousands of people each year. Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

Womad international director Chris Smith said the festival attracted thousands of visitors to the region each year.

Venture Taranaki chief executive Justine Gilliland said the festival was a highlight for many locals and visitors and the cancellation was another major blow to the region.

"In 2020 Womad's economic impact on the region was $6.1 million. We look forward to supporting TAFT to present Womad again in Taranaki for 2023 and will welcome the positive flow-on effects the festival has on the region."

Organisers are not only optimistic that next year's festival will go ahead, but that they will be to finally bring international artists once again as the border is set to reopen.

It will also be the festival's 20th anniversary of making its home in the Bowl of Brooklands in New Plymouth.

Current ticketholders' passes will roll directly over to next year's event, which is planned to take place 17 to 19 March, 2023.

But if festivalgoers could not make it, the organisers say refunds will be available through their ticket outlet Ticketspace, at face value.

"Please bear with us while we work this process with our ticketing agent Ticketspace. We will email all ticket holders with further information about your options."

Plug pulled on Wellington music event

Organisers of Wellington's annual New Zealand music festival, Homegrown, have also cancelled their event due to run on 19 March.

Homegrown usually attracts more than 22,000 festival goers and was on target for another early sell-out despite the current Covid-19 climate, organisers said in a statement.

They are offering to refund or roll over tickets to the 2023 event.

Homegrown's managing director Andrew Tuck said organisers held off for as long as possible but advice received in the last few days left them with little option but to cancel.

"We have been blown away by the incredible support in these crazy times and we're hoping by calling it early people won't lose out too much on their flights and accommodation," Tuck said.

It is only the second time in 15 years the event hasn't been able to run. It was called off in 2020 at the start of New Zealand's Covid-19 lockdowns.

"We're devastated, we thought at the start of summer we were going to sneak through, but it feels right to call it now for everyone's safety, Also, now we can take a breath and regroup and see how we can make next year's event even better."

He said they will be applying to the Events Transition Support Scheme so that artists and suppliers who are affected can get some compensation.

"Hopefully, it will lessen the blow for our suppliers and artists. It's a really tough time for everyone in the events industry and our hearts go out to everyone affected."

Arts Festival cancels all live events

All 51 live events and performances in venues, theatres, and outdoor spaces at the Auckland Arts Festival will no longer go ahead.

Te Ahurei Toi o Tāmaki / Auckland Arts Festival announced its decision this afternoon. The festival's live events were due to take place between 10-27 March across Tāmaki Makaurau.

Some online performances will be retained.

Auckland Arts Festival artistic director Shona McCullagh said it was not an easy decision to cancel all the fesitval's live performances, however, the priority was "the health and safety of our artists, audiences, staff and crew".

She said organisers had considered many different scenarios and framework options in anticipation of another year with Covid-19 interruptions.

"While we are delighted to have been able to retain some brilliant online and gallery events, and free outdoor installations, this [Omicron] outbreak has impacted our ability to deliver our beloved annual festival in its entirety, for the third time."

Siva Afi at Auckland Arts Festival

Siva Afi at last year's Auckland Arts Festival. A free, online recording of performances planned for the Siva Afi Festival will still be offered this year. Photo: AAF/supplied

She said organisers were aware of the impact the cancellations would have on artists and the wider arts sector, both in the short and longterm.

"This outcome - in which we cannot gather in person over a programme packed with joyful live performance and brilliant shared arts experiences - is deeply saddening.

"However, the festival team and our artists are resilient, and endlessly creative, and we will deliver a very special suite of safe events for our audiences in March, while at the same time turning our focus to 2023 with optimism and gusto."

McCullagh thanked artists, sponsors and her colleagues for their patience as the organisers worked through the best course of action.

Performances that will still go ahead include:

  • the live streamed world premiere of Nightsong's A Stab in the Dark, starring Joel Toebeck and Alison Bruce
  • two free outdoor installations, United for Truth beach installation and Amanda Parer's inflatable humanoids, Fantastic Planet
  • two international online works - Lament for Sheku Bayou and The Super Special Disability Roadshow
  • Spoken Walls - A City in Verse poetry experience in the streets of Tāmaki Makaurau
  • a free, online recording of performances planned for the Siva Afi Festival
  • all visual arts exhibitions

Other online presentations are still being investigated and will be announced separately.

Auckland fun run cancelled

Auckland's annual fun run Round the Bays is another event that won't go ahead as planned next month due to the Omicron outbreak.

Instead organisers plan to hold it as a virtual event, with runners completing the 8.4 kilometres anywhere, tracking their distance on their smartphones.

This is the event's 50th year, and thousands of people were expected to flock to the city's waterfront.

Participants in the new virtual event can register online.

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