Fringe Festival Director Vanessa Stacey On Arts Advocacy 

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14 December 2023

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New Zealand Fringe Festival Director Vanessa Stacey (Ngāti Kuia/Te Atiawa) is a Te Whanganui-a-Tara-based multidisciplinary artist with over twenty-five years of experience in Creative Arts and Arts Education.

This year, working with an incredible Fringe team, she delivered the most diverse, inclusive and successful NZ Fringe Festival to date. This led to the production of a tour through September and October of the multi-award-winning Fringe show ‘ARAWHATA’ by Wellington Ballroom. Vanessa also curates the Ngā Toi and Indigenous artists for the local festival CubaDupa, with a particular focus on the Ngā Toi o Te Aro stage. You can also catch her on screen playing the female villain in upcoming Firefly-produced feature Bookworm alongside Elijah Wood and Michael Smiley and directed by Ant Timpson. 

Vanessa Stacey

How did you first become involved in NZ Fringe? 

New Zealand Fringe is where I cut my teeth as an artist many years ago after drama school, it is kind of a rite of passage for most artists of note in Aotearoa. Because Fringe is accessible price-wise, most audiences are generally a little more adventurous and forgiving, so it’s a wonderful place for artists to develop work, take some risks and be innovative. Taking the role of Festival Director, I was excited about using all of my skills and experience to help develop and diversify the festival. I wanted to see more space for more artistic disciplines and more inclusion of Indigenous works, while further developing our artist capability programme. 

How have you found this mahi in the current arts funding climate, has it been successful thus far? 

The last three years have been both interesting and challenging at times. In response to artist feedback that they wanted the festival to proceed, albeit safely, we delivered an entire festival of 170+ events during RED restrictions in 2022, with venue capacities cut in half and our amazing team working in ‘bubbles’ so we could safely support our artists in sharing their work. It was also the year we introduced our new ‘Most Promising Pasifika Artist’ award in our awards programme and the FATU Fund to support our Pacific artists, with thanks to our good friends at CNZ Pasifika, which was awesome. I also believe that resulted in the community coming out in force to support the festival the following year in 2023, with a record registration of amazing events, ticket sales up by 131% and the delivery of our most diverse, inclusive and successful festival yet. This meant a lot to me. This year we were also fortunate enough to receive additional support from the Ministry for Culture and Heritage to assist with the development of our artist capability programme.

Exciting! Tell us more about your new artist capability programme. 

There’s a diverse range of upskilling opportunities being presented through seven strands. In response to artist feedback on areas where they most need assistance, the teaching of producing and administration skills will be prioritised as part of the Artist Capability Development strand. To further growth in this area, NZ Fringe are developing new producers and creating a way for them to collaborate and pool skills with the Pōneke Artist Hub and Arts Producers Network.

The Living Wage subsidy is another welcome support for artists to create incredible new works. This initiative will increase the wellbeing of artists and recognise their mahi by providing up to 100 hours of Living Wage pay per solo event, and 200 hours per group event. It’s fantastic to be able to financially support artists for their work. 

On top of this, the six national Fringe Festivals around Aotearoa are in the midst of coordinating and co-designing solutions and models for the further development of the National Fringe Network, ensuring each Fringe festival can share their support, knowledge and experience in the development of a National Fringe Touring Circuit. This touring circuit gives artists, who often invest in new and innovative works for one season, the opportunity to tour nationally via a circuit of Fringe festivals, and thus extend their art practice and reach. 

So there’s lots going on, and I’m really excited to be able to further support Aotearoa artists with upskilling, funding and touring opportunities. As an artist myself, supporting our next generation of creative minds is something I’m really passionate about and I am fortunate to be able to do that through my work with NZ Fringe.

Related Article: One Tapestry At A Time — Genevieve Rae

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