March 2024

AKLFEST 2024 ran from 7–24 March. More than 100,000 people attended shows and events that were designed to increase accessibility to the arts for Aucklanders and their families. There were 200-plus events and performances to choose from, of which more than 80 were free people across Auckland to enjoy.

This was the fourth and final festival under the Artistic Direction of Shona McCullagh, who together with Kaihautū Māori, Ataahua Papa, curated a programme under the theme of “resonance”, celebrating cultures from around the world and bringing together innovative artists from Aotearoa alongside world renowned international performers and companies.

From our opening celebration Waiata Mai in Aotea Square, through three uplifting weeks of theatre and dance, live music, comedy, visual and digital art, kōrero and more, AKLFEST 2024 strove to reflect and express the multifaceted world we live in.

The music programme this year was an absolute highlight, featuring iconic tunes at the sold-out Hear Me Roar!, the world premiere of NZSO’s Beyond Words, international acts Angélique Kidjo, Martin Hayes & Guests, William Barton and the Brodsky Quartet, DakhaBrakha, Jeff Mills, Ju Percussion Group, Pamyua and Tim Minchin.

International touring companies included Stephanie Lake Company from Australia with Manifesto; Peeping Tom from Belgium with contemporary theatre and dance work Diptych; the high-energy Cirque Kalabanté who brought Afrique en Cirque; and the outrageous German/Australian team behind Spiegeltent spectacular Bernie Dieter’s Club Kabarett.

From Aotearoa artists, the world premieres of Anders Falstie-Jensen’s The Valentina, Touch Compass' Aiga, Siliga Sani Muliaumaseali’i’s The O.Gs, and the world premiere season of Eleanor Bishop and Karin McCracken’s Gravity & Grace featured alongside works such as Te Tangi a te TūīO le Pepelo, le Gaoi, ma le Pala’ai | The Liar, the Thief, and the Coward, The Sun and the Wind and I Don’t Wanna Dance Alone.

Browse the 2024 Brochure

Artistic Director: Shona McCullagh / Chief Executive: Robbie Mcrae / Board Chair: Sarah Judkins (from February 2024)

March 2023

AAF 2023 ran from 9–26 March – the first full, uninterrupted Festival since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. More than 60,000 people enjoyed 50+ ticketed and free events, and more than 200,000 passed through our Festival spaces and exhibitions during the 18 days of the Festival. Approximately 20,000 attended SPARK Auckland in Pukekawa / Auckland Domain.

Across Tāmaki Makaurau, 36 venues played host to our events. The Festival supported more than 1,000 school students in attending productions, workshops and discussions presented by close to 700 participating artists.

The third festival under Shona McCullagh's Artistic Direction, alongside Kaihautū Māori, Ataahua Papa, was programmed to feature both international and Aotearoa works, with six world premieres, 12 New Zealand premieres, six Australasian premieres and one Asia-Pacific premiere.

International highlights included Sydney Theatre Company’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, which took the city, the critics and country by storm; Bangarra Dance Theatre’s return to New Zealand with SandSong: Stories from the Great Sandy Desert; Kidd Pivot's electrifying dance work Revisor; and the roof-raising musical prowess of Judith Hill.

Locally, opening weekend world premieres of The Savage Coloniser Show, Requiem and Bill Withers Social Club all sold out, while te reo world premieres of He Kete Waiata, He Huia Kaimanawa and Taipūrākau entertained and moved Festival audiences throughout.

Browse the 2023 Brochure

Artistic Director: Shona McCullagh / Chief Executive: Robbie Mcrae / Board Chair: John Judge

March 2022

AAF 2022 was scheduled for and went ahead from Thursday 10 – Sunday 27 March 2022, despite another year of COVID-19 impacts. 

After several early releases in September and October, 80+ events featuring more than 700 artists spanning music, theatre, cabaret, dance, comedy, talks, and visual arts were announced for the 2022 festival on Thursday 18 November 2021.

Unfortunately, after Aotearoa moved back to the red setting under the the COVID-19 Protection Framework on Monday 24 January 2022, which limited indoor gatherings to 100, various alternatives had to be explored. On Thursday 3 February 2022 the first several shows were either cancelled or postponed by the company. Then, on Wednesday 9 February 2022, the announcement came that all live events and performances – 51 in total – were cancelled in venues, theatres, and outdoor spaces. 

Despite this significant hurdle, the Festival made a swift pivot to an "Online, Outdoors and Visual Arts" programme, and in the end presented 24 different shows/events/exhibitions – 11 online, 3 outdoors, and 10 visual arts.

Browse the 2022 Brochure

Artistic Director: Shona McCullagh / Chief Executive: David Inns / Board Chair: John Judge

March 2021

AAF 2021 was scheduled to take place Thursday 4 – Sunday 21 March; however, due to COVID-19 lockdown impacts for a second year, the Festival had a delayed start and an extended run until Sunday 11 April.

The first 2021 COVID-19 lockdown at Alert Level 3 in Tāmaki Makaurau took place on Sunday 14 February and lasted for three days until Wednesday 17 February, when Auckland moved to Alert Level 2. Alert Level 1 was announced five days later on Monday 22 February. The second 2021 COVID-19 lockdown at Alert Level 3 in Tāmaki Makaurau took place shortly after on Sunday 28 February and lasted eight days until Sunday 7 March, when Auckland moved to Alert Level 2 for another five days.

Unfortunately due to the second Alert Level 3 lockdown, AAF was required to cancel or postpone shows and events from its first week (Thursday 4 – Wednesday 10 March). The Festival then made the difficult decision to open under Level 2 on Thursday 11 March at Q Theatre with a restricted, socially distanced audience, for the Auckland premiere of Sing To Me. The call was made with fingers crossed that the following day’s press conference would be a move to Level 1. Luckily, the midday announcement on Friday 12 March brought this good news and allowed for a huge sigh of relief that the Festival could continue on without any further restrictions.

Despite many hurdles due to COVID-19 impacting the Festival for a second year, AAF 2021 only had to cancel 10 shows or events out of 83 thanks to a hardworking team and diligent rescheduling, which also couldn’t have happened without the support and flexibility of its artists, venues, and audiences. In 2021, AAF employed over 1,000 artists, administrators, and technical staff, and saw 60,000 people engage in its 100% Aotearoa programming – a Festival first.

Browse the 2021 Brochure

Artistic Director: Shona McCullagh / Chief Executive: David Inns / Board Chair: John Judge

March 2020

AAF 2020 was scheduled to take place 11–29 March, however was seriously impacted by the COVID-19 global pandemic. In late February air cargo issues as a result of cancellation of flights resulted in the cancellation of the major outdoor event Place Des Anges

The Festival opened as planned on Wednesday 11 March with TIRA in Aotea Square featuring Hollie Smith, Hātea Kapa Haka and the six Auckland Everybody Sings choirs and was attended by 2000 people, and reaching a further 7000 people online. 

From Saturday 14 March, the New Zealand Government imposed border controls and limits on mass gatherings which saw the cancellation of a number of shows. 

On Thursday 18 March further restrictions limiting indoor gatherings to 100 people resulted in the cancellation of the rest of the Festival. New Zealand entered full lockdown on Thursday 25 March. 

Highlights of the eight days of the Festival which took place 11-17 March included: Ballet Preljocaj's Snow White, the trans-Tasman rom-com BLACK TIES from ILBIJERRI Theatre Company and Te Rēhia Theatre Company, the mind-blowing Cold Blood, Los Angeles Master Chorale's profoundly moving performance of Lagrime di San Pietro, circus-cabaret Limbo Unhinged, Silo Theatre's UPU, and the world premiere of Ka Pō, Ka Waiata: Songs in Darkness.

Artistic Director: Jonathan Bielski / Chief Executive: David Inns / Board Chair: John Judge

March 2019

AAF 2019 took place 7–24 March and included the return of the Spiegeltent to Aotea Square with sizzling cabaret show Blanc de Blanc

The 2019 Festival saw the introduction of a new programme strand – Toitū te Reo. Translating as holding fast to our language, this signalled AAF's desire to champion te reo Māori through the platform of the arts with a goal that te reo Māori be seen, heard and felt every day of the Festival. 

The Festival opened with Tira, a free concert in Aotea Square attended by approx. 2000 people and live-streamed on AAF's website and Facebook page reaching a further 6000 people. The concert saw people sing iconic waiata together in te reo Māori. 

Other features included Komische Oper Berlin and 1927's innovative production of The Magic Flute; a new dance work from Muscle Mouth, As It Stands; gripping theatre Ulster American; physical theatre The Dreamer; world-famous Silkroad Ensemble; and a contemporary music programme including Death Cab for Cutie, Four Tet, Beach House, Rhye and Neko Case.

Halfway through the 2019 Festival, 51 people were killed in the Christchurch mosque shootings. As a result, Whānau Day was cancelled.

Artistic Director: Jonathan Bielski / Chief Executive: David Inns / Board Chair: John Judge

March 2018

AAF 2018 took place 7–25 March and featured a major pre-festival season of English National Ballet's production of Akram Khan's Giselle. A feature of the 2018 Festival to mark the 10th anniversary of the festival was the Festival Playground at Silo Park. The Festival Playground ran for the duration of the festival and was visited by 60,000 people with ticketed and free music concerts, visual arts, and a food and drinks pavilion.

Artistic Director: Jonathan Bielski / Chief Executive: David Inns / Board Chair: John Judge

March 2017

Between 8–26 March 2017, AAF 2017 presented 132 ticketed performances, 300 free events, and seven world premieres, across 130 venues and locations across Auckland, including the fifth iteration of the Festival's one-night arts extravaganza, White Night.

Artistic Director: Carla van Zon / Chief Executive: David Inns / Board Chair: John Judge

March 2016

In March 2016, 1160 artists from 41 countries descended on Auckland to provide locals and visitors to the city with exceptional and, in many cases, once-in-a-lifetime arts experiences.

For 19 days, at more than 100 locations, Auckland was delivered a brilliant cross-cultural, cross-geographical and cross-generational programme of music, performance and events. For the fourth Festival running, one-night arts extravaganza White Night was also presented.

The AAF 2016 presented 125 ticketed performances across 35 shows, 200 free events, four world premieres, four season premieres and 15 New Zealand premieres to excited audiences.

Artistic Director: Carla van Zon / Chief Executive: David Inns / Board Chair: John Judge

March 2015

The 2015 Auckland Arts Festival was a 19-day, high-energy celebration of our city, people and cultures with a programme that appealed to all ages and introduced Aucklanders and visitors to new, once-in-a-lifetime performances, mind-blowing art works and ideas.

More than 900 artists from 33 countries delivered 145 ticketed performances and 208 free exhibitions and events in 86 locations across the city. From Leigh to Papakura, Titirangi to Howick, the Festival offered unique experiences for audiences and artists, reaching 180,000 people. Among the offerings, the Festival presented its popular one-night arts extravaganza, White Night, for the third time.

Artistic Director: Carla van Zon / Chief Executive: David Inns / Board Chair: Victoria Carter

May 2014

Auckland Council voted unanimously in support of a trial annual festival as part of its budget meeting. The Council voted to provide for additional funding to the Festival for a trial annual festival in 2016.

November 2013

In November the Auckland Council’s Budget Committee resolved to consult in the draft 2014/15 annual plan, to help assess the level of public support for the provision of additional council funding for annualisation of Auckland Arts Festival.

March 2013

AAF 2013 was the most successful festival to date, achieving record attendances and more than doubling the box office income.

It featured more than 300 events and over 1000 artists participated including three national theatre companies. There were 63 sold out performances.

Highlights included Groupe F's Breath of the Volcano, Urban (Circolumbia), Everything is Ka Pai, War Requiem (with the APO), One Man, Two Guvnors (National Theatre of Great Britain), The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart (National Theatre of Scotland) and Rhinoceros in Love (National Theatre of China).

A new Māori work, HUI, by Mitch Tawhi Thomas, premiered alongside the re-staging of the Pacific musical The Factory by Kila Kokonut Krew.

Audiences were again welcomed over 19 days to the Festival Garden in Aotea Square, including the Festival Club (Spiegeltent), Tiffany Singh's Fly Me Up to Where You Are which she created with 4000 Auckland children, and Srinivas Krishna's video artwork When the Gods Came Down To Earth, as well as free music, family days and the opportunity to relax and meet friends over food and drink.

White Night took place again throughout Auckland City with 83 galleries, museums and other locations opening their doors to more than 20,000 attendees.

Artistic Director: Carla van Zon / Chief Executive: David Inns / Board Chair: Victoria Carter

March 2011

The Festival rebranded to Auckland Arts Festival in 2011. A 19-day long world-class programme saw world premieres of New Zealand works rapt (Douglas Wright), Live, Live Cinema: Carnival of Souls, and New Zeibekiko (John Psathas).

International highlights included The Manganiyar Seduction (Roysten Abel, India), U Theatre's Sound of the Ocean, Smoke & Mirrors, Paul Kelly, Daniel Kitson, Martha Wainwright and Jack DeJohnette. The New Zealand Opera's Xerxes, Red Leap's Paper Sky and Havoc in the Garden (Massive Company) were popular events in the New Zealand programme. The Festival Garden was the Festival Heart on the newly refurbished Aotea Square. Taiwan's U Theatre kicked off the Asia Pacific region's first White Night, with more than 50 galleries open until midnight inviting all Aucklanders to discover visual arts around the city.

Artistic Director: David Malacari / Chief Executive: David Inns / Board Chair: Victoria Carter

March 2009

Auckland Festival 2009 (AK09) drew critical, public and media acclaim, hosting more than 100 events across the disciplines of theatre, music, dance, circus, cabaret, burlesque, comedy and visual arts.

New commissions and productions through the Festival's 'Watch this Space' initiative, included The Arrival, The Kreutzer and sleep/wake. Red Leap Theatre's The Arrival went on to tour the world and represent New Zealand on the international arts scene. The Festival's international co-commission, Ea Sola's The White Body, continued on to Paris, Amsterdam and many other cities.

International highlights included Robert Lepage's The Andersen Project and Nostalgia by Japanese company Ishinha. Red Square moved to Aotea Square and was once again home to the Famous Spiegeltent as well as the inaugural NZ Post Family Weekend. In early 2009 David Inns joined the Festival as Chief Executive.

Artistic Director: David Malacari / Chief Executive: David Inns / Board Chair: Richard Waddell

August 2008

The Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Act 2008 was passed. The Act established a framework for the secure and sustainable funding of 10 organisations that provide arts, educational, rescue or other community facilities and services which are vital for the Auckland region. Auckland Festival is one of only four arts organisations funded under the Act.

March 2007

From the opening event at Auckland Domain – the pyrotechnic performance A Little More Light by Groupe F, watched by a record 170,000 spectators – Auckland Festival 2007 (AK07) created a sense of excitement and buzz throughout the city.

A record number of shows sold out, including international shows; Max Black, 10 Days on Earth, La Clique, Eddie Perfect and Spaghetti Western Orchestra; plus local seasons of Taki Rua's Strange Resting Places, Tusiata Avia's Wild Dogs Under My Skirt, Black Grace's Amata, Silo Theatre's Ensemble Project, NZSO's Mahler – The Resurrection, and Jennifer Ward-Lealand's Falling in Love Again.

For the first time the Festival included a dedicated hub where artists and public gathered, day and night. Named Red Square, and located behind the Britomart transport centre, this area was home to the famous Spiegeltent, the Festival Club and the Spiegel Bar and Café. Each night a variety of local and international musicians played at these venues creating a lively Festival epicentre.

Festival Director: David Malacari / Board Chair: Richard Waddell

February 2005

Auckland Festival 2005 (AK05) opened on 25 February. Highlights of the programme included The Death of Klinghoffer, Bangarra Dance Theatre, The Three Furies, Vula, Commotion and Cabaret Decadanse.

In the 2006 report on Auckland and the arts, Aucklanders were asked to name any arts event or activities that made them proud to be an Aucklander. Named in second place, after Pasifika, was Auckland Festival.

Festival Director: David Malacari / Board Chair: Richard Waddell

September 2003

Auckland Festival 2003 (AK03) opened on 20 September. Highlights included Sticky, the opening event at Britomart Square; the closures of Queen Street for free music and culture weekends; the wildly popular It's in the Bag; the sultry sounds of Ute Lemper and the first time collaboration of the NZSO and APO.

Festival Director: Simon Prast / Board Chair: Lex Henry


Auckland was the first city in the Asia Pacific to have a large festival. The first Festival ran from 1948–1982.

In 2000, Auckland City Council began the process of reinventing the Festival, based on the premise that Auckland, New Zealand's largest city, is a rich, dynamic, diverse and expanding city. Auckland City Council voted to support the establishment of a distinctive arts and cultural festival for Auckland celebrating its position in the Pacific. 

In March 2001, the newly appointed Trust, chaired by Lex Henry, staged The Launching, a spectacular free event in Aotea Square to herald the Auckland Festival's beginning. The Launching was directed by Mike Mizrahi and Marie Adams. 

AK03, the inaugural event of the 'new' Auckland Festival, opened on 20 September 2003.

Founding Friends: Adrian Burr, Graeme Edwards, Friedlander Foundation, Dame Jenny Gibbs, Sir Chris and Lady Dayle Mace


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