WOW... Who Carries The Can?

Wellington Mayor - Andy Foster
Mayor of Wellington- Andy Foster
Who Carries The Can

WOW... Who Carries The Can?

24 September 2021

Do we need an integrated, consistent approach to supporting and providing certainty to arts and other events asks Wellington’s Mayor Andy Foster, following cancellation of this year’s WOW show.

In February, Wellington City Councillors faced a dilemma: throw World of WearableArt (WOW) a financial lifeline or lose this year’s spectacle and risk future shows.


Council unanimously agreed to provide certainty for an event that generates $28 million for our economy each year and draws 40,000 visitors to the Capital. That’s on top of 20,000 Wellingtonians who attend the three-week season.

This decision more recently came under some media scrutiny.


Of course, all decisions carry risk, and seven months ago when the council considered this, we were COVID free and hoping to stay so. Even so insurers would not provide COVID protection, leaving events like WOW with limited options.

Understandably insurance companies judge risk through a commercial lens. 


However, Council is interested in the wider wellbeing of our community and the economic benefits to arts sector employment, entertainment, retail, hospitality, and accommodation. 


Public performance needs wraparound certainty to have any chance of longevity in our pandemic reality. Otherwise, many events will become untenable to even consider. Failure to acknowledge this is ignoring a future where arts are thriving, and continue to contribute to our economic and social wellbeing.  


The United Kingdom’s Live Events Reinsurance Scheme could serve as the basis for an insurance scheme to manage risk and ensure certainty for New Zealand’s creative and performance sector.

If it weren’t for shows such as WOW where does emerging talent come from and find pathways into careers in scaffolding, design, technical engineering, film and video production, lighting, IT, music production, people management and logistics? 

All of which benefit the larger economy and social wellbeing.


COVID-19 Delta variant is wreaking havoc on our arts and events industries, from WOW to independent artists and contractors, to live entertainment venues. This traditionally resilient sector will need help to survive.


A government-backed insurance scheme, like that in the United Kingdom, could be one way of doing this. There the Government acts as ‘reinsurer’ – offering a guarantee so insurers cover events open to the public – such as music festivals and business events.


Could councils work with central government to provide something similar?


Time and again Wellington’s arts and creative sector has stressed the importance of a year-round calendar of events.

This pipeline of work ensures sustainable employment for the teams of producers, crew, and many others. It’s a major source of community quality of life and is economically vital to the city, with retailers, accommodation and hospitality benefitting.

For 16 years, WOW has been a cornerstone of our arts calendar.


It joins numerous, highly distinctive headliners loved by Wellingtonians and supported by council. From the Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts to CubaDupa, the Jazz Festival to Kia Mau, major exhibitions such as the Surrealist Art: Masterpieces, and an entire array of experiences by performing, visual and literary artists, year-round. 


In the past five years, major events (not just arts events) have contributed over $500 million in economic benefit for our economy.


Central to aligning this is the council’s new arts, culture, and creative strategy, Aho Tini 2030. Working in partnership with the sector, it increases investment in Māori arts, independent arts sector, and overall local industry health. Critically we’re moving with speed to address two longstanding sector concerns – cost of accessing venues and the need for a new 500-1000 seat venue.


Council continues to finance major arts entities, including Experience Wellington (City Gallery and Wellington Museum, among others) and Toi Pōneke. Council also runs many events itself, including the national celebration of Matariki.

We are also backing the creative sector through major improvements to performing arts venues. The St James Theatre refurbishment has been COVID delayed, but it will reopen next year, followed by the Town Hall in 2023. An additional $40 million has been earmarked for other venues.


Finally, the arts sector has stressed how important affordable housing is for its people. Council is now working with central government to address sustainability of our social housing portfolio. We’re also underway with delivering 1000 long stay affordable homes over five years. 


COVID adds more challenges, as losing WOW 2021 demonstrates. But events like it are a key part to our life in the capital. They need our help – and certainty – to ensure Wellington remains a vibrant capital city in which to live, work and play and continues to draw thousands of visitors.


Covid19 has taught us that no individual, city, or country is an island. We prosper best when recognising our shared interests. 

Mayor of Wellington – Andy Foster