Art & Entertainment | Book Reviews | Education | Entertainment Video | Health | Lifestyle | Sport | Sport Video | Search


Celebrate Whakatū With The 2021 Nelson Arts Festival

Key Dates:

6 August Full programme at

All tickets on sale 10am

Pick up a free Festival brochure around the city and across the region

6–31 August Early Bird discounted tickets available for most shows

21–31 October Nelson Arts Festival 2021

21 October Night Vision

22–25 October Pukapuka Talks

29 October Mask Carnivale

With more than 200 artists in 50 events across 11 days, Nelson Arts Festival 2021 is jam-packed with unmissable arts experiences. By sharing hearts and space, the Whakatū Nelson community (and beyond) will come together from 21-31 October to experience some of Aotearoa’s leading artists, performers, writers and thinkers. Nelsonians can even participate themselves, so get ready to explore, think deeply, laugh loudly, question, sing and dance, and maybe even hold hands.

The 2021 Festival opens with a specially commissioned piece by renowned artist Charles Koroneho in collaboration with Filament Eleven 11. A world premiere exclusive, Ko Te Ākau – Poetics of Land, Water and Sky will be the beating heart of the Festival, with a series of free daily performance activations at Refinery ArtSpace.

Music is a major part of the programme, including country with Tami Neilson’s The F Word, pop with The Beths, Taite Music Prize winner Reb Fountain, dancehall and rap with Rubi Du & PollyHill, synth-pop with KITA and trip hop melded with R&B with imugi . There’s a sonic experience/club night with Vanessa Worm, and a night of psychedelic Lyttleton guitar mash with Ben Woods. NCMA has three incredibly diverse concerts with the cool jazz of Lucien Johnson Quartet, the mesmerising tones of Flavio Plays Frahm, and the infectious ‘everyone-knows-that-one' of Nelson Symphony Orchestra performing Soundtracks from the Silver Screen.

For music to stretch your soul, there’s Bridget Douglas and Alistair Fraser with Silver. Stone. Wood. Bone.; and to loosen up with some jazz funk, don’t miss Thabani Gapara’s The Griots Path. For cabaret-lovers, Rutene Spooner’s Thoroughly Modern Māui will hit all the key-changes required, and fans of flamenco should definitely not miss Paul Bosauder’s Tierra Y Mar Flamenco Project.

In 2021, Nelson Arts Festival is creating the East St Festival Hub at East St Café & Bar – for both free and ticketed gigs, late night suppers, and generally the no.1 place for post-show gatherings. This is the ultimate venue for conversations along the lines of “what did you see at the Festival tonight?” and a chance to meet artists and crew. Meanwhile over at The Boathouse, comedians James Roque and Pax Assadi will be cutting up a storm of stories and laughs aplenty.

The 2021 programme features a number of performances that cross arts-genre boundaries, with 17 Pasifika artists storming the Suter’s stage in Fua Creative’s Matala fusing dance, song and spoken word; and Red Leap Theatre and Malia Johnston’s acclaimed dance theatre celebration of Janet Frame’s Owls Do Cry.

One of the gems of the festival will surely be the internationally celebrated Walking:Holding by Rosana Cade (UK). This is an opportunity to kōrero and connect with others, one-to-one. This participatory performance has audience members walking through Whakatū, holding hands with their guide. You can chat or you can say nothing, and just hold hands. A gentle reflection on identity, touch and intimacy in public places.

Whakatū Nelson will see Te Waipounamu South Island premiere performance of Katie Wolfe’s The Haka Party Incident – a must-see for every New Zealander. And for a show that will have every whānau member laughing in the aisles, there’s Thom Monckton’s The Artist. There’s more story-telling – this time from the good folk of Whakatū – with the return of the much-loved Couch Stories and Pecha Kucha.

After a brief hiatus in 2020, the Mask Carnivale is back encouraging everyone to join in (that’s either in the Parade, or cheering from the footpaths, until everyone comes together for the Carnivale). There's the welcome return of Night Vision, where the city stays open late with exhibitions, activations and performances – another great excuse to bring the whole whānau to wander and wonder around our city.

Our tamariki feature in two shows: giving their view on the world with New News News (a livestream from Tauranga Arts Festival and local young ones there), and a wonderful group of Nelson Intermediate School students share their focus and thoughts on the climate crisis in the exhibition Through the Eye of Whakatū.

For visual arts, there is a wonderful range of exhibitions: He Raranga Kōrero at Suter Art Gallery Te Aratoi o Whakatū; three exhibitions at Refinery ArtSpace – Ko Te Ākau, Vicki Smith’s Repose and Samantha Davis’ Ano Me He Wharepuungawerewere; and guided tours around the Nelson City Centre ArtWalk.

The 2021 Nelson Arts Festival continues its commitment to bring a whole range of performances and workshops to our youngsters with the Tamariki and Rangatahi Programme. From discounted school matinees to workshops with our 11th Poet Laureate Selina Tusitala Marsh, our young ones will see and be seen, including a very wonderful show where Rutene Spooner comes to your Kōhanga Reo or pre-school (yes, really) with Pīpī Paopao.

After focusing on local writers in 2020, the 2021 Pukapuka Talks goes national, bringing a thrilling selection of writers, commentators and thinkers to Nelson including: Ruby Solly, Charlotte Grimshaw, Pip Adam, Hinemoa Elder, Airini Beautrais, Steve Braunias, Jared Savage, Rose Lu, Chris Tse, Selina Tusitala Marsh, Tayi Tibble, Jacqueline Bublitz, Nic Low, Annette Lees, Kerensa Johnston, Hana Tapiata, Octavia Cade, Kirsten McDougall, Clare Moleta, Angelique Kasmara, Miro Bilbrough, AJ Fitzwater, and The Two Raw Sisters Margo and Rosa Flanagan. A special commission digital work will come alive throughout the Festival in Writing Home: An Antidote to Feeling Stranded.

Kim Hill returns to Pukapuka Talks to host a discussion responding to the climate crisis with Jason Boberg, Kera Sherwood-O’Regan, Mike Joy and Dave Lowe.

A key element that sets Nelson Arts Festival apart from festivals around Aotearoa, is its leadership collective or Co-Creative Directors Rose Campbell and Lydia Zanetti and Community and Education Director Shanine Hermsen. As this country’s longest running regional annual festival, the team at Nelson Arts Festival knows the many benefits of a community coming together.

The Festival Directors are unanimous in their anticipation of the festival. “This year is all about coming together to reconnect with our community. We’re so excited to be creating so many opportunities for people to engage with each other, from the one-to-one experience of Walking:Holding, through to the joyful extravaganza of the Mask Carnivale.

“We can’t wait to get dancing at East St Festival Hub to some of our most spectacular contemporary musicians and to gather with artists, crew and our community.

“Nelson Arts Festival is such a special event in Aotearoa’s cultural ecosystem and we are honoured to be holding this beautiful thing for Whakatū.”

Chair of the Nelson Festivals Trust, Brent Thawley says, “We all know how lucky we are in New Zealand, to be able to gather together in one place and celebrate our community with live performances. It’s exciting to have a new team carrying the vision of the festival forward, so that the event will continue to grow and strengthen. We know too, that Nelson Arts Festival has a huge impact on Nelson, by bringing thousands of people into the city to experience an incredible range of performing and visual arts, as well as our much-loved Mask Carnivale. It’s an exhilarating challenge upon which the entire festival team thrives.”

Nelson Arts Festival is incredibly proud to be presenting this exciting and incredible programme in its 27th year and is extending the warmest of invitations for everyone to be part of the celebration.

All tickets on sale 10am on Friday 6 August

Early Bird tickets available until 31 August (availability allowing)

© Scoop Media

Culture Headlines | Health Headlines | Education Headlines


Howard Davis: Emerald Fennell's Promising Young Woman'

The Guardian needed not one, but three reviews to do justice to Fennell's unsettling approach, which indicates exactly how ambiguous and controversial its message really is. More>>

Howard Davis: Jill Trevelyan's Rita Angus

Although Angus has become one of Aotearoa’s best-loved painters, the story of her life remained little known and poorly understood before Jill Trevelyan's acclaimed and revelatory biography, which won the Non Fiction Award at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards in 2009, and has now been republished by Te Papa press. More>>

Howard Davis: The Back of the Painting

Painting conservators are the forensic pathologists of the art world. While they cannot bring their subjects back to life, they do provide fascinating insights into the precise circumstances of a painting's creation, its material authenticity, and constructive methodology. More>>

Howard Davis: Black Panthers on the Prowl

A passionate and gripping political drama from Shaka King, this is an informative and instructive tale of human frailty that centers around the charismatic Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, who was murdered at the age of twenty-one during a police raid. More>>

Howard Davis: Controlling the High Ground

Stephen Johnson's raw and angry film not only poses important questions with scrupulous authenticity, but also provides a timely reminder of the genocidal consequences of casual bigotry and xenophobia. More>>

Howard Davis: Dryzabone - Robert Conolly's The Dry

After the terrible devastation caused by last year’s bushfires, which prompted hundreds of Australians to shelter in the ocean to escape incineration and destroyed uncountable amounts of wildlife, The Dry has been released during a totally different kind of dry spell. More>>

Howard Davis: Hit the Road, Jack - Chloé Zhao's Nomadland

Nomadland is perhaps the ultimately 'road' movie as it follows a group of dispossessed and disenfranchised vagabonds who find a form of communal refuge in camp sites and trailer parks after the economic contraction of 2008. More>>



  • Wellington
  • Christchurch
  • Auckland