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 to reinvent 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

September 2003

AK03 opened on 20 September 2003. 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

February 2005

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

Festival Director: David Malacari / Board Chair: Richard Waddell

In the 2006 report on Aucklanders and the Arts – Aucklanders were asked to name any arts event or activities in Auckland that has made them proud to be an Aucklander – Named in second place after Pasifika, was Auckland Festival, AK05.

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, the 2007 Festival 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

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 2009

Auckland Festival 2009 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 NZ 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

March 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 2013

The 2013 Auckland Arts Festival 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 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

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 the Auckland Arts Festival.

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.

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.

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



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.

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 2017

Between 8 and 26 March 2017, AAF 2017 presented 132 ticketed performances, 300 free events, and seven world premieres, across 130 venues and locations across Auckland.

Artistic Director: Carla van Zon / 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 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 2020

AAF 2020 was scheduled to take place 11-29 March, however was seriously impacted by the COVID-19 (coronavirus) 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 2021

Auckland Arts Festival / Te Ahurei Toi o Tāmaki (AAF) 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.

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



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