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Festival pulls out all the accessible stops

Auckland Arts Festival 2018 has “pulled out all the stops” by providing accessible services for 15 of its events in March and offering positive experiences for people with access needs.

The Festival’s accessible performances are for people who are blind or have low vision; Deaf or hard of hearing; or have a learning disability, sensory or communication disorder. This year also sees the introduction of a hugely discounted Accessible Programme ticket price of $20 each for patrons with access needs and one companion. 

The events include dance, theatre, circus and music from both New Zealand artists and international artists. The full programme of events can be found on the Festival’s website.

There are two sign interpreted shows of Junk (9 and 11 March) and a relaxed performance of Junk on 9 March Credit: Jacquie Manning.

Aucklander Mary Schnackenberg, a blind advocate for audio description, is a keen arts enthusiast and audience member. “Auckland Arts Festival has pulled out all the stops to be accessible, building on their work over previous festivals. They're offering very discounted tickets, have got staff operating the booking process and have been very accessible in their approach to marketing.

“I hope the different communities will get behind this wonderful range of accessible events because their response will impact on future festivals.”

Marama Lloydd and Helen Winskill, Auckland Arts Festival.

Two Festival staff, Helen Winskill (Programme Administrator) and Marama Lloydd (Creative Learning and Community Engagement Manager), are responsible for the Accessible Programme.

“Being more inclusive is a sign of the times and it feels like we’re part of something global,” Marama says. “This year, we’ve made a significant investment in funding, time, energy and passion, so we would love to see all the events really well-attended. People buying tickets would be the best feedback we could have right now.”

Helen and Marama have spent a lot of time engaging and communicating with the various communities to ensure they are providing what people most want to experience. For example, they presented the Festival programme in August to both the blind and Deaf communities, seeking feedback about the shows they wanted audio described and sign interpreted.

They also sought advice on appropriate language and the best formats for communication. There are accessible and large print documents; New Zealand Sign Language videos; and a “visual story” for patrons of the autism-friendly performance on Friday 9 March of the Australian Flying Fruit Fly Circus show, Junk.

The number of accessible events has increased significantly from the 2017 Festival and Marama hopes that the accessible ticket price of $20 for a patron and $20 for a companion will enable people to attend multiple events.

There’s a touch tour and audio described performance of Akram Khan’s Giselle on 4 March Credit: Laurent Liotardo.

Another feature is that people with access needs can book their tickets in-house, making it easier to talk to a Festival staff member about their particular requirements and eliminating booking fees.

The Accessible Programme has been driven by both the Festival Chief Executive, David Inns, and Artistic Director, Jonathan Bielski.

Of his inaugural Auckland Arts Festival, Jonathan says: “I want it to be as diverse and dynamic as what I see on the streets of Auckland. We will celebrate contemporary, cosmopolitan Auckland and its many communities, and we invite everyone to come along and be entertained, inspired, provoked and – most importantly – included.

“My philosophy about the role of the arts is simple: they make our lives better. I believe everyone should have access to the arts and I believe this festival is providing something for everyone.”

The Auckland Arts Festival runs from 8 to 25 March (NB Giselle opens prior to this and runs from 1–4 March). People with access needs can contact Helen Winskill on 09 374 0310 (Monday to Friday 9.30am – 5pm) or at  for any help or information, and to make a booking.

The Auckland Arts Festival is a member of the Arts For All Auckland Network, facilitated by Arts Access Aotearoa. If you would like to become a member, please contact Claire Noble (T: 04 802 4349 E:

Updated on 25th January 2018