Arts Festival founder/director steps down


After almost 20 years in the role of Arts Festival Dunedin director, Nicholas McBryde is stepping down to allow the festival to take a new direction.

Mr McBryde, who designed and founded the festival in 1999 with the aim of bringing the world of the arts to Dunedin audiences, said the role had given him “a great deal of satisfaction” over the years.

And after reaching the milestone 10th anniversary season this year, Mr McBryde felt that it would be a good time to step back and allow someone new to carry the torch.

“My role at the festival has been exciting and challenging, and has given me a great deal of satisfaction,” he said.

“However, the time has arrived for a change.”

Although the financial outcome of the 2018 festival would not be finalised until the new year, the event sold more tickets than the previous festival and had been “an artistic and critical success”.

“With celebratory shows like Air Play and Ann Droid, and some challenging and brilliant theatre, 2018 was a great mix.”

Arts Festival Dunedin Trust chairman Trevor Kempton said matching revenue and costs presented “the usual challenge”, but planning had begun for another festival in 2020.

Mr Kempton paid tribute to Mr McBryde’s “dedication and perseverance” to the festival and said the board was disappointed that he was stepping down.

“The festival was Nicholas’ vision and he has worked hard realising that vision for half of his professional career in the performing arts.”

He said Mr McBryde would continue in the role as the trust worked towards securing a replacement.

The director is considering his options for the future, but intends for the performing arts to remain an important part of his professional life.

Over the 20 years of his involvement with Arts Festival Dunedin, Mr McBryde has had to contend with the proliferation of entertainment options, particularly online, which has changed audience behaviour.

“One of the major challenges facing performance organisations is that the choices are so great it becomes harder to engage with audiences.

“However, the true value of the festival is in the way it brings people together into a community, to come together to experience the emotions of a live performance.

“For me, the real satisfaction has always been to see people coming out after a show having experienced something wonderful or profound.”

Over the years, running the festival had been a “roller-coaster”, which had delivered an extraordinary amount of quality entertainment, across all arts genres, to local audiences.

In the 2018 festival alone, there were 12 pieces of theatre – nine of them New Zealand works – which delivered 40 performances across 10 days.

“That was a real achievement, I believe.”

Mr McBryde has been involved in the performing arts for about 40 years, performing as a dancer, singer, and musician in New Zealand and Australia, and becoming the first administrator of the Christchurch Operatic Society in 1978.

He was also the founding general manager of the Canterbury Opera Company, marketing manager at the Court Theatre, and manager of the Southern Sinfonia (now Dunedin Symphony Orchestra).

“I have actually worked in all the performing arts disciplines, which gives me an understanding and empathy for the practitioners we deal with for the festival.”