Napier Art Deco Festival shake-up: ‘To continue without change is irresponsible’

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The iconic Art Deco festival is undergoing some changes to reduce its future risk against unforeseen events like Covid 19. Photo/Getty

Hawke’s Bay’s iconic Art Deco festival has undergone a revamp and emerged with a new look, but without its longtime event manager.

But the decision to ax the role played by Greg Howie, who has been dominated by the Covid era significantly hitting two of three festivals since his appointment in August 2019, has not gone down well with one of his biggest supporters.

While Howie could only say he was gutted but had a few options to consider, festival stalwart Neville Smith, who has been involved for around 30 years in a variety of ways, including sponsorship and liaison with the Navy, said said: “It’s not a decision I agree with. I don’t know of any event festival without a festival director.

“I think he did a fantastic job,” he said. “Because he’s from the Bay, he’s well connected. He’s engaged with key players and sponsors, and they hold him in high esteem.”

Events New Zealand chairman Kevin Murphy, who is also events manager for Napier City Council, said what had happened was “a concern” but that as a trust Art Deco was in able to make their own decisions. It was hoped that he would still be able to run the festival successfully.

The Trust says the removal of the role is part of downsizing its internal events team, in a bid to make the festival and the trust sustainable. It will continue to promote and coordinate the festival, but there will be fewer “paying events” featuring the Summer and Winter Deco events.

The changes come after two years of disruption caused by the pandemic.

The trust has received government support through the Strategic Tourism Asset Protection Scheme fund, but trust chair Barbara Arnott said: “It has come to an end and we need to do everything we can to stay sustainable. .”

Covid-19 has changed the events industry in New Zealand forever, she said, and added: “Trust is responding appropriately to its changing circumstances, with a new model.”

“To continue without change is irresponsible – not just from a governance and financial perspective, but also from a heritage perspective,” Arnott said.

Heritage Director Jeremy Smith said there would be more opportunities for “the community and the excellent hospitality organizations in Hawke’s Bay to get involved”.

“This approach reduces the Trust’s risks by focusing less on delivering specific events and more on promoting the festival as a whole,” he said. “The experience of the last two years means that we need to change the way we organize the festival to reduce risk and make our festival and the Trust’s other activities sustainable in the long term.”

He stressed that the Art Deco Festival was not in danger.

The Art Deco Trust has 'downsized' its internal events team, and the role of longtime events manager Greg Howie, pictured, has been axed.  Photo/NZME
The Art Deco Trust has ‘downsized’ its internal events team, and the role of longtime events manager Greg Howie, pictured, has been axed. Photo/NZME

“We are changing the model so that our festival is adapted to a post-Covid environment,” he said. “Everything people love about our festivals (summer and winter decor) will remain; free public events in our wonderful public spaces, opportunities to connect and, of course, a celebration of the Art Deco heritage of Napier and Hawke’s Bay.”

“We look forward to sharing our plans in more detail later this year,” said Smith, who also paid tribute to Howie.

“We acknowledge and thank Greg for his work with the Trust and his contribution to our festival over many years. He leaves us with our best wishes for the future.”

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