If you liked this article share it with your friends. They will thank you later.


Jodi Wright Reflects on her New Year Honour…

Jodi Wright is the force behind many of Ōtautahi’s most beloved festivals – including the World Buskers Festival, The Festival of Romance and the Jazz and Cabaret Festival to name but a few. 

She became an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in this year’s New Year’s Honours for her thirty years of service to the arts – she spoke to Toi Ōtautahi about the honour and about her work.

First of all, a massive congratulations to you!

Thank you. I wasn’t sure whether it was a legitimate email at first. I thought it might have been a prank because I have those kinds of friends who do funny things.

When you realised it wasn’t a joke -what was your reaction?

I just went a bit weak in the knees. I thought, ‘Really?’ and then I called my sister and she said, “Are you sure they have the right Jodi Wright?” After all that, I thought it was a lot to take in. I was thrilled and kind of scared at the same time.

I want to start at the beginning – when did you first arrive in Christchurch?

In 1989. I married a New Zealand man and moved to Christchurch. It was challenging to get a job at first. Then when Vicki Buck became the Mayor, I spoke to her about the idea of festivals. At that time there was a youth event that was going on – Summertimes hadn’t really gotten going yet – and so I asked her if she had a plan. She said she was keen on the idea of a Festival of Romance and planned to start a charitable trust to establish it. The director job was advertised, and I applied and got it. I remember getting kind of a hard time from some local DJs about it.

Well, they’ll be eating their words now, won’t they! So you put the Festival of Romance together?

I started to think about how it could work. Vicki Buck thought Christchurch was such a romantic city with the river, and she was right, so I thought about things like wedding cake workshops and concluding the festival on Valentine’s Day with a dance. I remember thinking what if the Wizard would get married, and he got engaged during the 3rd festival. So, it was a lot of fun.

And this is all pre-internet?

I had a fax machine!

How did the Festival of Romance spark the Buskers Festival?

There were a couple of street performers around during the Festival of Romance, and I remember one act – The Shenanigan Brothers – asking me why they weren’t part of the festival, and so I began thinking about what this could look like if the festival included street performers. Christchurch was so well laid out for buskers. The City Mall didn’t have a tram running through it at the time and was a perfect outdoor venue. Not that all of the retailers were ecstatic about it – Once in 1996, the Topp Twins were performing outside Ballantynes and Jools ran in and took something from the window display to use in their show… a stuffed lamb I think. The crowd loved it, Ballantynes not so much!

The World Buskers Festival was founded in 1994; the first was quite small wasn’t it?

There were 8 performers and most of them were from New Zealand and Australia. It was challenging as I didn’t know too much about street performance and how it worked. Timing issues were always complicated, sometimes you’d have a performer whose show would last 30 minutes and then you’d have performers who wanted to run an hour and a half, so getting performers to comply with the structure I had was sometimes difficult.  The other thing with street performance is that you don’t want the audience to leave before the next show, so putting a time limit on ‘hatting’ after each performance could be challenging, as that’s when people tend to walk away.

It must have been a big learning curve?

It was. But five years later it was running pretty smoothly. I would get invited to go to the Edinburgh fringe and a few Canadian festivals and I found some wonderful talent. While the World Buskers Festival was growing, I co-founded, with a couple of other women, a writer’s festival – I don’t know what I was thinking because I had three festivals running already, but I wanted the city to have a community writers festival. I then decided to start a Jazz Festival which was a cooperative effort with The Arts Centre at first and of course, that one just kept going.

How many festivals were you actually running?

The most would be five at one time.

Even one festival takes so much planning – how did you do it?

I have always been a planner. I think about what’s possible and how it can happen. ‘What are three most important things that have to happen for this event to succeed? I then create a file for every performer and show and map out a plan for everything.

It’s a lot of work. And I can imagine you didn’t get paid millions of dollars for it…

Sometimes it was nothing. I kind of just thought, “Well, I’m getting paid for doing two festivals, so let’s just do some others at the same time. “But yes, a lot of work is done on a voluntary basis.

Would you like to see that change?

Yes, I would. For me, I kind of thought that at the end of the day, it was such a satisfying thing to do, but yes, I’d like that to change.

How did the 2011 earthquake impact on the Buskers Festival?

The earthquake happened three weeks after the 2011 Buskers Festival. I was so grateful it hadn’t happened during the Buskers Festival when there would have been so many more people in the city that afternoon. Afterward, the Council was really helpful – especially Jo Blair, who was there at the time – she helped relocate the 2012 festival to North Hagley Park and secured sponsorship from several Christchurch businesses, which was also really helpful.  It went extremely well. I would have kept it in there forever. We had stages all over and it was so comfortable. The Council estimated there were around 300,000 visitors to the festival over ten days. In the end, I found it much easier to produce there than in the street.

Was it crucial to Christchurch post-earthquake that the festival continued?

We have to continue. We have to keep going. I thought. The arts could bring it back, and artists are always willing to try.

What is it about Christchurch that makes it such a good place for festivals?

I love the layout of the central city. For the Buskers, you could walk from The Arts Centre to Cathedral Square and around to City Mall and you could place performers all along the way. But what I love most about Christchurch are the people. They’re always so willing to engage with the performers. The audiences are comfortable in their own city – they take risks by engaging with a performer and also with the person next to them. You’d see a crowd of school kids turn up and the whole crowd would just take a step back and make room. They want everyone to enjoy the performances.

What would you like to see happen with festivals in Christchurch in the future?

Funding is such an issue – it’s way more costly even than it was five years ago. If I could, I would establish a tribute festival. And years ago, I also had an idea of a Bestival – celebrating the best of the arts. There used to be a lot more money available but funding for festivals fell away and of course, Covid was no help.

Will you keep your hand in, do you think?

I don’t mind helping others with their festival and events but not as the top dog, the one who often wakes at 3am wondering if their event’s health and safety plan is sufficient.

Read more on Jodi’s NY Honour here.



image Image supplied
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Fill in your details below.