History of the Festival

The 1991 Taranaki Festival of New Zealand Arts was the first national festival focusing solely on our culture and the New Zealanders who presented it. 

The festival was nearly three years in the making, first dreamt up in 1988 by Taranaki locals Roger King and Grant Kerr. Both had been to the Wellington Arts Festival and had returned brimming with inspiration, and both men were confident that bringing a festival to the region would be a huge success.

Three years later, in March 1991, the Taranaki Festival of New Zealand Arts was launched.

Generous sponsorship from the commercial sector, which saw it as an opportunity to lay a good foundation for the future of arts and experiences and improve the quality of life and the economy in Taranaki, helped get it off the ground. 

An estimated 45,000 people attended the inaugural festival, which presented 500 artists and more than 150 shows. The stars of the 1991 festival were many, including Dame Malvina Major, Michael Houstoun, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, the Royal New Zealand Ballet, the Topp Twins, Footnote Dance Company, Circa Theatre, Suzanne Prentice and Sam Hunt. 

The festival was unprecedented, and Taranaki was "set alight for those special three weeks".

The nation's media reported Taranaki's triumphant festival, and the event even landed an extended segment of the Holmes show with national broadcaster Paul Holmes.

Retail businesses, hotels, restaurants, airlines and even taxis reported a spike in business, and the event injected nearly half a million dollars of direct spending into the local economy.

The festival remained a feature of Taranaki's summer until 2003 when Womad New Zealand and the Taranaki Garden Festival joined the TAFT festival portfolio. 

The arts festival shifted to winter, a move that turned out to be the single best thing to happen to the festival. The Taranaki Arts Festival has become the longest-running regional arts event in the country.

Over the years, one thing has been clear the festival wouldn't be able to deliver such high-quality shows, from throughout the world, without the help of generous sponsors and partners.

The 2017 festival saw 44 acts, across 13 different venues, including the 3000-piece Spiegeltent termed the Staples Rodway (now Bakertilly Staples Rodway) Crystal Palace. 

The opulent and decadent Palace was one of the venues to play host to talent coming from as far away as Ireland, Mexico, Germany and Sweden.  

In 2019 TAFT announced that the biennial Taranaki Arts Festival would undergo a contemporary makeover, and the festival evolved into a series of four niche festivals. 

Winter FestSpiegel FestRight Royal Cabaret Fest and Box of Tricks Festival would deliver more entertainment and arts than ever have before, providing countless hours of award-winning entertainment to the region all year round. 

It was a bold, new structure that would keep Taranaki at the forefront of the art scene, responding to the needs of its audience and offering a fresh way to experience, enjoy and enrich their lives with entertainment and arts.

Both Right Royal Cabaret Fest, June 25 to 28, and the Box of Tricks Fest, September 26 to October 4, were cancelled by the Taranaki Arts Festival Trust (TAFT) as the world struggled with Covid-19.

As New Zealand began to resume some sense of a new normal, TAFT created a new festival for Aotearoa to help revive a struggling post-Covid-19 entertainment industry.

RESET 2020 provided a platform for New Zealand artists to get back to work and, just as vital, allowed the local communities to engage again with the festival experience.

The festival coincided with the final weekend of the Taranaki Garden Festival. With the stellar, all-New Zealand performance line-up, RESET provided an opportunity to support and profile Taranaki's creative community.

Fast forward to Spiegel Fest 2022, which will kickstart the Taranaki Arts Festivals' official festival season for 2022-2024 and give audiences even more reason to celebrate the end of the year and the approaching summer.

Taranaki Arts Festival's 2022-2024 season includes four festivals over the two-year cycle that kicks off with Spiegel Fest this November.

In 2023 the popular four-day Right Royal Cabaret Fest returns to warm up winter in June, and in October, TAF will present 're:imagine', a new ten-day festival celebrating the arts.

The festival format concludes with Winter Fest in 2024 with a complement of music, theatre and comedy alongside the popular literary programme.

These four niche festivals aim to grow the festival's reach and provide an exciting range of arts experiences for our community. Alongside each celebration will be the well-attended school programme and four regional programmes.

TAFT has presented a total of 20 arts festivals in its 30-year history. Spiegel Fest will celebrate the 21st arts festival presented by the little trust that could!