It’s natural for Aucklanders to be excited about The Rugby World Cup – it’ll benefit the economy and tourism enormously, right? It’ll even give the arts a boost (excited about The REAL New Zealand Festival, anyone?). We’re told financial gains to the city could total $20-200m. But public money spent on readying Auckland for the Cup is already estimated at $285 million. Um, that’s a loss.
43,000 international visitors are expected to storm the city, but is ‘Auckland: city of rugger buggers’ really the image we want to project? RWC Chief Executive Martin Sneddon claims we’ll show the world the best of what we have to offer, but in the wake of the Anna Faris scandal we’re more likely to be caught with our pants down exposing the shame of our lout culture to the world.
So if the Cup doesn’t have clear benefits for our wallets and our image, why are we hosting it? As a nation we’re renowned for our attachment to rugby. It has Kiwi everyman appeal; it’s televised, easy to understand, it’s something we feel we are good at. Business meetings routinely open with irrelevant rugby references; rugby knowledge ensures gold card access into a VIP club. We love to voyeuristically experience the glories we’ll never rise to, the bodies we’ll never possess, the lifestyles we’ll never have. In a society without war, rugby gives us an opportunity to indulge our sadistic side and our national pride. Rugby herds us together, grips us with quasi-religious ecstasy and brings meaning to our lives. Given the lack of logical reasons for hosting the Rugby World Cup, the basis for the decision can only have been emotional.
The public may accept a RWC financial loss... if the All Blacks win. But there’s another event happening in our backyard this year that is a guaranteed win for the entire city. An event with genuine benefits to Auckland’s international reputation, culture and economy (the last one contributed $13.4m). Most importantly, it develops and showcases authentic innovation in a way that rugby never could. It’s called The Auckland Arts Festival. Why aren’t we supporting it with the same fervour?
At first glance the arts aren’t as open-access as rugby. As Anne Rodda (Director of the Writers and Readers Festival) says, “you can’t watch a play on the TV, you’ve gotta be there.” The arts are perceived as elitist, but in reality they permeate the most mundane moments of our lives; Rodda points out that “advertising frequently steals from the arts,” and kiwi musicians serenade us daily through supermarket speakers. The festival programme is equally egalitarian; the spectrum of events includes everything from randy puppets to Beckett-inspired dance. Several events are low-cost or free.
Popularity isn’t a problem either. 25,000 people attended last year’s Writers and Readers Festival, 45,000 people attended this year’s Big Day Out, and Auckland Arts Festival Chief Executive David Inns says that “with Pasifika and the Festival you’ll have the density of crowds of the Rugby World Cup.” Aucklanders are voting with their feet but media support lags behind. Festival publicist Rachel Lorimer says that while sports make the front page of the paper, arts are confined to the arts section. A change in media attitude will be crucial if we are to have a festival that sets our souls alight in 2013.
Arts geeks are pragmatic. “If life kicks sand in your face, build sandcastles,” they say. Inns compares the likely effect of the World Cup on Auckland to the effect of the Olympics on Sydney; “it makes the city grow up a bit.” Let’s grow up enough to cast emotion aside and think strategically about where we place our support. The Auckland Arts Festival is a logical choice. As Inns says, “come in our doorway; it’s an invitation to discover a new world”. And an invitation for the world to truly discover us.