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Emere Wano | Artistic Director, WOMAD

Artistic director Emere Wano is no stranger to the World of Music, Arts and Dance. In the lead up to WOMAD NZ, Emere tells Dione Joseph about her journey with the festival and the cultural capital it creates for Taranaki and NZ.

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“I ran the first Maori stall at our first WOMAD and we decided to do a hangi!” laughs Wano, “It went down a treat! Hot soup with fried bread and people loved it because it was cold at night – and although a lot of them didn’t know what they were eating they loved it!”

And that’s one of the quintessential features of WOMAD: the music, dance and festival experience should be about exploring the unknown. Coming from someone who not only managed a food stall, went on to program for kidzone, and then after a few years proceeded to become an artist liaison, it’s easy to see why the former associate director is now at the helm of one of the world’s iconic music festivals.

When we talked last week, the party was just about to get started.

“We’re in the final phase of organising all the nitty gritty details. Artists are finalising schedules and checking itineraries, the site is being built as we speak and we have a huge production and technical team that are transforming the site as we speak – port-a-loos and all!”

Passionate about providing more opportunities to celebrate the arts in New Zealand (and the arts community who contribute towards making it a reality), Wano is exhilarated that a “world class event is being presented through a world class organisation”. She goes onto explain that TAFT’s (Taranaki Arts Festival Trust) role is to “bring high quality international and NZ performers together in Taranaki to deliver a wide family orientated experience.”

“One of the unique things about WOMAD is that you can bring the whole family, mum and dad as well as nana and grandpa and everyone in between and that’s been the vision from the start.”

It took a huge leap of faith for a small arts trust to approach a leading international arts company but after three bi-annual festivals the decision was made to go annual in 2008. Since then WOMAD has seen ongoing and continued support both from locals and across New Zealand.

“In 2014 surveys showed that 66 percent of our audience was from outside Taranaki which included 43 percent from Wellington and 33 percent from Auckland and the rest from all over New Zealand. At the moment we don’t have a huge international visitor visibility but as we continue creating collaborations with international partners, as we did with Aboriginal artists from Australia and Gaelic artists from Scotland last year as part of the Boomerang Project, we offer them a chance to see the work of NZ artists and set the stage for future opportunities.”

Having worn multiple hats in the industry and working across numerous festivals (including the NZ Festival) as well as working with Toi Maori, Wano is a champion of recognising the cultural capital, including the social and economic benefits that festivals generate for the community.

“Back in its early days in the 90s TAFT was established by a group of people who had a keen interest in the arts and they sought the means to establish an arts festival and that’s how it first started. Subsequently the trust was established to get the vehicle for the funding and support and eventually that’s how the festival trust came about with a clear vision to bring the arts to the community – and in turn bring the community alive through the arts.”

She adds that “TAFT delivers a range of festivals but WOMAD is the jewel in the crown and through all its different events the organisation is able to build on cultural capital developing skills and knowledge both of the core team but also of practitioners and all those related to the industry from technical staff to constructions to chauffeurs.”

Underpinning the event, which Wano describes for first-timers as “a feast of sights and sounds you may never have heard before”, is an unwavering emphasis on education, not in its institutionalised form but an emphasis on providing “insight into our own culture and to cultures other than our own”. She promises that this year’s festival will continue the tradition to transcend boundaries and barriers through an immersive world of music, arts and dance.