It was a warm and wonderful start to Te Tairawhiti Arts Festival 2021, which opened on Friday 8 October with the brilliance of the annual immersive light installation Te Ara i Whiti and a showcase of local musicians at the festival’s outdoor Te Pūtahi Hub, setting the city aglow. 

Stopping in during a road trip to promote the COVID-19 vaccination programme to rural communities, Rt Hon. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was thankful for the opportunity to speak to festival supporters at an opening event in the Lawson Field Theatre.  

The Prime Minister reinforced the importance of access to both healthcare and the arts – and their commonality in regard to their impact on wellbeing. 

Chief executive and artistic director Tama Waipara described the festival as a gathering of creative energy and artistic excellence. 

“It’s an absolute privilege to be able to celebrate the abundant creativity of our region at a time where being together has many limitations. 

“We are so proud to present such a rich programme alongside the artists of Te Tairāwhiti who have made it possible for us to come together to celebrate the arts and mahi toi,” Waipara says. 

A steady stream of families and visitors turned out at Marina and Kelvin Parks over the weekend where Festival crews closely monitored capacities and distancing. 

“From 8pm onwards it’s a busy time, but heartening to see everyone enjoying these events, being respectful and cooperative with queuing, scanning, wearing masks and even bringing their own kai to stay and soak up the atmosphere,” says Waipara. 

Highlights from the weekend include sold-out performances of Whakapaupākihi at Lawson Field Theatre on Sunday. Mixing the genres of musical theatre and kapa haka to stunning effect, the show was described by one audience member as, “Incredible talent, creativity and awesomeness – and such powerful example of the extraordinarily talented people we have here in Te Tairawhiti.”

Exhibitions and workshops at galleries have been a huge drawcard with so much to see and appreciate. 

At HOEA Gallery and Project Space, there was a fabulous response to the opening of Hononga which brings together indigenous artists from across the pacific. The exhibition is open every evening of the festival from 12pm – 5pm. 

An extraordinary live demonstration of Uku – clay carving – with artist Stevei Houkamau was on show at He Rau Aroha and this week the gallery will host Pūrakau for visitors from 4.30 to 7pm. 

“It was like being in another world” was the comment made from one visitor about Tomokanga te Ua and Ka tangi hoki ahau, the feature pieces of Prof Robert Jahnke’s works in Lamentation. The exceptional light and mirror installation will be open at Maia Gallery, Toihoukura, 11am to 3pm until the festival closes on Sunday 17 October. 

The Festival team are looking forward to a full week as the programme continues. Remaining tickets to Sunshine Soul Sessions are selling fast.  

Supported by Sunshine Brewery, the final day of the festival will end with an evening of smooth soul music curated by award-winning musician and producer, Tyna Keelan and performances by Maioha Award nominee Kirsten Te Rito, local legend Ora Taukamo and young Manutuke singer-songwriter, Raiha Moetara 

The event will also be back featuring in the festival’s massive line-up of music, opera and cabaret which is set for 3 – 13 February 2022. Tickets are on sale for these events now, so check out the events at 

You can watch the live-streamed opening of the Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival on YouTube or our Facebook Page: