Two international-calibre Queenstown events are re-emerging this King’s Birthday Weekend after Covid caused them to be downscaled
last year. In the first of a two-part series, Philip Chandler shines a light on Luma

After a smaller Covid-enforced Luma in the CBD last year, the light festival returns to the Queenstown Gardens this King’s Birthday Weekend bigger and, dare we say, brighter than ever before.

When it was in the Gardens, it still evolved each year, but ‘‘this [one] is morphing 10 steps forward’’, organising committee chairman Duncan Forsyth says.

‘‘It’s a light and sculptural festival that’s morphed into a light, sculptural and performance festival, and that’s morphed into a light, sculptural, performance and musical festival.

‘‘It’s a full sensory experience — this is much more of a show than a gallery.

‘‘Our intention is for people to get transported to a different planet and get lost in a different world.’’

Yes, it’ll still be a light festival — ‘‘there’s probably more installations’’ — but there are far more performances, of many styles, while the music ranges from classical to electronic to acoustic.

‘‘Everywhere you go, you’ll have a different sensory experience,’’ Forsyth says.

Last year, due to uncertainty over Covid restrictions and people’s lesser appetite for going out, they ‘‘retrenched’’ and ran ‘Lumify’, which was effectively a laneways takeover.

‘‘Our plan had always been to extend it to the CBD, so it was a great way of testing it.

‘‘It was sort of a quarter of the size and a quarter of the effort.’’

However, Forsyth adds, you’re limited in an urban environment, whereas in the Gardens ‘‘you can effectively utilise it how you want, so, creatively, the artists that are coming are far more excited about working with the canvas the Gardens gives you’’.

Gardens extravaganza: Queenstown Gardens will again be illuminated during this King’s Birthday Weekend. PICTURE: EUAN MITCHELL

This year, he says there’ll be more than 100 artists involved, including about 35 performers.

Eyebrows have been raised about the entry price going up from $5 to $25, though kids 12 and under go free.

Forsyth, however, is unapologetic.

‘‘We’re still a fifth of the cost of comparative-sized events … and still it’s the price of a dozen eggs or a couple of cauliflowers.

‘‘The question for people is, how on earth have we managed to put on an international festival up till now for the same price as going to the movies or your A&P show?’’

He says funding’s got tougher, with funding bodies tending to prefer to support start-up events.

It’s also time, he adds, to pay artists and suppliers who in the past have donated their services — they, too, have mortgages to pay, Forsyth says.

They’re still only charging at cost, he notes — the true cost would be double what they’re charging.

And for those locals struggling financially, he says they’ve supplied free tickets to social agencies.

Another reason for the higher ticket price is they’re limiting nightly numbers to 10,000 to 12,000, and adding an extra night.

Council had requested this, but it’ll also add to the experience, Forsyth says.

So far, he’s not aware of any price resistance, and in fact pre-bookings are up.

He’s also expecting a good percentage of out-of-towners this time.

For those with disability issues, there’s also an accessibility scheme, supported by Queenstown Airport, enabling those people to come before the crowds gather.

Queenstown Central’s again providing free park-and-ride transport from Frankton.

Forsyth notes the event’s also supported by 100-plus vollies and the likes of hotels giving free rooms to visiting artists.

As a sustainability initiative, he says ‘‘all the cups and plates, everything we use is either compostable or reusable’’.

‘‘We’re heading to zero-waste.’’

Forsyth can’t wait for June 1 to roll around— ‘‘it’s going to be freaking awesome’’.

● Luma, Queenstown Gardens, June 1-5, 5pm-10pm; tickets via

[email protected]

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