Luma lighting the way forward


From tomorrow, 45,000 people are expected to attend the third annual Luma Festival in the Queenstown Gardens. Tracey Roxburgh looks at how far the event has come – and where it’s going.

Colour blast: A shot from last year’s Luma

When it comes to the future of, arguably, the most successful new event in Queenstown, the sky’s almost literally the limit.

The Luma Southern Light Project will open for its third full event tomorrow, but organisers already have plans to eventually extend the four-day light festival to four weeks, take over the Queenstown CBD, incorporate Skyline and, potentially, Cecil Peak.

After a Luma’s pilot in 2015, featuring four installations by Auckland’s Angus Muir, Mount Edward Winery boss Duncan Forsyth offered to help out.

Before he knew it, he was the charitable trust’s chairman.

In the first two years of the full event crowd numbers grew from 10,000 to 35,000 – over the next four days Forsyth estimates up to 45,000 will wander through the gardens after dark.

He says the growth’s “outrageous, really”, but puts it down to Luma’s point of difference and because it’s community driven.

Along with major funders, like Queenstown’s council, the Central Lakes and Southern trusts and the Community Trust of Southland, it’s supported by about 100 local businesses and 30 individuals.

Some 130 people deliver the event, 60 of those volunteers.

What started out as a way for the core organising crew, all from creative and artistic backgrounds, to share their interest in light, sculptures, installations and illuminations while giving others a platform to express their work, has become a way to bring the community together and provide a bit of an economic boost during a “traditionally quiet time of year”.

“We live in fantastic place, in a fantastic town … that said, it’s not like any other town,” Forsyth says.

“It’s bursting at the seams and the issues are well-known … one of those is maintaining a vibrant sense of community.

“We saw this as a valuable addition; something we could do … to provide one thread to help the social fabric of the town.

“With not many people around it gives people a chance to go into town, to go out and have a bite to eat, to socialise.”

Unlike similar events, Luma’s driven by the artists.

The trust’s vision is a “fully immersive experience from go to whoa” – how that’s done is up to them.

Over the past year all the artists involved have walked through the gardens four or five times, collaborating on what could go where, before going away to create pieces.

“We have so much artistic trust in their credibility, they bring their A-game.”

This year, there’ll be 29 installations by 31 artists, including pupils from Wakatipu High School, Shotover and Remarkables primary schools and the Wakatipu Pottery Club.

Forsyth says the aim is to make Luma completely different every year.

In time, they also want to extend it.

“We would like to see the whole of June become a Luma month and go down into downtown, around the waterfront, up on the Skyline, Cecil Peak – the world’s your oyster.

“The weekend in the gardens … is just the start.”

The trust’s also working on the “triple bottom line” to make sure Luma’s socially, environmentally and financially sustainable.

It’s working with Sustainable Queenstown and the council on waste minimisation plans for events, which it’ll give to the council for other non-commercial community events to use. Luma aims to be zero waste by 2020.

It’s also developing a usage plan for Queenstown Gardens with the Friends of the Gardens.

And, it’s getting help from the business community on a plan to achieve long-term financial sustainability.

“It costs around $600,000 this year [and] about half of that’s in kind [support]. Financial sustainability, long-term, is the bane of every event,” he says.

The trust wants the event to still be going strong in 10 years.

Forsyth says there’ll be obligation-free “koha buckets” circulating during Luma this year.

“We want to make it free because a lot of people struggle [but] if everyone who came threw $2 in the pot, it would take us over the line for next year.”

Lights are on from 5pm to 10pm, from tomorrow till Monday.

Forsyth’s encouraging people to come “lit up”.

“Make an effort, be part of it. “Wear a lit-up tiara, whatever it takes, get into it.

“Take your time and explore because there are going to be things hidden away and we just want people to have fun.”