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Saturday 08 April 2017

Embracing change, activism and conflict

Posted in: Events
By Jay Bennie - 8th January 2017

All events evolve with time, they have to to remain relevant and interesting.

Auckland Pride's evolution over five years has been a difficult process, the learning curve for the various people who have made up its governing board from year to year has been incredibly steep and mistakes have been made. But there is a sense emerging that those who currently carry the ultimate responsibility for Auckland Pride are becoming more closely aligned with the glbti communities they represent and serve. What will differentiate Auckland Pride this year from previous Auckland Pride Festivals?

“There's a real focus this year on change and activism," says co-chair Kirsten Sibbett. "We've spent a lot of time talking with the community to find out what is important to the communities and we'll be trying to reflect that in the festival programme and there theme for the parade. We hope it will feel much more like a community Pride and something that will really reflect and represent the struggles that we are still having within our communities.”

Has Pride turned really a corner? For example, here has been a feeling in some quarters of the broader community that dissent and frustration didn't have a place in the parade.

“It's hard to say. We all have our own in-built views of the world. That is something that is challenging, when there is a real difference of opinion. Our communities are always going to be different, we're all kind of lumped together under the rainbow but that doesn't mean we are all the same or that we all feel the same or have the same concerns or issues. But I think we understand those issues better than we did. I hope that Pride this year will be able to open up people's minds to other people, other concerns, other issues.”

Youth involvement, or lack of it, has been an issue ever since the very first consultations raised the issue but few young people then fronted up to create events. What progress has there been in this area?

“We've got two young people on our board which changes our thinking a little bit and provides a breadth of opinion from different ages. It's important that we acknowledge that we do see the world differently and it's important for us to have the voice of young people. We're just starting to see how the Festival programme is shaping up but I'm sure there's going to be some more youth involvement because we've taken that on from an organisational perspective.”

The cost of registering and creating events and parade entries, and the desire for some free events, was something which was passionately argued for in several of last year's Pride hui. Has there been any progress on that area?

“[Festival director] Julian Cook's right across the feedback and he's been having his own conversations with people to find out what their needs are. At board level we unfortunately don't have the luxury of being able to provide financial support for people, we're still trying to cover our own costs.”

The return of Jonathan Smith to the parade and Julian Cook to the festival programme, events they initiated but then stepped away from after problems working with previous boards, has a 'back to the future' feel about it. How did their come about?

“Both jobs were advertised at different times and they were the best candidates for the roles. Julian brings a broad range of skills and a real desire to engage with and understand what people want and how we can deliver that. He's a real all-rounder in terms of festival direction. Jonathan and his co-producer Shaughan are good at what they do, they know what they're doing. Technically they're great but also they 'get' the world that we operate in and how to get the job done. But they're also good at getting out into the community and talking to people and finding out what they want.

“I was concerned about are we just going back to year one, wondering 'have we evolved as an event?' But having people involved with the experience that they have, and that they've been involved in the events, gone away and come back again and seen how it's changed, I think it gives you a good sense of perspective. These people know what they are doing, they care about the community and they want to run an event that is really awesome.

Sibbett has been on the board for a couple of years now, what is she most proud of in terms of cultural change within the Pride board in recent years and the way that plays out in the actual festival?

“We felt that last year we'd made some good progress but there is always talk of how things could be done better. As an event I think we're now more open, we're listening more and we've have opened ourselves up to the communities. I'm really proud of that because I think that helps us learn and understand how we can make it better. People have the ability to express themselves and I think we're really embracing conflict of views within our community. Conflict is part of what spurs on change and how we progress. Just being open to that is something I'm proud of. Amongst the people we have on board there's a very healthy level of discussion and disagreement which I find very important."

Jay Bennie - 8th January 2017

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