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Making it happen … with changes

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by Claire Mabey
I’ve had Janis Joplin’s song ‘Piece of My Heart’ on repeat lately. Playing songs on repeat helps me concentrate and this one of Janis’ fits my current mood. I had expected I’d probably have to write this. But even while we have Covid contingencies to last us another decade, it isn’t until you have to start drawing the lines that the plan starts to hit you around the head.

Verb Readers & Writers Festival 2021 is a magical one even if I say so myself. But right now its current form is Plan D and a half. We’ve just announced some timetable changes and cancellations/pivots due to travel and other covid-related restrictions. If you’ve got a ticket to any of the affected events you will have an email in your inbox about it. The updated (and still very fine looking) weekend timetable is online and the website is up to date. Most of the changes are due to travel restrictions but also Level 2 means we need more time between events to clean so we’ve had to move a few things around.

What might be useful to know about us here at Verb is that we are committed to delivering live events wherever we can. This is because this is the world from which we grew: the particular magic that happens when you bring strangers together for a common interest. It can’t be beat.

Having said that, we are going to reframe some of the events that can’t happen due to Covid as digital experiences: podcasts or pieces of publishing. And we’re excited about that because we’ll be making them fit for the platform. It’s my view as both a programmer and an avid consumer of both hard copy and digital conversation that we should be live when we can be live and if we need to be digital we’ll make conversations for the digital world in which they’ll live.

Someone recently said to me that it was hard to remember the fact that (mostly) organisations are made up of a regular bunch of people making decisions. We are a very small organisation. I’m not even sure we are an organisation because really it’s a collective of part-time people making Verb between our other work. That’s what independent means, essentially – you cobble together an income to make things and you don’t have recurrent operational funding to pay for the cobbling or many of the cobbles. So we really have to take extra care of what we have.

Independent arts projects are always vulnerable and things can always threaten their existence: a failed funding attempt, an earthquake, low ticket sales, unexpected costs that tip the very fine break even line. Being an independent arts organisation is always hard, vulnerable work.

What is difficult about COVID-19 is the extremely visceral desperation that I can feel, and that many others can feel, among our artists. It’s all very well being an ‘organisation’ but the reason we’re here is because of the art and the reason the art is here is because of the people who make it.

I’m saying this because not having our Auckland writers with us in person hurts not because it’s hard to reframe a Festival but because I love what all of our artists have done for Aotearoa and the conversations that can happen between books and between writers. All of these books contain things (ideas, other worlds, relaxation, stimulation, information) that really mean something to us as readers and as people who consume art. I was simply proud to deliver a project that aims to make space and time to celebrate and share conversation about these books and the ideas in them.

So what I’m really saying is: please go and buy Aotearoa Books and if you can please do come and support our writers at our festival and buy their books there! The writers in our Festival (Plans A through to D and a half) are amazing and a book purchase and/or event attendance really does support this community. And please support your local theatre practitioners and musicians and dancers and sculptors and your independent collectives. This is a brutal time for artists.

I can’t wait for Verb Readers & Writers Festival 3 – 7 November because even in Covid Level 2 Plan D and Half it’s a constellation of brilliance. There are so many writers to hear from and celebrate. Draw a smiley face on your mask and come and support one of the most exciting literary communities ever in the history of the world.

Any support you can offer us will be used to keep going. We’re a bit like fairies – if you clap we’ll come back to life.

Claire Mabey is director and curator of Verb Wellington

Verb Readers & Writers Festival 2021
Wellington
3 – 7 November (LitCrawl 6 November)