Carla van Zon

Carla van Zon has been involved in the arts in New Zealand and internationally for over 40 years. Known affectionately by those in the arts industry as “Aunty Carla", she has inspired, led and mentored artists and colleagues, and challenged, enriched, educated and excited audiences.

Carla recently retired as Artistic Director of the Auckland Arts Festival (AAF), having delivered her fourth and final festival in 2017. Carla was a driving force in taking the Festival annual, for bringing greater diversity to the programme, and championing Māori and Pasifika work.

Before her time at AAF, she was International Manager for the Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa where she oversaw the development of an international strategy, developing a programme to assist New Zealand artists to achieve international success.

Prior to the Arts Council, Carla was Artistic Director of the New Zealand International Arts Festival. Involved in the Festival since 1989, Carla took on the role of Artistic Director in April 2000, having successfully led the Festival as Executive Director since 1996. The Festival thrived with Carla in both roles. She led it into the black for the first time, earning the organisation the Dominion Gold Award 2001 for outstanding contribution to the Wellington economy.

• Awarded ONZM in the 2000 Queens Birthday Honours for services to the arts
• Voted Arts Wellingtonian of the year 2005
• 2009 managed NZ’s presence at Venice Biennale 2009
• 2016 awarded a life time achievement award at the Auckland Theatre Awards
• Artistic Director of 4 Auckland Arts Festivals: 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017. From 2013 – 2017, achieving record attendances, doubling attendance numbers and increasing box office income. Highlights included
• Over the period she was Executive Director and Artistic Director for the NZ International Festival of the Arts, the Festival won four national tourism awards and was the winner of the Gold Business Award for best Business in the Wellington region.

Carla has been a fantastic advocate and supporter for women in the arts and a great champion of Māori and Pasifika works; and a true a mentor and a leader.

She is passionate about demystifying art, to make it accessible to everyone–particularly families and across all generations. When working at the Auckland Arts Festival she made sure that the festival artistically reflected and celebrated Auckland’s diverse communities and grew the Asian programming. This was highlighted in the legacy project Whanui - a series of five community projects that reached into and was accessible to different areas and cultural communities of Auckland. Art for everyone.

Carla has championed the careers of many of today’s New Zealand’s theatre and arts practitioners such as writer and actor Nancy Brunning, directors Jason Te Kare and Sara Brodie, writers Mei-Lin Te Puia Hansen, Victor Roger, Renee Liang and Hone Kouka, composers Gareth Farr, John Psathas and Dame Gillian Whitehead.

She has put NZ arts and artists firmly on the international map (her legacy saw fourteen NZ companies take the stage in Edinburgh August 2019), brought international work to NZ that people would not have otherwise had the opportunities to experience, and ensured that NZ work has been seen on the wider international stage.

Carla initiated and produced “Show and Tell” (Wellington) and RAW (Auckland), two development programmes as a way for artists to develop their ideas, concepts and work. Carla was a mentor for many people working in the arts industry from Arts Manager and Musician Tama Waipara to WOMAD Taranaki Director Emere Wano and CubaDupa Director Drew James.

Carla’s artistic drive, backed up by excellent management skills, was key in moving AAF from a biennial event to a very successful annual event in 2015. Travelling to seek work that amazed and engaged audiences she brought work that would never have otherwise come to NZ. She built great international relationships. Year after year she worked tirelessly to convince great artists to come to this part of the world, often benefiting our Australian and Asian festival colleagues who became part of the international tours only made possible through Carla’s perseverance.

Carla has an MA in Dance and Arts Administration from George Washington University in the USA and a broad range of professional experiences in the arts, including working with a variety of theatre & dance companies, venues, the New Zealand Film Commission, producing New Zealand work and Co-Directing the New Caledonia New Zealand season for the Government of France.

Diagnosed with chronic Kidney Disease in June 2016 Carla never wavered in her commitment to bring the 2017 Festival to audiences, ensuring that it was one of the most successful Auckland Festivals to date and she is still presenting arts in her local community of Otaki.

(Photo by John McDermott; taken from The Fibonacci as part of Kiss The Sky)