Wellington Jazz Festival – Wellington Convention Centre

Wellington Jazz Festival 2009





A festival buzz fit for young and old jazz lovers

 Event:  Wellington Jazz Festival, 5-8 March 2009
Client:  New Zealand International Festival of the Arts
Venues:  Wellington Town Hall and Civic Square
Scale:  9,233 audience attendees, 175 international and local artists

Challenge One:  Reputation

This was a “new” festival.  The International Festival of the Arts organisation was handed the reins of the city’s previous jazz festival and wanted to reinvigorate the event, creating a hub with with a jazz club atmosphere that would cater for around 800 people.  The challenge was to transform a traditional concert hall, with seating for 1,800, to achieve this.


Raising the entire ground level to gallery level, a massive undertaking that nearly halved seating capacity and created cabaret/club style space.

Challenge Two: Venue transformation

Constructing this temporary floor – meeting all building, safety and fire regulations, while retaining the character of the historic Town Hall.


The venue worked alongside the client and their design team.  To meet the building inspection code a totally false floor was laid under the scaffolding to support the new floor.  City engineers double checked the safety of the build and additional trussing was installed to eliminate all risk out of the temporary structure.  Having 150 school children stamping and stomping on the floor during a festival workshop was a very good test case!

Click here to view the graphical representation video of the venue transformation.

Wellington Jazz Festival 2009

Challenge Three:  Crowd management

Creation of such a radically different space called for the development of specific crowd management and evacuation palns for the festival period.


The main entrance was shifted to the Civic Square and bars and catering outlets relocated to the Civic Square foyer to better cater for the different people flows.  This also enabled the creation of the foyer into a relaxing, lounge-style “chill-out” place for audiences to gather in between acts.  Staff were trained to move audiences in and out of these different spaces and on new evacuation procedures.

Challenge Four:  Atmosphere

Creating a jazz club-cabaret style ambience.


The venue team worked with the client to find furniture, for example tables and chairs so people could eat and drink during the shows, and to theme the venue, using red colourings and mood lighting to create a cabaret feel.

Challenge Five:  Turnaround

The festival involved multiple acts with a 20 minute break between sets to clear and then re-seat audiences and stage settings, running from mid-morning until up to 3am.


A core event team was rostered and trained thoroughly on seating processes.  Mobile ticketing stations were installed to cater for last-minute, walk-in patrons.  A lot of prior thought went into stage set requirements.  All sound was checked earlier each day so stages could be reset without full sound checks between acts.


Client comment

Wellington Jazz Festival 2009

The green touch:

“The temporary floor was recycled from flooring used previously at the Convention Centre, for the International Arts Festival 2008 production of Black Watch.”

Special touches:

“The catering team. Restaurant Associates, came up with innovative menus to suit the jazz club ambience, and front of house staff had researched the performers and took pride in talking to patrons in between shows about the next act.’

The verdict:

“This was all new and we sensed a real keenness from the venue team to get on board, explore different scenarios and make things happen.  Putting on a new festival is a challenge, we had to change peoples’ expectations and until they saw the venue it was pretty hard to describe it.  The whole combination created such a buzz.  We’ve had wonderful feedback and we’d love to do it again.”

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