Auckland Arts Festival appoints new artistic director

Auckland Festival Trust has today announced that well-known New Zealand choreographer, cross-platform artist and arts industry leader Shona McCullagh (MNZM) has been appointed as Artistic Director of Auckland Arts Festival.

The appointment follows a national and international search over the last few months. Shona takes up the position from March 2020 and will lead the programming of the 2021, 2022, 2023 and 2024 festivals. The 2020 Festival is the third and final festival programmed by Artistic Director Jonathan Bielski.

In making the appointment, Trust Chair John Judge said the board conducted an extensive search for a candidate who would continue to deliver a Festival to meet Auckland’s diverse communities.

“We were delighted with the calibre of candidates who were attracted to the role and are very pleased to be appointing Shona. Shona is highly regarded in the New Zealand arts industry and well known as a visionary. She is an Aucklander and has a strong understanding of the Auckland market.”

Shona has a background in dance as a dancer and choreographer and 10 years ago she co-founded The New Zealand Dance Company and as its Chief Executive/Artistic Director, she has established NZDC on the global dance landscape. Shona is an Arts Laureate and has a long history of collaboration with other art forms, creating extensive work for theatre, television and film.

“I am truly honoured to have been chosen to passionately serve the artists, audience and communities of Tāmaki Makaurau and Aotearoa,” Shona said.

“I look forward to working with the incredible team and Board at AAF and collaborating with festivals, venues and artists in Aotearoa and around the world. I am truly grateful to my present and past whānau and arts tribe for the gifts and knowledge they have shared with me, and their support of my journey."

Chief Executive David Inns said he was looking forward to working with Shona on the next phase of Auckland Arts Festival.

“Shona has had a long association with Auckland Arts Festival over the years and I personally look forward to her joining me as the leadership team and working with New Zealand and international artists to deliver a distinct programme of shows and events for this vibrant city.”

New Zealand Dance Advancement Trust Chair Sharon van Gulik said the Board, team and dancers of The New Zealand Dance Company are delighted for Shona in being appointed to this role.

“Shona has built a legacy arts company that employs full time dancers, creates exquisite work of and for Aotearoa, and has hugely impacted the lives and professional standards of so many dancers, choreographers, designers and arts professionals.

“We will miss Shona hugely, but wish her all the very best in this important leadership role within the New Zealand arts community.” 

Auckland Arts Festival is Auckland’s premier multi-arts annual festival of New Zealand and international arts. The globally recognised event celebrates people and culture, and showcases the unrivalled location, cultural diversity and vibrant energy of New Zealand’s largest city.

Auckland Arts Festival is pleased to acknowledge the support from Sheffield Consulting, who led the search for the new Artistic Director.

Auckland Arts Festival receives core funding from Auckland Council and Creative New Zealand.


For further information, please contact:

Tess Marshall
Publicist – Auckland Arts Festival | Te Ahurei Toi O Tāmaki Makaurau

P: 09 374 0137
M: 021 275 5344


Shona McCullagh – Biography

MNZM, NZ Arts Foundation Laureate, Westpac/Fairfax Woman of Influence (Arts 2014), Hynds Creative Entrepreneur of the Year (2015)

One of New Zealand’s outstanding cross platform artists, arts business developers and co-founder of The New Zealand Dance Company, Shona McCullagh is an innovative choreographer and producer for dance, theatre and film. She is also a director, dance filmmaker, teacher and interactive installation artist.

A Distinguished Graduate from the New Zealand School of Dance, Shona was a dancer with Sydney based company Darc Swan in 1984, subsequently joining Limbs Dance Company, where she was a dancer, rehearsal director and choreographer from 1985 to 1988. In 1987, Shona performed with Douglas Wright & Dancers in New York, was a founding member of the NZ based Douglas Wright Dance Company and became its Associate Director in 1991, touring to the London Dance Umbrella and the Holland Dance Festival.
As a choreographer over the last 35 years she has created works ranging from short pieces to full length works, often working with NZ composers for companies such as Limbs, Footnote, Douglas Wright Dance Company, The Royal New Zealand Ballet, Southern Lights, tertiary institutes and her own company The Human Garden, which was established in 1992 and continued until 2007.
Shona has a long history of collaboration with other art forms, creating extensive work for theatre, television and film, including sequences for Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring and King Kong. Her work for theatre has seen her creating choreography for Nightsong Productions, The Watershed Theatre, the NZ Actors Company and Auckland Theatre Company’s Equus, Sweet Charity, Cabaret, Chicago and Lysistrata. Her work Rotunda for NZDC resulted in a tour to the Holland Dance Festival and a nine centre Australasian tour of the work, performing with live brass bands including a first ever collaboration between the military forces and contemporary dance with the NZ Army Band touring with the Company.
Shona has developed an international reputation as an award-winning and innovative filmmaker with all of her films being screened at the prestigious Clermont-Ferrand Film Festival in France. She established the Screendance course at UNITEC’s Bachelor of Performing and Screen Arts and as a recipient of CNZ’s 2004 Senior Choreographic Fellowship, Shona developed works integrating real-time interactive technology with live performance, resulting in a full-length work and a series of installations for Era New Horizons Festival in Poland, the Nelson Arts Festival, Splore and Taupo’s Erupt Festival.
As founder and former director of The Human Agency, Shona has conceptualised and directed many major events involving dance as a central feature such as the Steinlager Rugby Awards, the Harcourts Annual Conference and as Head Choreographer for the globally broadcast 2011 Rugby World Cup Opening Ceremony. She has also encouraged the careers and livelihoods of hundreds of artists through sourcing work for them via the agency.
In 2007 Shona was an inaugural participant of the ART Venture Acceleration Programme for Creative Entrepreneurs, an initiative of the Arts Regional Trust. Attending this programme resulted in her decision to assist the growth of the NZ dance industry by founding The New Zealand Dance Company in 2011. She has led the Company as Chief Executive/Artistic Director, acheiving multiple local, national and international tours and co-productions with artists, venues and festivals with performances at some of the world’s most prestigious theatres.