The annual Storylines Festival began as a writers' initiative, a dream to bring New Zealand children together with their favourite New Zealand authors. Easter 1992 a group of 33 writers and illustrators gathered for a magical weekend at Joy Cowley's seaside home in the Marlborough Sounds. For three days they talked, laughed and shared their stories. They also dreamed of a festival that celebrated New Zealand writers and illustrators where they could meet many of the young readers who enjoyed their books.
The concept was adopted in 1993 by the Auckland-based Children's Book Foundation, later to become the Children's Literature Foundation (CLFNZ), then the Storylines Children's Literature Charitable Trust, and has been developed through subsequent annual festivals.
The first Festival of New Zealand Children's Writers and Illustrators was held in Auckland. Nearly 11,000 visitors came to the first free Family Day at the Auckland War Memorial Museum to meet authors, enjoy the illustrators' working on a mural and Wayne Mills' Kids' Lit Quiz.
Initially, the Festival was held in the greater Auckland area as the country's largest centre of population, with the vision of expanding to other major centres. The major components were the Free Family Day, a four-day schools' tour by a busload of authors and illustrators, and the children's literature quiz. It would be held annually in June over a period of four or five days. The family days and story tours have remained the core features, with seminars and workshops for both children and adults added.
The first two Festivals were held at the Auckland War Memorial Museum. Since 1995 the Storylines Free Family Days have been developed in partnership with THE EDGE (now Auckland Live), regularly attracting large crowds of children and families to the Aotea Centre.
For the first decade, the Festival was held only in the greater Auckland area. Gradually since 2004 family days have been added in Northland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, with South Auckland the most recent in 2013. In recent years it has been held in August.
While the main focus remains firmly on New Zealand authors, from 2000 one or two international guests from Australia, UK and USA have been invited, appearing at Family Days and for story tours, workshops and seminars. Among the guests have been writers Gary Crew, Jackie French and Terry Griffiths, and illustrators Alison Lester, Shaun Tan, Babette Cole and Terry Denton.
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Governance, Funding and Structure
For the Festival's first decade, a generous annual grant from an anonymous donor enabled the employment of a part-time administrator, with volunteers brought on board to organise the regional events being gradually added to the national programme.
Today the Storylines Trust (established 2005) employs two part-time officers: an Executive Officer responsible for funding, strategy and promotion, who works in close cooperation with a Festival/Events Manager along with the volunteer Management Committee, the Festival and Awards Committees and a large, loyal and increasingly skilled corps of other volunteers.
The Festival Manager oversees six regional coordinators, also the coordinators of the Story Tours in Auckland and Northland.
The Festival managers since 1993 have been Jill Brewis, Penny Hansen, Margie Greer, Robin Houlker, Crissi Blair and currently is Vicki Cunningham.
The basic philosophy of the Storylines Festival is that the Family Days and Story Tours to schools are free, so there are no financial barriers to attendance, and that authors and illustrators are paid appropriately for their professional participation. Seminars and other adult events are usually ticketed and self-funding.
Festival funding overall (something over $200,000 is needed every year) has been achieved by developing partnerships for grants or 'in-kind' support from a range of supporters: principally Creative New Zealand, THE EDGE, ASB Community Trust and the New Zealand Lotteries Grants Board, along with contributions made by corporates, publishers, community trusts and philanthropic foundations, booksellers, local bodies and the media.
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The now well-established format of the Storylines Festival includes:
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- Free Family Days, principally targeted at families with children from age 3 to 12, in Auckland, South Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.
- Story Tours in the greater Auckland and Northland areas, featuring upwards of four authors and illustrators visiting schools and early childhood centres for three or four days.
- Seminars for adults, featuring leading writers and commentators, in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.
- Rough estimate of numbers reached yearly would be around15,000 to 20,000 at the six regional family days, and several thousands of school students reached by the two Story Tours.
From late 2005 the Storylines Festival came under the direct governance of the Storylines Children’s Literature Charitable Trust of New Zealand, a trust formed to sit alongside the Storylines Foundation with legal responsibility for its finances, its activities – including the Storylines Festival – and strategic planning.
The ongoing challenge for Storylines is to manage the growth of the festival with the funding available and the resources judged to be necessary to maintain high standards and profile. The search for a major long-term sponsor continues.
Storylines believes its Festival sits comfortably alongside the New Zealand Book Trust Awards being run from 2016 by the New Zealand Book Council (previously the NZ Post Children's Book Awards and before that AIM), New Zealand Book Month, and other literary celebrations held at various times of the year around the country. These annual events ensure that New Zealand children have a regular continuity of emphasis on books, authors and reading.
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