Last Friday was the Awards night of WOW and the right time to reflect on what an emotional journey this has been for what is rightfully a Nelson icon.
I was there in that rain soaked tent near Wakefield in 1987 when Dame Suzie Moncrieff staged the inaugural WearableArt show to the first of many amazed audiences. This year is the 30th show and 60,000 people will be wowed in the capital over three weeks, but its roots are and always will be, in Nelson.
The show programme, the company’s website and of course the WOW Museum all proudly proclaim Nelson as the birthplace of WOW and that can never change. I love the history of the show and its incredible evolution. It was not invented at a university or a posh arts school, but in a small rural area. The concept was literally ‘off the wall’. To take art off the wall and embellish the body – to be worn. Even today I believe it is best to have the WearableArt experience rather than try and understand the WearableArt explanation.
I also love the platform WOW gives to community artists. Each year we see entries from everyone from plumbers, teachers, homemakers and nurses through to engineers who use WOW as a conduit for their creative outlet. One of the strengths of the WOW is its blind judging where repeat entrants, some of whom have professional design experience and can be previous winners, are judged alongside first time entrants with no experience. The entries stand on their own merits and are then individually choreographed to show them to their best advantage. I have friends who enter and they say seeing their creation on the catwalk, lit, choreographed and set to music is an unforgettable experience.
But WOW is not just about the show. It has also enabled Nelson and New Zealand to tell a broader story about who we are. Our old tourism branding around beautiful scenery and Maori culture was one dimensional. WOW has helped us take the broader story of our creativity and our own unique style of art to the world. I enjoyed working with WOW in the 90s to assist with national television coverage and later to help with NZTE funding to take exhibition/mini shows overseas.
I congratulate and pay tribute to Dame Suzie Moncrieff and sister Heather Palmer who started WOW and still guide it and those early sponsors who grasped the concept and could see the potential. I also acknowledge all those people who formed the large crew and Nelson artists who continue to create entries each year. This Nelson born event punches way above its weight on the global arts stage. Take a bow.