Three years ago tonight, I was on stage in the Auckland suburb of Grey Lynn, MC’ing the grand finale of our Dark Night festival.
The weeklong, citywide programme sought to “question, celebrate, and challenge sex and sexuality on page, stage, and screen,” bringing together artists, writers, academics, and fans for open and frank discussions about identity, sex, and the media.
Opening with a screening of Steve McQueen’s Shame, the season included library services in Auckland bars, author talks, and a cabaret evening with Auckland Fringe stars, Oh! Is For Opera.
Dark Night took place weeks after the Kiwi parliament voted marriage equality into law. Our events provided an opportunity for Auckland Libraries to address more challenging topics and an explicitly over-18s audience, working with performers, sexual health professionals, creatives, and sister venues like Academy Cinemas. It also brought us national media coverage from the New Zealand Herald.
We were blessed by supportive local politicians at Auckland’s Waitemata board, and dedicated staff who participated in some pretty unusual community outreach events.
The season culminated in a grand finale cabaret show which included a poi-dancing Māori drag queen, erotica readings from the Auckland Libraries collections, and a performance of opera burlesque. Legacy events included the XXUnmasked programme and an ongoing librarians-in-bars initiative which recently featured on Kiwi TV.
Library maven Heather McCormack wrote of the event,
Good libraries are reflections of their communities, and that can mean, in my view, that nearly anything goes. To survive, they can’t be dusty repositories of canonical information, but spaces where new ideas are forged and shaped and then transmitted, perhaps with some interference, to cultures at large.
These were words echoed by Aucklander, library user, and transgender advocate Jennifer Shields:
libraries are no longer about holding and collecting books, they are about nights like last night. they are about discussion and thought. libraries, in a way, are on the bleeding edge of society – they are a place where you can (or, at least, should be able to) find discussion about things that are perhaps not discussed elsewhere. nights like last night are important. they need to keep happening.
To find out more, read Dark Night: Library Burlesque at Library Journal.