The Southern Lakes Festival of Colour has announced that Aspiring Conversations, its hugely popular literary, philosophical and political debate sessions, will become an annual festival of ideas from this year. It is the first time that Aspiring Conversations has been held separately from the main Festival of Colour.

The inaugural event takes place in Wanaka and Queenstown from Friday 10th to Sunday 12th October. It will feature a number of national and international thinkers tackling such themes as the impacts of changing technology on society and the economy, issues of inequality and the growing strength of China. Leading New Zealand writers will explore the insights and power of our literary world.

Festival organisers have announced global management consulting firm, McKinsey & Company Inc. as gold sponsor. David Pralong, partner at the firm, said he is delighted to be part of Aspiring Conversations.

?We will host international executives in parallel to the festival. We could not hope for a better setting than the Southern Lakes to stimulate minds and step back to think about global issues,? he said.

The Festival of Colour?s key funding partners Central Lakes Trust, Otago Community Trust, Creative New Zealand and Queenstown Lakes District Council plus sponsors Milford Asset Management and local book retailer, Wanaka Paper Plus have all extended their support to the new annual format for Aspiring Conversations.

Hetty Van Hale, Chair of the Southern Lakes Arts Festival Trust said the launch was in line with the board?s desire to grow and diversify the event.

?This is a truly exciting development and a great addition to the region?s event calendar. We know there?s an audience hungry for this type of festival because our surveys highlight the enduring popularity of the Aspiring Conversations programme. Seymour Hersh, Nicky Hager, Lloyd Geering and others were huge hits last year and we?ll keep on bringing fascinating speakers to the region to entertain, inspire and provoke debate,? she said.

Ms Van Hale confirmed that Aspiring Conversations would continue to form part of the main festival programme every two years.

?Bringing Aspiring Conversations to the Southern Lakes every year will allow us to keep the wonderful Festival of Colour spirit alive in between the full programme,? she said.

The full programme for Aspiring Conversations 2014 will be unveiled in August with tickets available shortly after.