09 Dec 2019

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The realities of contestable arts funding

“We find ourselves in a significant period of transition and change as we align our support for the arts to our strategies; strategies developed with and for the sector which reflect contemporary needs and aim to best serve our diverse Aotearoa. In other words, ensuring the arts create value for all New Zealanders of today and tomorrow. These strategies guide investment and contestable funding decisions within the public funding we receive.” – Michael Moynahan, Arts Council Chair.


From Michael Moynahan

Chair of the Arts Council of New Zealand


It’s been an industrious year for Toi Aotearoa Creative New Zealand as we took firm steps to bring our new strategic direction to life, and achieved a number of significant firsts. We marked our 25th year, reflecting on the challenges and tremendous advances that have been realised in the arts sector over the last quarter-century. In looking towards the next 10 years, we introduced our public value model ‘Creating value for New Zealanders’ – our strategic direction for the next decade which aligns the value we create with Ministers’ priorities for the Arts, Culture and Heritage portfolio and the Treasury’s Living Standards Framework, as well as with what we’ve heard from the arts sector.

We supported The Arts Foundation with their inaugural New Zealand Arts Month, aimed at starting a nation-wide conversation about arts and creativity – a conversation we hope will stimulate the appetite for a national arts strategy. We extended our reach and access to arts funding for our diverse communities, increasing funding levels across all artforms – notably Māori, Pacific and Regional Arts, and our support for organisations focused on building sector and organisational capability. Our first ever Māori arts strategy, Te Hā o ngā Toi, was released in February, and funding for Māori-led organisations through our investment programmes will increase by 39% from 2018 funding of $2.34 million to $3.34 million for 2020. Funding for Pasifika-led organisations through our investment programmes will rise 68% from 2018 funding of $1.37 million to $2.31 million for 2020. New opportunities for young New Zealanders, aged 10 to 25 years, were made possible through the launch of the inaugural round of Toi Rangatahi funding in April. In November, we announced the new Ngā Toi ā Rohe, Arts in the Regions Fund, focusing on incentivising arts programming and the development of new work in partnership with communities outside the main centres of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

In June this year we celebrated the first increase in Government funding in a decade, taking the annual total of Crown funding to $16.689 million (a 6.4 percent increase). This was a welcome investment from the Government to improve career sustainability for artists and arts practitioners. And timely, given the resounding engagement from arts communities when we published ‘A profile of Creative Professionals’, in partnership with NZ on Air, in May. This research was the first of its kind in almost 20 years.

In this operating environment, we find ourselves in a significant period of transition and change as we align our support for the arts to our strategies; strategies developed with and for the sector which reflect contemporary needs and aim to best serve our diverse Aotearoa. In other words, ensuring the arts create value for all New Zealanders of today and tomorrow. This year we continued to realise our Investment Strategy Te Ara Whakamua 2018 – 2023, confirming a $27 million increase in support over the next 6 years to our Toi Uru Kahikatea and Toi Tōtara Haemata multi-year investment clients. After careful analysis by the Arts Council, we made further adjustments to our Kahikatea and Tōtara investment programmes (multi-year funding for arts organisations) and Arts Grants programme (project-based funding) to address important strategic gaps. As part of our revised Arts Grants programme we increased the amounts applicants can apply for, bringing in a $25 per hour pay recommendation to support fairer remuneration for arts practitioners. We also introduced an Annual Arts Grants round to enable eligible individuals, groups and organisations to plan their activity and have longer-term security, as well as reduce the number of applications they must prepare and submit.

I acknowledge that while change is never easy, it is the only constant – amongst our tactical business as usual distributing $48 million in funding to the arts in Aotearoa in the last financial year, the last 18 months have been punctuated by critical and timely strategic work. Change, at times, which the arts community has felt more keenly, and understandably have been vocal about.

This year we’ve had the highest ever demand from the sector for funding, and we’ve also made our largest investment in the arts to date. The desire for funding from the sector, particularly in the contestable grants space, continues to intensify – a reflection of the wonderful creative minds of Aotearoa and the growing recognition of the value of the arts to New Zealanders. So, it’s bittersweet to see the increasing volume of high-quality works and initiatives being proposed, while at the same time, we’re acutely aware that within the context of the extremely competitive, contestable arts grants environment, typically only 1 in 3 applications can be funded – great projects and applications still miss out. Our investment strategy guides where we place our limited funds and we stand by these decisions.

In the most recent contestable Arts Grants round for project funding between $10K – $75K, we received 296 applications requesting a total of $12,365,935. We were able to approve 94 grants totalling $4,028,855. At first glance a 32% approval rate might seem modest, but it puts things into perspective when compared with the Australian Arts Council, who cites success rates for applicants as between 15% – 20%.

It is a privilege to serve the arts community; one we take seriously. It does not escape us that connected to all these applications are the aspirations of New Zealand artists. Deciding who receives our support for each funding round are tough decisions that aren’t made lightly and ones we are fortunate to not have to make alone. We are supported by peer artists and arts practitioners from the community who we call upon to lend their expertise to assess applications. Their recommendations are guided by our selection criteria and outcomes, and are underpinned by our strategic priorities which have been developed with and for the arts sector.

These decisions reflect the bigger picture vision of what is required for a healthy arts ecosystem: to sustain a strong, resilient arts sector, foster greater public engagement with the arts and the realisation and recognition of high-quality New Zealand art.