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$12 Million Cultural Fund launches

Photo: Shutterstock
The long-awaited big funds promised in the budget are finally here. We break down how Manatū Taonga's new Capability Fund works, who can apply, and get immediate reaction.


It’s been called a once in a lifetime investment.

And it’s now open.

The first of the three major funds that headline Manatū Taonga, the Ministry of Culture and Heritage’s $374 million COVID recovery programme has been released and detailed this morning (Saturday 12 December).

Te Tahua Whakakaha Cultural Sector Capability Fund is a confirmed $12 million contestable fund run separately from Creative New Zealand. The funds, as foreshadowed here on The Big Idea in the Lowdown back in September, are part of a wide-spanning package first set out in the Budget to support the sector that’s been hit so hard by COVID.

The role of the Capability Fund is to support the cultural sector to adapt to the new COVID environment by “funding projects that build skills and knowledge, and provide access to advice, services, tools and resources.”

Speaking on the Capability Fund, Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Carmel Sepuloni says “this Fund will help the cultural sector to build skills and knowledge, and provide access to the advice, services, tools and resources they need to respond to current challenges. This could range from securing legal advice, to purchasing new equipment or investing in staff training.”

So what do you need to know? We break it down and get reaction from within the creative sector. 

Who can apply?

The first phase of the funding is set aside for established cultural sector leadership organisations - ones with a track record of representing and supporting practitioners, businesses and organisations.

The rationale given is their ability to leverage existing connections and expertise - to deliver projects that build the capability of those in the sector.

While there’s no clear list of who fits the bill, Manatū Taonga has encouraged iwi, hapū and marae organisations to apply, while some council-run organisations will be eligible as well.  Those excluded from the first round of funding include central and local government agencies or organisations who have received funding out of the $8 million which is already allocated to CNZ, NZ Film Commission, NZ Music Commission and NZ On Air specific Capability funds.

How much can be applied for?

In round one, cultural sector leadership organisations can only apply once (with multiple projects able to be put into one application).

They can pitch for up to $20,000 of seed funding to develop an idea into an application for project funding or up to $750,000 of project funding to deliver a capability project. There’s a time frame for completion as well - 18 months.

When will funding be distributed?

The calendar for this runs over the course of the next six months. With applications open now, it runs over summer until the process closes on 9 February 2021.

From there, applicants should expect to hear back around April, with the funds due to be distributed in May 2021.

The Capability Fund is the first of three longer-term initiatives making $150 million available over the next three years.  Te Tahua Whakahaumaru Creative Arts Recovery and Employment (CARE) Fund is expected to open in early 2021, with Te Tahua Āki Auahatanga Cultural Sector Innovation Fund following soon after.

The reaction

Jeremy Mayall, Creative Waikato Chief Executive

Photo: Mark Hamilton.

“This first round of capability funding seems to be seeking to strengthen capability providers throughout Aotearoa who have clear connections with their community of artists and organisations. This provides an opportunity to ensure that there is a collaborative approach to enhancing capability, making sure this is built in a way that serves our diverse community, and will be looking toward new ways for artists and organisations to develop skills to be more sustainable. 

“It is great that there is an ability for these leadership organisations to connect with their communities and enhance the value of the creative sector in the regions. This gives an ability to make a tangible difference in communities that may not have historically had this kind of support and investment - that kind of reach is to be commended as it supports the broader ecosystem. 

“The most important consideration for this funding is that there is robust impact for the community so that MCH can clearly demonstrate how longer term investment in this area can substantially serve future arts development.”


Alison Taylor, Te Taumata Toi-a-Iwi Chief Executive

“It’s fantastic that the government has put money into recovery for the sector.

“It’s really critical that this (fund) works with existing infrastructure because this is short term money. It’s not about building new infrastructure at this stage so it’s a good strategy to work with existing capacity - albeit that capacity will have to grow in response to new funding. 

"It’s also important the whole sector is looked at, because some parts of the sector already have investment from other agencies. There’s a great opportunity to look at where the gaps are, engage with the sector itself over what the needs are so that the money is invested wisely and it has the impact that is intended.

"We’re excited that there’s a recognition that collaboration is important, with the opportunity to work alongside your peer/sister organisations so you’re not duplicating initiatives - because you’ve usually got the same issues to deal with, how to reinvent your business, going digital. Everyone had to do a quick pivot to online because of COVID and lockdown but it was done in an emergency situation - so what have we learned, what can we do more of?

"I’ve been so impressed with the sector’s willingness to share. Often funding pits people against each other, whereas - although this is contestable funding - it’s also designed to help businesses work collaboratively which is important. 

"The reality is this sector has not been well funded for a long time and new money can sound great but you have to be careful with how you use that because it’s time-limited.”


Eric Holowacz, Creative Bay of Plenty General Manager

Photo: Jess Lowcher/Creative Bay of Plenty.

"The Ministry’s new Arts and Culture COVID Recovery Programme amounts to an unprecedented level of new investment, funding and public policy all geared towards sustaining - and in some cases saving New Zealand’s creative infrastructure. 

“Almost immediately, it presents a monumental opportunity for New Zealand’s arts sector, along with the welcome problem of trying to figure out an appropriate way to spend a potential $750,000 grant in two years. 

"The $12 million Capability Fund is targeted at lead industry groups and peak bodies, leading Māori culture bodies, and regional arts leaders like Creative Bay of Plenty (or Creative Waikato, Creative Northland, etc). The consortium grant approach is smart (i.e. where a large grant is given to a central organisation to manage and then regranted or used across a wider group of more local or specialist member organisations). In that way, one major grant can support dozens of constituents and be spread across a wide area or base. Here the Ministry may have 20 or 30 major grants to give come 2021.   

“In anticipation of the Ministry’s Capability Fund, we’ve been consulting with our arts sector and trying to find the right model and scope. We would very much like to bring a half-million dollars into our regional economy and in support of arts, culture, and heritage non-profits - many of whom will be struggling with a changed economy, decreased local government support, internal management and governance needs, and the uncertainties of the post-COVID transition.”


Hinurewa Te Hau, Creative Northland General Manager

“I’m really encouraged to see the funds targeted at cultural sector leadership organisations. 

“As one of six regional arts development organisations across the country, we balance broad regional arts and cultural development programmes and projects with specific initiatives to support sectors and communities within our TLA areas, some of which are disadvantaged in terms of access to arts, culture and heritage.

“Having seed funds will enable groups to get a project off the ground which is very positive. The larger fund of up to $750m will build partnerships and strengthen collaboration so that everyone benefits from a more sustainable arts and culture infrastructure.

“The fund would certainly help under-represented groups and targeted programmes of leadership support.

"My concern is to deliver an initiative in 18 months won’t build the sustainability that Ngā Toi Māori and cultural leadership organisations desire, which is integrating sustainability into continuing organisations programmes that meet our changing district's needs over time. 

"In saying that, MCH are moving in the right direction and I applaud them for that in this post-COVID world, these are the first steps in the right direction!"



For more details on Te Tahua Whakakaha Cultural Sector Capability Fund and where to apply, click here.


Written by

The Big Idea Editor

12 Dec 2020

The Big Idea Editor