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Arts Voices: Why Auckland Must Fight Council Budget Cuts

13 Mar 2023
Tāmaki Makaurau is "on the precipice of uncertainty" - We speak to some of the city's creative leaders to find out the real impact of the proposed funding cuts and what needs to happen to change it.

There is a huge dark cloud hanging over Auckland's creative community - it's a storm that will be difficult to withstand for many.

The proposed $35.6 million slashing of funding to the arts is one of the most highlighted features in Auckland Council's proposed budget for 2023/24 (you can read more in The Lowdown.)

With submissions from the public open until 28 March (link here), now is the time to speak up and make sure there is irrefutable evidence that the community values arts and culture in Tāmaki Makaurau more than the city's decision-makers perceive.

To give you a better idea on why this is important and - if left unchallenged - what the result of these cuts will be, we have brought back The Big Idea's Arts Voices.

Arts Voices is where we canvas creatives of Aotearoa to get their thoughts on the issues that the sector faces - as this is a big one right now.

The question we posed to some of Auckland's creative leaders is "what impact would the proposed budget cuts have on you and the rest of the creative community?”  

Here are their responses.

Jessica Pearless and Jonathan Organ, Co-Directors of NORTHART, Directors of Paragon Matter Art Services and practising artists

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Jonathan Organ and Jessica Pearless. Photo: Supplied.

We are on the precipice of uncertainty. 

On a personal level, our vision to continue to create a dynamic, enriching, resilient arts sector for artists, audiences and communities through NORTHART is being thrown into question through the proposed funding reductions from Auckland Council.

Resilience and the ability to lead through a crisis should be at the top of every creative industry leadership position description. As Co-Directors of NORTHART since 2020, we have steered the organisation through COVID-19, significant flooding, and the proposed redevelopment of the Northcote Town Centre. 

And now, we are staring down the barrel of funding cuts, on top of an already stretched set of resources.

NORTHART is 25 years old this year. Established as a community-centred art gallery, a not-for-profit and registered charity, we are an organisation that puts artists at the centre.

The effect on funding cuts on NORTHART will echo far wider into the eco-system of the creative sector than these initial cuts - which we believe will likely become the status quo. 

Cuts will impact the creatives we are here to champion, hindering our ability to exhibit, programme, commission, market, encourage the many artists, designers, gallery staff, art publications, curators, and writers that we support through our operations.

Amy Saunders, DEPOT General Manager

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Amy Saunders. Photo: Supplied.

DEPOT is a not-for-profit multi-disciplinary creative space in Tāmaki Makaurau, Te Hau Kapua, Devonport. We operate two art galleries, two recording studios and manage employment and career development programmes for creatives.

Our core funding comes from Auckland Council and without this financial commitment, we wouldn’t be able to operate or leverage other partnerships and investment.

We have been told to expect between 10-60% cuts - plus our lease is up for review - we and others who operate from a council building, could be facing changes to our leases which could see tenants paying up to $10,0000 per year.

Our local board has been told to find up to $800,000 of savings from a $1.3million dollar budget. This means all local community groups, arts partners, environmental partners and cultural events will be cut. 

As well as organisational cuts, contestable arts grants are also up for the chop - meaning small projects that launch and support the careers of many will no longer be available. Artists who exhibit in our galleries, for example, rely on these grants so we will have an unfunded gallery with unfunded artists. 

It just doesn’t work or add up.

These cuts are devastating for an already stretched creative sector that is still suffering from the impacts of COVID. The amount Council is saving from these proposed cuts is approximately $35 million, but the amount Auckland is losing is worth far more than that. 

It is years and years of organisational development, community development, cultural integrity, complex investment strategy development and grass roots support for often vulnerable, under-served communities who rely on these networks, partnerships and organisations to support them. 

These are the exact people, projects and organisations Council should be investing in and are in fact mandated to support through their own constitutional foundations.

Cat Percy, Crescendo Chief Executive Officer

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Cat Percy. Photo: Supplied.

Crescendo is a social enterprise that uses music to engage disengaged rangatahi/young people throughout Tāmaki Makaurau.  With professional mentoring, we pass on industry-standard technical skills and work with each individual to uncover their own intrinsic gifts and talents. Our impact goals centre around outcomes where an individual understands their own unique skill set, understands future pathways available and feels empowered to create their own positive futures. 

We are privileged to see many rangatahi flourish on their journey when they are connected to community, creating a sense of belonging, a sense of responsibility and a sense of purpose.

The proposed budget cuts would have long-term negative impacts on the two sectors that Crescendo’s mahi works across: creative and youth.  There will be both direct and indirect negative impact on the wellbeing of rangatahi, their whānau and consequently, our broader communities across Tāmaki Makaurau.

Whilst the proposed budget cuts would not have an immediate impact on us, Crescendo believes in thinking and acting holistically.  The proposed budget cuts reflect an archaic mindset when it comes to the power of the arts and youth programmes, their economic and social benefits and their impact on individual and community building; all of which go into creating more vibrant, prosperous and liveable cities.  

We need to think about the long-term negative impacts that budget cuts like this will have - at a time when young people are feeling increasingly isolated following the pandemic and natural disaster - which will continue to be felt for years to come.

We believe in the power of self-sustainability and shifted Crescendo from a registered charity to social enterprise model to support our vision three years ago.  We also believe in teaching the rangatahi we work with self-sustainability practices and with that comes acknowledgement of the many facets that make us human. As the Māori health model Te Whare Tapa Wha teaches us, each pillar of whānau (family/community), wairua (spirit), hinengaro (mental health) and tinana (physical health) are all equally important in supporting the foundation to successfully achieving our goals.  

The proposed budget would cut straight to the heart of the wairua and hinengaro pillars, weakening the foundations of our community.  

Rather than ignoring and muting our future generations, our creative thinkers and creative problem solvers, our dreamers and idea generators - we need to be encouraging, supporting and incubating a diverse community where we celebrate our differences and are more open and resilient as a result.

Huia O'Sullivan, Ngā Rangatahi Toa Creative Arts Executive Director

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Huia O'Sullivan. Photo: Ngā Rangatahi Toa

We are supporting other organisations that are heavily impacted by this draft budget to assist in navigating not only the physical loss and financial, but also the emotional and wellbeing aspect of these budget cuts. 

Understanding that this sector has been hit particularly hard and while other sectors and industries may have had a small window to future and recession proof, the arts sector is unable to have any kind of reprieve before the next blow COVID, flooding, cyclones...It is absolutely relentless!

Our organisation is positioned differently to other more traditional "arts" organisations. We have a diversified portfolio and aren't that reliant on either local or central government money. We do, however, seek council funding to enable us to further innovate, collaborate and develop systems for us to be able to strengthen and outreach further. 

I feel for our sector, our community and Aotearoa as a collective, to think some of THE most talented, diverse creative people I know will be heavily impacted by this individual's decision.

Gina Dellabarca, Show Me Shorts Festival Director

Gina Dellabarca. Photo: Supplied.

Auckland Council and the Local Boards have been active for many years in supporting arts organisations like Show Me Shorts Film Festival to deliver vibrant cultural enrichment and provide robust industry training. This has enabled us to become a leading international film festival, recently ranked as one of the top 20 short film festivals in the world.

If all of the proposed budget cuts go ahead, this will reduce our ability to deliver a world-class short film festival here in Auckland.

As a Regional Strategic Partner of Auckland Council, Show Me Shorts has benefitted from the ability to plan for the long term that multi-year funding support provides. This means we’ve been able to put more energy into the actual work of putting on screenings and elevating our filmmakers, and less into endless funding grant applications.

We currently present our short film screenings and training events in more than ten different locations across the Auckland isthmus - but many of our screenings in smaller locations like Great Barrier Island and Titirangi require a top-up of funding support to bring the festival to these communities. As do our schools programme and filmmaking workshops for children. 

The planned reduction in support from Auckland Council and the Local Boards would make these financially unviable so we would be forced to cut them.

Show Me Shorts is more than a film festival. More than a community of film lovers. Short films are the embryo of the screen industry, and we provide a vital training ground for the filmmakers of tomorrow. 

The Auckland film industry is worth more than $1.5 billion to the local economy. Our most well known internationally successful filmmakers Taika Waititi, Sir Peter Jackson and Dame Jane Campion all had their start making short films. 

Crew members practice their ‘setiquette’ (how to behave on set, and collaborate as a crew) by making short films, then they get hired by the fantastic big productions that our world class Auckland crews make. It’s easy to forget that almost every single crew member who worked on The Lord of The Rings: The Rings of Power (made by Aucklanders) started by making short films. Short films are a training ground for crew and in order to have such a valuable industry thriving in Auckland, we need Show Me Shorts.

When Auckland Council provides resources for our creative community they are making an investment into the cultural and economic enrichment of Aucklanders. The result is a flourishing pipeline of local and international productions being made here, the TV Commercials market booming and money as well as ideas flowing through our city. 

Without this investment our film industry will be diminished, and may suffer long term consequences.

Mark Roach, Auckland City of Music Director

Mark Roach. Raymond Sagapolutele.

These budget cut proposals come at the worst possible time for Auckland. 

The city’s creative industries are in a crucial stage of development, and one where it needs strategic investment to unlock the full potential of the city, and for it to compete as a global capital of creativity. 

We look jealously over the ditch at the recent Federal investment announcement for the arts sector, as well as their States’ commitment to their major music cities such as SXSW in Sydney and the entertainment precinct announced in Brisbane. 

Whilst much of the focus of the Council’s proposed budget has been on Arts and Culture, there is an equally concerning regression being asked of our city’s economic development department, Tātaki Auckland Unlimited, that threatens the workforce and investment pipeline of the creative industries. 

There is no doubt that Council is presented with a very large headache, but cost-cutting is just one of four levers that the Council has as its disposal, and careful balancing of the other three levers (rates increase, debt increase, and asset sale) should be a paramount consideration rather than just the wholesale slashing of services, projects, initiatives and talented staff working in and with our major growth sectors.

What needs to happen from here?

Gina Dellabarca, Show Me Shorts Festival Director

People may feel angry or confused about the proposed cuts, but it’s not too late to change the outcome. 

Auckland Council is inviting feedback from the people of Tāmaki Makaurau. We encourage you to make a submission to Auckland Council and tell them your views.

We know that if our community works together we can be powerful. So help us tell them how important it is to keep supporting a vibrant and diverse cultural scene in Auckland. 

It’s not just the mahi that Show Me Shorts does that’s at stake, but many other arts, sporting and environmental outcomes may be diminished and thus our city will become a little less bright if we don’t act.

Mark Roach, Auckland City of Music Director

This should be a time to create effective strategies that will allow our creative industries to contribute to the revitalisation of the regional economy. 

We have the building blocks of an incredible creative city – indeed, we are a designated City of Music within the UNESCO Creative Cities Network – but to build on this we need a suite of actions to happen: 

1) Support the establishment of a regional music office to spearhead the development and delivery of a 10-year Auckland Music Strategy; 

2) Invest in skills, industry and audience development through a suite of strategic initiatives; and 

3) Cement Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland as a global destination by protecting and building music infrastructure and place-making through music. 

Some of these are require financial input, some purely regulatory, but all contribute to a more prosperous and vibrant city.

Huia O'Sullivan, Ngā Rangatahi Toa Creative Arts Executive Director

Obviously all the advocacy and lobbying needs to happen...which is absolutely STINK! on a sector that is still attempting to claw its way back to some position of balance. How about just 'Stand down, Wayne Brown.'

Cat Percy, Crescendo Chief Executive Officer

From here, we need to make our voices heard, we need to make our views known and we need to lead by our values.

Some of my personal values include mindfulness, compassion and risk.  We need to risk disrupting the old way of making budget cuts and mindfully look at the community we want to be long-term, whilst having compassion and respect for others.  

As a representative and ally of the youth and creative sectors, I will be making submissions to Council, writing to my local representatives (two of whom have already kindly agreed to kōrero with us at our whare/music studio in Avondale early next month) and supporting others in my community and network to also make their voices heard.

Amy Saunders, DEPOT General Manager

As a council funded community arts partner contracted by the Auckland Council to deliver to Tāmaki Makaurau’s arts and cultural economy, we believe now is not the time to cut the relatively small investment community and arts partners receive.

We believe such cuts will cause long term generational damage - once funding is cut, it won’t come back.

We acknowledge that Auckland Council needs to find more money to ensure they are investing in a thriving cultural, vibrant and liveable city.

We praise Wellington City Council for recently investing in its city’s infrastructure and cultural economy by signing off a 12.3% increase in rates, equalling $8/ week per household, allowing the city to future-proof itself and remain world-leading.

Such increases always hurt, but to sustain and grow a city, we need to be bold and create a vision for the future.

Auckland Council is currently proposing a 4.4% increase to rates, equalling a $3/week increase to households.

We urge people to have their say through the Council survey and contribute to building a city we can all be proud of and want to live in and create.

Jessica Pearless and Jonathan Organ, Co-Directors of NORTHART

The creative sector is an industry that is used to being dealt the lower hand, one that is often classified as ‘nice to have’ rather than essential. 

We challenge this notion and believe that it is time to commit and invest in arts and culture, rather than extinguish its valuable contribution to society. We need a continuum of stability in the arts, to encourage growth, learning and appreciation, to ensure that creativity is a viable, visible option for future generations.

The research tells us that organisations such as those in the firing line - the arts sector - support wellbeing in our communities. The long-term impact of this short-term decision must be taken into account by those that make the final decision.

As a community, our next steps are to rise up, to get loud, to provide feedback, to petition those who are responsible for this proposal, to stand strong, to embrace the mana intrinsic to all creatives. To just keep going.


How to get involved

Fill in the submission form asking for feedback on the proposed cuts - here is the link. Submissions are open until 28 March.

Not all questions require an answer - you can find a guide on your submission here on

You can also attend one of the Council Feedback Events (details here) or write to your local councillor or MP.