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Brown Backtrack - Auckland Arts Budget Cuts U-Turn

18 May 2023

An unexpected announcement - with the Auckland Mayor revealing a 'significant softening' towards funding cuts for underfire sectors like arts and culture thanks to the public outcry.

The sun is shining on Tāmaki Makaurau after the Auckland Council budget revelation. Photo: Ethan Johnson/Unsplash.

Instead of a slow march to the gallows, has the vocal opposition to Auckland Council’s proposed budget cuts given arts and culture in Tāmaki Makaurau an 11th-hour reprieve?

As everyone involved in the Super City’s creative community braced for impact with the $35.6 million proposed slashing of support for 2023/24 due to be considered next month, there’s been an unexpected – but warmly welcomed – announcement from Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown.

In a statement, Brown – who has been under fire for his stance on funding the arts, including an unfavourable comparison of Auckland Art Gallery to a corner dairy – has now revealed he “intends to propose changes to the draft annual budget 2023/24 when he tables the final budget proposal at the Governing Body in early June.”

That includes a “significant softening of the proposed funding cuts to regional services that Aucklanders value” – explicitly citing Citizens Advice Bureau, homelessness initiatives, the Southern Initiative, regional grants, and funding for regional events, arts, and culture.

Brown is quoted “I have listened carefully to public feedback and the views of elected members. There is just about a consensus that Auckland Council should not proceed with all the cuts to social and cultural spending that council staff proposed to me in December.

“A number of councillors have been effective and constructive advocates for these services, and I wish to particularly thank them for that input.

“While a substantial reduction in operating expenditure across the Group remains crucial to balancing the budget, which will include some cuts to regional services, I agree that we should not proceed with the cuts that come at the expense of services that are highly valued by local communities.” 

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Auckland Deputy Mayor Desley Simpson (left) and Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown (right). Photo: Supplied.

Deputy Mayor Desley Simpson weighed in, stating "The Mayor and I are both keen supporters of arts and culture and have listened to Aucklanders' views on how we can reduce the impact of cuts on the sector.  While softening the cuts is important in the short-term, the long-term work we are doing to secure a sustainable, fair funding position is just as important.”

There is no doubt that this is great news – the people of Tāmaki Makaurau have spoken, and even more importantly, been heard.

Campaigns to activate support for the already under-pressure creative sector came like a wall of solidarity. Creative leaders spoke up, bandied together to speak with a combined voice and put together resources to help others find their voice. For that, everyone involved and all who took part deserve to feel a sense of satisfaction.

But are Auckland’s currently funded creative organisations and individuals out of the woods just yet?

The Council statement also points out Brown will continue to work constructively with the Government on modernising the legislation relating to regional arts and culture funding.

While the Mayor reiterates the council’s new stance of supporting the reduction of cuts, it will depend on a majority of the Governing Body supporting a balanced budget which includes a range of levers, including rates and assets.

Essentially, the noose has been loosened. The arts and culture cuts will not be as brutal as the $35.6 million originally touted, but it remains to be seen if the “significant softening” goes as far as everyone is hoping it will.