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Budget Breakdown - What's Left For Creative Sector?

04 Jun 2024

Andrew Wood crunches the numbers and gets reactions from leading arts institutions - and funders - as to what the coalition Government's first budget means for the creative community.

The Government’s 2024 budget announcement was always going to be disappointing for the creative sector. 

The grim economic outlook and the projected unemployment rate of 5.2% in 2025 doesn’t bode well for many creatives in uncertain circumstances. A Creative New Zealand report in 2023 revealed creatives earn considerably less than other wage earners: $37,000 a year compared to a general median of $61,800. 

This will no doubt get worse. 

It was only to be expected that a centre-right government pursuing dubious trickle-down tax cuts at any cost in economically difficult times would target the arts. I don’t think anyone was surprised by that. Anything that affects the precariat affects creatives particularly hard.

More specifically, there are a number of important creative funding agencies that receive their funding, in turn, directly from Government - particularly from the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Heritage (MCH). 

These must have seemed low-hanging fruit to the Government’s bean counters. The arts tend not to be electorally sensitive, and amid all the other broken promises – funding for more cancer drugs for example – they barely registered with the media.

The New Zealand Film Commission, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (NZSO) and Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision all had cuts totalling a combined $5.55 million over four years. The NZ Screen Production grant has been cut by around $11 million.

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Annie Murray. Photo: Supplied.

Annie Murray, CEO of the NZ Film Commission (NZFC) remained upbeat, telling The Big Idea “The announcement that Vote Arts, Culture and Heritage have allocated $67.4m of their budget to support the New Zealand Screen Production Rebate (NZSPR) over the next two years is great news for the NZFC, the screen industry, and New Zealand as a filmmaking destination. 

"This initiative provides funding to meet existing demand from eligible New Zealand productions for the NZSPR.”

This was further expanded on in a statement on the NZFC website:

“The NZSPR is funded through a multi-year appropriation (MYA) which tends to be set for five-year periods. The current MYA is for the period 2021/22-2025/26.  2025/26 are the last two years of the current MYA, so the commitment from the government reflects business as usual. 

"While the MYA is set at a base level, it is common that ‘top up’ funding is added over time as demand for the NZSPR evolves, and to ensure sufficient funding is provided to meet anticipated obligations under the NZSPR – International. … As forecasted, the NZFC baseline funding has been cut by 7.5%. New administration funding of $200K brings total baseline funding to $5.196M for the FY24/25 – FY 25/26. The difference in the reported FY23/24 allocations includes a washup of COVID recovery funds.  These were timebound funds and not part of the NZFC baseline. Lottery Grants Board funding will be $22.875M F24/25.”

This statement also noted that the current restructuring of the organisation would address back-office savings with some changes to available funding. 

MCH’s budget for the promotion and support of arts and film now sits at $22 million, down $845,000.

Belt tightening is also underway at the NZSO. 

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Kirsten Mason. Photo: Supplied.

With admirable stoicism, Acting Chief Executive Kirsten Mason told The Big Idea The reduction of $363,000 in baseline funding for the NZSO each year will not impact on our core role of performing concerts and engaging with communities across Aotearoa New Zealand. 

"The NZSO will still deliver a full season of concerts with top international and Kiwi artists, as well as a comprehensive national education programme. The reduction does mean that we are looking elsewhere for efficiencies in order to reduce costs.”

That last sentence hints at a certain ominousness for one of the country’s cultural flagships. 

More broadly, Creative New Zealand (CNZ) - the lifeblood of much cultural production in Aotearoa - released this statement on their website.

“We have not received a budget reduction. This is welcome and reflects that the Government understands the value of the arts for all New Zealanders. 

CNZ has a budget of approximately $70 million for the 2024/25 financial year. This compares with $87 million for 2023/24, with the reduction largely coming from the end of COVID-19 time-limited funding. 

"Our overall revenue is about the same as pre-COVID levels.”

This is good news as Government funding makes up approximately 25% of CNZ’s revenue. CNZ has also had $52.789 million confirmed for the next four years from the New Zealand Lottery Grants Board (NZLGB) making around 75% of their revenue.

So much for the good news... now for the bad.

CNZ noted the challenges it was facing were increasing and if the trend of growing demand continued, there would be a “significant” drop in the number of successful applicants. 

They also stated they were “planning to be leaner ourselves,” which doesn’t bode well and lends further weight to watercooler talk in the industry that the Government is angling towards a major restructuring of the funding body. 

The statement also drew attention to the reality that “belt-tightening” by local government, sponsors, trusts, patrons, and across the board, would make for a “challenging operating environment for the arts”.

Elsewhere in the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Heritage, the Regional Cultural and Heritage fund has been completely defunded. That $20 million was just too juicy and tempting of a target. 

Oddly enough, despite the funding for maintenance of war graves, historic graves and memorials having their budget cut by $2.9 million down to $6 million, and support for commemorations and anniversaries is $2.8 million - down $2 million - out of nowhere there is $3.8 million for the development of new memorials.

The mind boggles as to what sort of memorials this will entail, not least given the Coalition’s propensity for culture war nonsense, historical revisionism, and anti-Māori rhetoric.

Also rather curiously, the funding for a relatively insignificant cultural diplomacy international programme has been allocated $1.1 million and is now worth $1.6 million. Winston’s handiwork perhaps? Depending on how that plays out it could prove quite interesting.

Worth celebrating, the budget for the protection of taonga tūturu has risen by $100,000 to $750,000.

Leauanae Laulu Mac Leauanae. Photo: Supplied.

Leauanae Laulu Mac Leauanae, Secretary and Chief Executive of MCH said in a media release that with this budget, the Government “recognises the significant cost pressures the arts and cultural sectors are facing and the end of time-limited funding. Vote Arts, Culture and Heritage is funded $450m in this coming financial year ($1.6 billion over four years) to deliver a wide range of benefits to New Zealanders through arts, heritage and media.”

He highlighted that new funding has gone to the Te Matatini kapa haka festival and the New Zealand Screen Production Rebate, “to address fiscal cliffs”. The Ministry’s saving of 3% to baseline costs mostly comes from cuts to funding managed by the Ministry. 

The ditching of the Regional Culture and Heritage Fund, “having weighed up the large investment required with the relatively narrow scope of the Fund,” will now be a matter of working with other government agencies to “identify funding programmes and sources that may be able to support arts, culture, and heritage investments”. 

Leauanae concluded: “We continue on with our mahi this coming financial year, knowing what an outstanding contribution our cultural sectors make to innovation and economic prosperity, tourism and growing world-class talent - while also looking for ways our sectors can work together to make the most impact for New Zealanders.”

While I appreciate the acknowledgement that the cultural sector is important to mainstream economic interests, it is a view that tends to exclude no less important, but not as financially self-sustaining creative endeavours.

National is definitely promoting the continued funding of Te Matatini as a good news story demonstrating their beneficence.

Māori Development Minister Tama Potaka is reported as saying:

“The significance of kapa haka to Te Ao Māori is something we value deeply, especially since the rise of the waiata-ā-ringa form with Tā Apirana Ngata. 

"The contribution Te Matatini makes to our culture in Aotearoa, New Zealand, is without a doubt an important aspect of that. It also contributes positively to intergenerational learning among whānau.”

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Paul Goldsmith. Photo: Supplied.

It was, of course, Labour’s largess that gave Te Matatini its original massive boost. Potaka added, apparently without any sense of the ironic: “The last Government left New Zealanders with several unfunded programmes, and Te Matatini was unfortunately one of them with no funding after 2024/25. We’ve changed that.”

The Hon Paul Goldsmith, Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage, further nailed the point home, concisely telling The Big Idea, “In a difficult budget we have demonstrated our ongoing commitment to the arts. The biggest winner was, of course, Te Matatini.”

Other parties were less impressed, Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson describing the funding as a “sugar hit” in a budget “unambitious for Māori, and both Labour and Te Parti Māori highlighting how little the rest of the budget does for Māori.

They’re probably not far off the mark, but then again Labour did much the same with their funding injection while largely ignoring a flailing creative sector.