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Lowdown: Reactions & Questions After CNZ Cash Injection

09 Feb 2023
With the news of the much-needed $22 million boost to the under-pressure funding body, we hear from those in the creative sector on what needs to happen from here in your latest arts news bulletin.

“Amazing news - now how do I get my hands on it?”


If we had to sum up the reaction to Creative NZ’s new found millions to put into funding in one sentence - this response sent to The Big Idea would do it.


It’s been less than 48 hours since Manatū Taonga Ministry of Culture and Heritage (MCH) announced the $22 million boost to CNZ’s coffers ($12 million for supporting the sector through funding and $10 million for backing established festivals). 


With the Government announcing a halt on several big projects - including the TVNZ/RNZ merger - as well as boosts for RNZ and New Zealand On Air, it’s rare and welcome to see the arts be among the positive headlines in such a period.


While this MCH announcement is money already in the kitty for the sector’s from the COVID recovery fund rather than newly allotted spending, it’s unsurprisingly been well received - the creative community has been abuzz in a way unseen in a long time. The Lowdown understands there's already been a flood of enthusiastic inquires to both MCH and CNZ on how to access the funds.


The Big Idea has had to cover far too many disappointing and frustrating announcements over defunding or lack of pūtea over the last few years.


So The Lowdown thought it’s only fair to get the reaction of some of those who have strongly stood up for the sector during the tough times on a positive outcome for a change!


Nightsong Director Ben Crowder told The Lowdown “it is fantastic news. Morale and hope have been at a low ebb in the arts - particularly with independent artists who have really been suffering.


“So though this is earmarked as a one-off boost, we must take heart that potentially we have hit the nadir and that this will help bridge a crisis whilst more long-term solutions are found.”


Louise Gallagher, Chief Executive of PANNZ (Performing Arts Network New Zealand) has been among the most vocal advocates for CNZ’s funding pool to be topped up. She recalled to The Lowdown being one of many to bring this up with MCH’s Deputy Chief Executive Joe Fowler last year.


“I had looked at what money MCH was likely to still have in their kitty of the COVID Funds, and estimated at that time to be around $50m. At this same time, the Regeneration Fund was opening. 


“My view was not to ‘regenerate’ but to instead keep alive the investment that had already been made over many years by many people - independent artists who had invested their own money, provided countless opportunities to many others, sustained us with their art, and generated many dollars back into the economy. 


Louise Gallagher. Photo: Supplied.


“It was heart-breaking to witness the devastation at this time so it is of great delight to see, six months down the track, that the hard lobbying done by CNZ - and many other individuals - has resulted in much-needed funding coming in to prop things up.


“A big mihi to the many voices, who have spent countless hours in meetings, writing emails, rallying support and putting the needs of the sector above all that they have on top of their busy days, lobbying MCH and the drafting of policies which has led to this great result.”


The elation is quickly followed by a cavalcade of questions about timelines and distribution - most of them fair and in fairness to CNZ, all coming before they’re in a position to confirm much.


Is this money to be spread out to the end of the financial year, the calendar year, into 2024?


Will this money help top up the recent Annual Grants and Arts Grants recipients who were only partially funded for their requests, which has led to a time consuming scramble to cover deficits and - in many cases - take on additional risk?


Will the funding caps ($75,000 on Arts Grants) and/or the number of applications that can be submitted in a 12 month period be raised with the extra money available?


Will any money be set aside for creatives who have traditionally fallen outside of the funding umbrella?



High ranking CNZ official Gretchen La Roche, Senior Manager Arts Development Services (above), told The Lowdown “this very welcome investment from the government is still fresh news and we are working through the details, including the best pathways for utilising the extra funds.


“We can confirm that some of the $12 million will be used to top up Arts Grants, including the current round, enabling a greater number of projects to be supported.


“As was signalled at the end of last year, we will be working with the sector to help us co-design a new funding model. It’s a big job, but overdue, and we’re looking forward to getting the sector’s input. We will have more information about this by the end of the month.”


Whether the $12m will be distributed under this proposed and yet-to-be defined new system, or the currently criticised one is yet to be clarified.


As alluded to by La Roche, the third round of the current Arts Grants cycle opens today (Thursday 9 February) - at the time of The Lowdown’s publication, the unpopular cap of 250 applications received triggering the close of the round remained in place on CNZ’s website.


This led to much frustration and anger in October when the cap was reached in record time - barely four days - before many could get their applications completed. It’s easy to imagine this round lowering that benchmark. The 250 figure, as explained by one veteran of the application process, “has the effect of masking the true demand.”


$12m is nothing to sneeze at - it has the potential to change many creative careers if spent wisely.  But for the sake of context, the last Arts Grants round shows that it would be easy to spend.


Of the eligible applications in October, more than $10.5m was requested - only $2.7m was awarded. That doesn’t take into account the countless applicants who were caught off-guard by the rapid cut off - the demand is almost insatiable right now.


Whether or not this newly provided money can be turned around so quickly is yet to be seen - but where the money goes is just as important to the creative community as its injection in the first place.


Vivienne Stone, Director of McCahon House - one of the organisations to lose its place on the Toi Uru Kahikatea rung of the funding ladder in 2022 - told The Lowdown “McCahon House hopes the visual arts are well recognised and supported by the additional funding - as this genre was particularly underfunded in the last Kahikatea funding round.


“We know that was because CNZ lacked the financial support it needed - so we’re thrilled MCH is recognising the tight spot CNZ is in. Here’s to more of that.”



Crowder (above) muses “The industry looks forward to seeing further detail as how the funds will be allocated. It would be fantastic if a focus is given to ensuring that a significant proportion of the monies end up making it to artists (as to date this grouping has been the most adrift from support).


“On that front, it would be very positive if any new funding opportunities were not ring fenced in a way whereby independent organisations and individual artists are either not eligible to apply or the funds are structured in a way that makes them difficult for this tier to benefit from.”


One established creative The Lowdown spoke to points out “it seems significant that the festivals have been given a separate pool of $10m - if this means that they’re kept out of the arts and annual arts grants rounds, then great!”


While pointing out that the Festivals are indeed so valuable and necessary in the creative ecosystem, they explain “given the limited funds and CNZ capping the number of applicants - I feel that those contestable funds desperately need to be ring fenced for the actual artists.


“I'd personally love to see CNZ re-establishing quick response grants or something similar for emerging artists, and expanding the annual arts grants for established ones.”


While thrilled to see the financial boost, another creative that The Lowdown spoke with expressed a frustration with the language used to explain it.


Although understanding that the money is coming from the remnants of the sector's COVID recovery funds and needs to be framed in that context, they state “the fact is there is a lack of resource and the independent sector is much worse off than the status quo before the pandemic – therefore the urgency is immediate survival, not rebuild.


“I know words such as ‘thrive’ carry resonance, but given the current state of things it feels somewhat disingenuous to tout this language. This, of course, is the aspiration – a thriving sector -  but it is hard to imagine that this emergency relief will be able to create that level of transformation.”


Gallagher looks forward to celebrating this announcement with the creative community in person at the upcoming PANNZ Arts Market (13-16 March) “alongside the wonderful work of over 80 artists and bringing everyone together for shared conversations and vision for our sector.


“A much happier time than when we gathered in September and had to let the sector know of the devastating (defunding) news.


Though Gallagher points out “it is a lot of money, but also can be quickly spent - the need is so high, so my hope is the Government recognises this need and ensures that CNZ receive the level of funding they require in order to fund our sector to be vibrant and allow us all to grow the industry - which for so little money has incredible social economical benefits.


“We must not rest with our advocacy and lobbying for the sector. This is a sticking plaster for now, the really great news will be when the arts receive more in the budget than the equivalent of a rounding error.”


Recognition shared with peers


CNZ’s big week will be capped off by one of its cornerstone events - the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Excellence live online panel on Friday night (10 February from 6.30pm).


The recognition of Aotearoa authors who have long and distinguished contributions to our literary sector is always a significant and endearing one. Seeing veterans of the creative community so clearly touched with the honour and discussing their own journey is one well worth the effort to watch.



This year’s recipients, pictured above, are (left to right) acclaimed poet and writer for children and young adults James Norcliffe (Poetry), well-rounded writer of novels, poetry, short stories and both stage and screen Stephanie Johnson (Fiction) and highly regarded historian of the New Zealand Wars and Te Tiriti o Waitangi Vincent O’Malley (Nonfiction).


Johnson told The Lowdown she hopes the panel can help inspire fellow writers - current or aspiring.


“I think we are very fortunate to have the Prime Minister's Awards. They are by nomination, which is an important aspect. I think this makes them have special meaning and importance.


“After books are published and go out into the world, writers have little idea of how they are faring because reading is a private act and many people - myself included - read mostly from public libraries. Of course there are the reviews, and websites like Goodreads, and there are also writers' festivals. These things give us some idea of how our work is being received but it's only a tiny part.


Many readers will remember a book they enjoyed by the title and not necessarily the author, which is natural. The PM's Awards are a kind of proof that our work is being read and also acknowledged, and for that I'm extremely grateful!”


O’ Malley remarks “It was a huge thrill to receive the Prime Minister’s Award and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to mark that in this event. Being online opens the panel discussion up to a wider audience and that is great too.


“I think it is really important that, as a nation, we acknowledge and celebrate our literary and cultural achievements, alongside the sporting and other ones. This event is a great chance to do just that.”


Norcliffe adds he is also looking forward to Friday night “even though I'm still quite overwhelmed by - and coming to grips with - the award and the way it came out of the blue so wonderfully.


“It's been so lovely, too, that so many people - especially my fellow writers - have been in touch to tell me how they were delighted when they learnt of this recognition: very affirming, and also very humbling.


“We have so many fine writers in this country, writers who work across a wide range of genres and whose work is aimed at a wide range of audiences, and who help define who we are and what we could be. All should be celebrated; all should be treasured.


“Friday's event is a celebration, one that will give Vincent, Stephanie and me an opportunity to share something of ourselves and to acknowledge the honour we have received.”


New Visions required


If you’ve got a concept that doesn’t fit into traditional boxes - there’s an opening that could be of interest.


The Screenrights Cultural Fund for 2023 has opened, described as supporting “projects that foster the creation and appreciation of screen content in Australia and New Zealand.”


Up to $250,000 - $50,000 per initiative - is available for projects that respond to the annual focus of New Visions, which Screenrights Board Director Rachel Antony explains. “New Visions aim to let us see something differently. Perhaps it’s a reimagining of creative processes, an innovative way to connect with audiences, or a project which destroys stereotypes – or perhaps all of these.


“Every year we’re thrilled to see the calibre and breadth of applications and how they interpret the theme; we encourage all the visionaries out there to submit.”


Expressions of Interest are open until 12 April - with Screenrights offering to support applicants who are less experienced in funding submissions through the process.


The Screen Production and Development Association of NZ (SPADA) recently hosted a Q&A to break it down further.



Big response to The Big Idea invitation


The Big Idea is in for a big year - and we look forward to telling new stories from many fresh perspectives.


When we put a call out for freelance writers, we knew that some talented and passionate creatives would come out of the woodwork - but the response has been overwhelming in all the right ways.


There are so many people from different backgrounds and worldviews that have put their names forward - we’ve been blown away by the quantity and quality of those interested.


We are making our way through a very long list of potential new writers for The Big Idea. If you haven’t heard back yet - rest assured that you will soon - and watch this space for fresh voices being added to our writing whānau here at The Big Idea in the coming weeks.


Tāmaki happenings


If you’re into rock ‘n roll, photography or both - there’s a rare opportunity to learn from one of the best in the world to combine both this week.


Los Angeles-based photographer Chris Cuffaro (above) is in Auckland for an exhibition of his greatest hits - including work with some of the biggest names in the music industry - and is putting on several opportunities to tap into his half-century of experience.


From an artist talk to a photography workshop and a workshop with musicians - and it’s all free, including entry to the exhibition at Grey Lynn’s Indigo Studios open until Sunday.


For details and some no-nonsense tips on what it takes to make it to the top of your field - check out Cuffaro’s Advice To My 22 Year-Old Self.


Speaking of advice and performance this week - Toipoto artist Tatiana Hotere’s brave advice about not being held back by others has struck a chord with many - she’s finishing a successful follow-up season to her highly recommended one-woman show Skin Hunger at Q Theatre tonight and Friday. 


Also of note in Tāmaki Makaurau this weekend, one of the newest artistic additions to the cultural landscape of Ōtara will be in the spotlight.


Artist Gary Silipa at The Ōyster in Ōtara. Photo: Raymond Sagapolutele.


From 10am on Saturday (11 February) art portal The Ōyster will officially bless and unveil its new outer shell, a vinyl wrap created in honour of local artist, the late Henry Wilson.


The Ōyster - located in the always vibrant town centre underneath the giant glass fish head - has six art activations planned over the next six months involving a wide range of artists, led by local South Auckland artists Iokapeta Magele-Suamasi and Andy Leleisi'uao.