The clock is ticking on the Arts, Culture and Heritage COVID Emergency Recovery Fund - and how the final $28 million will be spent is set to have long lasting effects on the creative community.
Through the initial recovery fund announced back in mid 2020 and the tailored relief top up that came in with the arrival of Omicron, just shy of half a billion dollars has been poured into the kitty.
With the funding expected to be dished out by June 2023, it can be revealed today that a new direction is being taken - in the form of a new fund.
The Cultural Sector Regeneration Fund has just been announced by Manatū Taonga Ministry of Culture and Heritage (MCH) - an amalgamation of some of the remaining relief money.
The Regeneration Fund replaces planned funding rounds of the Capability Fund, Creative Arts Recovery and Employment (CARE) Fund and the Innovation Fund with a single outcome-focused approach.
It’s stated to currently have $28 million allocated to the fund.
The brief is a straightforward one - this isn’t about recovering what is lost, it’s about the importance of a roadmap to what lies ahead. MCH describes it as being “designed to support strategic, sector-led initiatives that will have lasting benefits for arts, culture, and heritage in Aotearoa New Zealand.”
The Five Fund Outcomes to keep in mind are:
It’s about enabling future success - with cross-sectional benefit.
With the news dropping today, there will be an opportunity for interested parties who have initiatives that fit the bill to put forward Expressions of Interest between 27 July and 7 September 2022.
From there, some will be encouraged to make a full proposal between two windows - 8 August-18 October 2022 and 1-24 February 2023.
After a feedback window, successful applications will be announced over four separate decision rounds.
The Big Idea exclusively sat down with MCH Deputy Chief Executive Joe Fowler to find out why the new fund has been created, who can apply, whether the creative community is being consulted and how to put your best foot forward with an application.
"We really want to be able to look back in two or three years' time and say things that were supported by this fund have made a lasting difference."
Fowler explains to The Big Idea that much of the money that the recovery fund has dished out over the last two years has been based on survival in that period - mostly event, individual and organisational support focussed on keeping the lights on and helping the sector stay afloat in the turbulent waters of the pandemic.
“What the Regeneration Fund is really about is, with 360 days of recovery funding remaining, what do we focus that on?
“The clear message we’re hearing is it needs to be funding initiatives that support the arts, culture and heritage sectors to thrive in the future.
“What we’re looking to do is fund the things that make a difference. We’re not looking to put significant amounts of money into one-off events or initiatives - we’re looking for initiatives that better enable dozens of events to happen in the future, or hundreds of people in the sector to be able to do something better.
"We really want to be able to look back in two or three years' time and say things that were supported by this fund have made a lasting difference."
As far as the movement of money into the one fund is concerned, Fowler underlines MCH is still working through the upcoming last five events of the Innovation Fund - confirming to TBI this consolidation poses no threat to the outcomes from those Te Urungi: Innovating Aotearoa opportunities.
“All we’ve really done with this fund is bring those three things (Capability, CARE and Innovation funds) together and effectively said the outcomes that govern all three of them are now consolidated and there will be a single fund to apply for.”
Fowler admits to TBI there have been some wake-up calls for MCH when dealing more directly with the sector over the past 12 months.
“We’ve had the immense privilege of engaging with individuals and organisations that perhaps Manatū Taonga didn’t do at that scale before.
“We’ve spoken to literally hundreds of people in the sector in the past few months, we absolutely understand the frustration and some of those viewpoints.”
Joe Fowler. Photo: Supplied.
Creatives being creatives, they didn’t hold back on airing their frustrations and some of the criticism stung.
“Five of the key ‘kicks up the ass’ that we’ve had over the last 12 months are keep it simple; keep it human; focus on the outcomes and the things that matter - don’t prescribe solutions; involve us because we know what will make a difference; and don’t undermine our collaboration.
“That last point was the one that I found the most jolting, the idea that you can do lots of work across your sector or town and then the funding can flow in a way that doesn’t in any way align with that - that’s something we’ve really needed to look at.”
The simplification of the mind-numbing and often spirit-breaking funding application process has been a priority with the Regeneration Fund.
“People are constantly looking for opportunities to secure funding and there’s a bewildering mix of stuff out there,” Fowler adds. “We’ve seen that people often apply for one fund but actually they were a better fit for another.
“So we wanted to simplify things and say look, these are the outcomes we’re looking to achieve, if you’ve got initiatives that are in this space, then let’s have a conversation and see what we can work out.”
There’s an important definition to keep in mind - the description of making a lasting impact is big picture.
In this case, there’s a notable difference between making a lasting impact on your own organisation and making a lasting impact on the sector.
Fowler hasn’t shut the door on a collective of individuals being able to put in a strong case for success in this particular fund, but outlines what is being sought.
He details “the initiatives and proposals that do best against these fund outcomes are more likely to be run by medium sized to large organisations with a constituency.
“If you’ve got a proposal that you think is going to make a lasting impact within your part of the arts, culture and heritage sectors then in all likelihood, you would have been discussing that within that part of the sector previously and would have come up with some prioritisation, some ideas or opportunities that you’d want to pursue.
“That lends itself more to organisations that have a network and the finger on the pulse outside of their own organisation. We will absolutely consider the strength of the delivery plan, whether that’s realistic and whether the lead organisation has a track record of delivering similar scale initiatives in this area.”
There’s no weighting given to the five outcomes specifically, but reading between the lines, the first listed outcome of improving sustainability and resilience of the arts, culture and heritage sectors can’t be overlooked.
“Our initial view is that your proposal needs to contribute significantly to two or more of the five fund outcomes to have a decent chance of success. We do expect it to be quite hotly contested. We wish we could fund every good idea out there but inevitably we are going to have to select the ones that contribute the most.”
Proposals don’t have to be able to get ‘straight A's’ across all of the five funding outcomes to end up being funded.
Balance is going to be a factor in what’s funded as well - balance across all five of the outcomes, balance in geography, balance in elements of the sector.
Showing a high level of support from other stakeholders in the sector, particularly those who you expect to benefit from the initiative will also be important.
Project Toroa, funded by MCH's Innovation Fund. Image: Atawhai Interactive.
Straight off the bat, it’s worth noting that MCH has already stated successful initiatives will not primarily be requesting capital expenditure like buying new buildings or carrying out construction works.
But as far as how much of the $28 million you ask for - there’s no clear answer yet on what will be considered top dollar or middle of the range.
Fowler offers “it will be extremely difficult for an initiative asking for multi-million dollars to display the impact relative to other proposals. We’re not envisaging this to be the type of fund that supports five things at $6 million dollars each by any stretch.
“Until we get all the expressions of interest in, we won’t understand what the balance of things is - but we’re being pretty clear in the guidance that if something is looking for more than half a million, a million dollars then it’s going to have to be pretty strong.”
But while that’s ambiguous, the level of detail you need to explain how you’ll spend the requested financial support is more black and white.
“Obviously what we’re most interested in is how strongly those proposals contribute to the fund outcomes and whether that contribution is in proportion to the funds being sought from Manatū Taonga, recognising that a lot of initiatives that we think will come through for this fund will also have funding from other places.”
So what you ask for needs to be in line with what you’re offering the sector in return.
There is information on the MCH website that gives you more depth of the limited details available at the moment. But the first date to mark in your calendar is 27 July - when applications open.
The first step on what you do falls into your lap. MCH has created a self-assessment form for creatives to download to see how well it aligns with the Fund outcomes.
Fowler says “the overall purpose of the fund is tagged around sustainability and resilience so I think it’s fair to see that overall theme of who’s going to benefit from the initiative and by how much is the key question that we’re starting with and everything else flows from that.
“We’re trying to be as transparent as possible up front about the things that will be successful and people will be able to download some documents and test themselves against those outcomes. The hope is that people don’t waste their time and chase funding in the wrong space and people identify quickly whether the initiatives they’re seeking funding for is a good fit for this fund.
Initial stage you do on your desk at home, if you get confidence that it’s a fit, then you complete an expression of interest online, that will include the outcomes questionnaire and a quick summary of the proposal.
If you’re confident your initiative is a good fit - you then advance to putting in an Expression of Interest.
It’s imperative to note this is on a strict deadline - the Expression of Interest has to be received between 27 July - 7 September 2022. While there are multiple windows for the next steps, this is the only planned opportunity to put your hand up.
Fowler tells TBI “we know that not all Expressions of Interest will be fully formed into detailed plans by this stage - but people will need to get a foot in the door in that period if they think they’re going to have something suitable to come back to in time for the second window (of the Full Proposals, see below).”
But as per his earlier statement about the importance of listening to the criticism from the sector, Fowler is promising the next step to be more human.
“When we (MCH) get the Expression of Interest, we will contact people and make a time to discuss it with them. One of the other key bits of feedback we’ve had is ‘can you keep it human? We don’t want a computer-says-no process’.
That conversation is the launchpad to the next stage of the process.
“If it’s clear the initiative is one that should rise to the top, then we’ll be actively encouraging people to submit a full proposal in one of the two windows,” Fowler clarifies.
There will be one window open for full proposals this year - between 8 August-18 October 2022. The second and final window is 1-24 February 2023.
“What that allows for is to quickly get on with looking at initiatives that are almost ready to go - that have obviously had a bit of work done already - and to allow for people to complete more detailed proposals if they haven’t already had time to do so."
It’s worth being aware that Full Proposals submitted in the first window have more chances to be considered for funding. But don’t rush it, they need to be “well-formed” to get a look in.
This is a topic that will no doubt generate some interest.
Manatū Taonga are determined to ensure that decisions aren’t made for the creative community - and specific communities in particular - without their inclusion.
Fowler reveals “the plan is prior to any decision making, we will put a summary of each proposal under consideration on the website, that will be up there for at least two weeks before any funding decisions are taken.
“The purpose of that is to give people a wider platform to attract letters of support or other feedback. It’s also just a basic transparency point for us - we want to make sure we don’t end up in a position where we are effectively funding strategic initiatives that are intending to impact John, Jane and Jack, but John, Jane and Jack had no idea that they were the intended benefit of that proposal. They may not buy into it or they may enthusiastically support it.”
Any person or organisation will be able to give feedback on the proposals. However, additional weight will be given to feedback from people and organisations that are expected to benefit directly from the proposed initiative.
“It’s naive to think that any two or three people have the breadth of experience required to make decisions on everything in such a broad and rich sector. Part of that opportunity for people to give feedback and to proactively seek feedback where necessary - in nuanced areas like technology - is the ability to be able to make safe and sound decisions.”
Fowler views it also as a possible opportunity to spark collaboration - even between applicants - and for organisations to show other funders that the proposal is being actively considered by MCH and worth investing in.
Once the above boxes have been ticked, the proposals will be evaluated over four rounds.
How soon you have your full proposal ready to roll, the more opportunities an applicant has to be considered.
There is feedback provided after each round, and if you’re unsuccessful, you can adjust your final proposal between rounds.
That’s a fair indication that being in early - if you can get your proposal together - definitely has benefits. Not good news for deadline junkies.
“We’re trying to create a process where we give ourselves the best chance to find and fund the initiatives that make a lasting impact,” Fowler reiterates.
"Obviously we’re looking for balance, particularly in the third and fourth decision rounds. If everything that was scoring massively was all coming from one region, we wouldn’t be putting all of the funding into one geographic place.”
MCH has defined their decision-making process, saying it will be based on:
There’s a lot to take in - and there is much to discuss about the Regeneration Fund and how it will impact the creative community.
But for a sector that is often so outwardly facing, with audience and impact in mind, Fowler sees this an important opportunity to turn the gaze more inwards towards the needs of those involved with making it such a vibrant sector.
“The key message for me is we want to make sure that the last chunk of this funding that Manatū Taonga can invest goes to initiatives that support the arts, culture and heritage sector to thrive in the future. That’s our key objective, I’d ask people to believe and trust us that is what we’re trying to do and work with us to help achieve it.”
5 JULY 2022 - Cultural Sector Regeneration Fund announced
7 JULY 2022 - Manatū Taonga online information session, 2pm, RSVP required
8 JULY 2022 - Manatū Taonga online information session, 10am, RSVP required (NZSL Interpreted)
11 JULY 2022 - Manatū Taonga online information session, 10am, RSVP required
12 JULY 2022 - Manatū Taonga online information session, 2pm, RSVP required
27 JULY 2022 - Fund open for Applications/Expressions of Interest until 7 September 2022, Outcomes Questionnaire available
8 AUGUST - 18 OCTOBER 2022 - First Full Proposal window
7 SEPTEMBER 2022 - Expressions of Interest close
1-24 FEBRUARY 2023 - Final Full Proposal window
What do you think of the MCH’s new Regeneration Fund? TBI wants your thoughts - email us by clicking here.