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Wide Reaching Repercussions for Arts Funding

Image: Shutterstock.
A case of failed Creative NZ funding has the potential to impact more than just the defendant - The Lowdown takes a look at advocacy and leadership in your arts news bulletin.


COVID Alert Level Two has put many creative and cultural happenings in Wellington on ice over the last week - but one arts drama was still able to continue in the capital.

The last of the evidence in Dance Aotearoa New Zealand’s (DANZ) court case against Creative New Zealand (CNZ) was heard in the High Court, with Justice Christine Grice now considering the findings of the judicial review proceedings. 

Her decision - set to be delivered in the coming weeks - has the potential to have a wide-ranging impact on the current arts funding model.

As highlighted in last week’s Lowdown, DANZ is challenging the lawfulness of the decision-making process followed by CNZ in rejecting their 2019 funding application. DANZ alleges CNZ interfered with the process by instructing the independent judges on how the application should be scored. 

The Dominion Post was there on Monday, with Andre Chumko reporting that CNZ continued their defence of the process, robustly denying the allegations and their legal team claiming that several conversations that took place - including with senior CNZ staffer Cath Cardiff - before the criteria was set “could not be seen as giving rise to any legitimate expectation the company would be successful in receiving funding.”

But no matter the outcome - this verdict will not be a finish line for DANZ in their quest to secure their survival, having previously stated they’ll struggle to see out the year under current conditions.

Speaking to The Lowdown, DANZ Executive Director Sheryl Lowe explains “it (the verdict) won’t necessarily deliver to us the funding we need. If there is a successful outcome, CNZ will perhaps be required to reconsider their decision or a further application, in accordance with the lawful process,  although the Court cannot make the decision for them. 

“It’s not at all (a finish line), it’s part of our bigger efforts in making progress for the dance sector. Even in CNZ’s own surveying, dance is the art form that ranks the lowest as far as income generation and career stability are concerned. 

“Other comparable sectors have support services funded to the tune of multi-millions of dollars -   which we support and is absolutely needed, especially in the arts sector. The more support the better because it’s so necessary.  We’re not taking anything away from them but the dance sector figures already show the issues - it needs more funding and support not less. 

“Taking funding away from us and threatening our survival, that’s removing support and infrastructure from a sector that so desperately needs it.” 

Catherine Marks, DANZ’s Special Counsel in the firm taking these legal proceedings (of which the dance advocacy group has had pro-bono support), told The Big Idea “these proceedings aren't just about DANZ - it’s about funding being done fairly and properly and in accordance with the process. 

“It’s brave of DANZ to take this step because if we don’t challenge decision-makers when things don’t seem to be working in the way they’re meant to in terms of how you allocate funds - or in a fair way - that has repercussions for a lot of people. 

“I think it raises issues about how this could happen and how we fund the arts. Either way, these are important questions we need to be thinking about for the arts sector which is such an important part of who we are and how we live.

“What struck me was not wanting to even have a conversation with DANZ after 26 years of the government providing support, no willingness to talk. Treating them like they’re some new person applying for project-based support and telling them ‘go find what you can’ and essentially restructure to fit whatever that is. It just doesn’t seem to fit with a planned way of making sure you have an ongoing infrastructure for dance rather than just leaving a gap. That’s hard for all art forms that have worked together with the government for many years to think that it can be ended just like that, it creates a lot of uncertainty and gives CNZ a lot of power.” 

While it’s thought this is the first case against CNZ to reach the High Court, there have been reports of similar situations in the past. The now-folded New Zealand Review of Books Pukapuka Aotearoa also had their 29-year funding relationship ended with a rejected CNZ application in 2019. This was highlighted by an irate Steve Braunias on Newsroom at the start of last year.

Former editor Harry Ricketts has told The Big Idea that the rejection came out of the blue, and he too questioned the decision-making process via an Official Information Act request. Ricketts states they found a change to the original assessors' ranking list.  

Ricketts says “I think this change of procedure at the higher level is distinctly unusual, to say the least, and made a complete nonsense of the original assessing panel's ranking. Of course, CNZ can turn down applications - though surely 29 years of support had earned some duty of care? - but the sense of unusual procedures and overweening behaviour damages the institution's credibility.”

CNZ was also approached for comment on the DANZ situation, but declined to make further comment until a decision has been reached. 

Nui te Kōrero

It’s now been two years since CNZ’s Nui te Kōrero conference has been held in person. Cancelled in 2020, and forced online at the last hurdle thanks to the pandemic, it was another missed opportunity to bring many of the sector’s thought-leaders under one roof.

The disappointment of not being able to meet physically was offset somewhat by the digital move meaning the doors were open to everyone, after the event was sold out.

This year’s theme centred around Leadership for Transformation through a Mātauranga Māori lens, with the two day line-up including talented and passionate orators like Tanea Heke, Puawai Cairns, Jamie Tuuta and Tama Waipara.

Among the more engaging speakers was Karl Johnstone, the talented artist behind exhibition Ko Rongowhakaata: The Story of Light and Shadow. His kōrero included the need for iwi engagement and for more Māori curators, while calling for artists to “understand the life of IP and understand (our) value in a different way - then we can begin to move forward with more dynamism."

Māoriland Film Festival founder and producer of the box office hit Cousins Libby Hakaraia was also forthright and a stand out in a panel discussing the digital future. Her focus on Rangatahi Leadership Transformation was clear and impassioned, stating “Māori don't 'stick in our lane',  we answer to whānau, we answer to hapū” and that “our rangatahi have the right to choose to be high-value creatives.”

Creative Northland's General Manager Hinurewa te Hau was among the many who watched the conference. She gave her thoughts to The Lowdown. 

“Each one of the speakers brought something to the table, so much wealth of knowledge and energy - it was inspiring to an old girl like me! To wananga in this way to create such a focussed discussion on indigenisation where conversations are about Te Ao Māori cultural practices that start from a place of autonomy and independence, not from the colonial experience. Māori determining the space, the content, the practice. Ataahua!

“The conversations were real about decolonising the system, honouring Te Tiriti and the positive of when you ‘brown it up’ - Māori leadership and the innovative spirit of Te Ao Maori shines through - unquestionably more diversity, not just Māori.”

While downloaded content should be available next week, some of the keynote speakers kōrero is available already on CNZ’s Youtube channel or their Facebook page.

Bay of people power 

When it comes to local councils, fair to say Tauranga’s been one of the most dysfunctional in the country in recent times. With Government-appointed Commissioners currently in place after the resignation of the Mayor and the dumping of councillors after prolonged in-fighting, there was good news for the city’s creative community out of this week’s Long Term Plan announcement.

The resulting $750,000 in new arts funding happened directly because of that creative community.

Of the submissions received regarding the plan, over 10% focussed on arts and culture. In a city where traffic problems, rates and ridiculously expensive new rubbish bin systems are causing plenty of backlash, it’s impressive that the desire for creative outlets and installations featured so prominently. The Commissioners essentially had no choice but to listen.

Tauranga's Incubator Creative Hub. Photo: Supplied.

Much of that can be put down to a savvy lobbying campaign from The Incubator Creative Hub, a grassroots and community arts space. Of the 1900 submissions all up, over 200 of them came direct from Incubator supporters. The Lowdown has been told more than 20 submitters of verbal feedback were in support of the Incubator - it’s a clear sign of the importance of arts advocacy and the impact it can have.

All up, The Incubator will receive $125,000 in the first year, with a further $220,000 across the next two years. Tauranga Art Gallery also receives $150,000, while six-figure sums have been allocated for film funding in the region and for new cultural centres at Gate Pā and the CBD. A new performing arts centre and museum are also back on the table.

‘By us, for us’

Pelenakeke Brown. Photo: Greta van der Star.

One of Aotearoa’s champions of the disability sector and talented performer Pelenakeke Brown has finished up her time as Artistic Director of Touch Compass.

After just over a year in the position, Brown’s heading off to focus on her own creative practice, for which she was recognised at last year’s CNZ Arts Pasifika Awards. Brown told The Lowdown she “found the role challenging, exciting, and a huge opportunity for the arts and disability sector. The arts sector was hugely welcoming and supportive of a disability-led kaupapa by providing opportunities for connection and support for me and the organisation. I experienced a real willingness to be more accessible from the sector without knowing what that might be.”

Brown, however, has always been one to speak her mind, and did have a pertinent point to deliver.

“When organisations make 'courageous' leadership appointments they need to follow this up with support, trust, and tangible power-sharing so it doesn't feel like a tokenistic appointment. Disabled people and organisations that work with them are one of the few places where it's still acceptable to have non-disabled people (people not from that community) to lead the work and that's not ok. 

“We need sovereign spaces led by us, for us. And we need to have agency (without a non-disabled person holding our hand), and to be trusted to get on and do the work. We are a community with lots of ideas, narratives, and experiences and we need spaces where it's not only one 'exceptional' disabled person leading the way. 

“There is rich, innovative potential in the disability arts community and I am really proud of the artists we supported, the relationships we fostered and the new emerging artists we partnered with.”

Brown's comments come after Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Carmel Sepuloni acknowledged the need for improved access to the arts in her opening address at CNZ’s Nui Te Kōrero on Monday.

Sepuloni says “New Zealanders and the Arts (CNZ’s most recent survey) showed that, while highly engaged in the arts, people with lived experience of disability are less likely to feel that the arts are accessible or inclusive.” She pointed to the Creative Spaces initiative in the creative sector’s $374 million COVID Recovery Programme as an initiative she hopes will help remove barriers of access.

Not so permanent

Auckland looks to have lost one of the fixtures of its creative calendar - with SemiPermanent announcing that “After a year of change, we’re rolling with that theme and shifting our New Zealand festival to Wellington.”

The capital city has snatched the annual creative and design conference, with dates of October 27-29 announced for this year’s incarnation. In 2020, the now-final (it seems) event after two decades in Auckland just got off the ground amid November’s raised COVID Alert Levels, and was free of charge in-person and online

Already listed among the speakers are NZ filmmakers Briar Grace-Smith and Florian Habicht as well as artist Jess Johnson.


Written by

The Big Idea Editor

1 Jul 2021

The Big Idea Editor