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City Voice: Arts for whose sake?

As a preview to next week’s City Voice Arts Forum (see… note at end of story for details) City Voice Newspaper's Simon Vita takes a look at issues surrounding the arts and culture debate.

The story of the arts in NZ is one with all the typical elements of Kiwi folklore – plucky battlers fight against interminable odds, often getting by on inventiveness and gall.

It’s a well worn cliché that’s been used to describe everyone from our armed forces to the designers of the Britten motorcycle, but when even the players in our national orchestra need to be sponsored by software companies, hotels and rental cars, and our national library is holding book sales, it seems to fit.

Successive governments have been slowly turning off the tap on arts organisations, forcing them to fend for themselves in a sponsorship market that’s become more and more cluttered.

Rather than bemoaning their predicament, the artists are mobilising and, well, if not fighting back at least trying to show government the error of its ways.

The Artists’ Round Table (ART) is a group made up of high profile arts practitioners formed mainly to be a credible voice for the arts community.

It has circularised the parties to draw out just where they stand on arts issues.

So far only United, the Greens and the Alliance have replied. According to Martin Rodgers, Bats Theatre programme manager and ART member, employment, health, education, you name it, there’s a relevant argument in every case for supporting an arts industry.

“There is a “massive untapped potential” for any government with vision. Rodgers says NZ has been going through massive changes in the past 15 years.

“Part of how well we understand the changes is how much we are able talk about them.”

Our stories are not just important to us but worldwide.

“We’re missing chances because nobody can see the potential.”


Labour’s Creative Industry policy is the benchmark. It’s the one all others have been either falling in behind or writing off as irresponsible. It takes the arts seriously and supports them with radio and TV quotas, work tested employment grants, increased funding for support agencies. They propose laws that target piracy and bolster intellectual property protection. Labour would investigate creating a music commission similar to the Film Commission.

The Greens

The Greens support increased public funding for the arts. They would continue to take responsibility for the likes of NZSO, TVNZ, RNZ, Ballet and the National Library and create a national Màori performing group. They would extend the funding and functions of the Creative Communities scheme. They support local content quotas for radio and TV and funding for Màori programming. Arts residencies in schools, tertiary institutions, prisons, hospitals and workplaces as well as support for community festival and event initiatives, public art installations and after-school programmes are part of the Greens’ arts employment policy.


United proposes: $10 million from the Lottery Grants Board to develop NZ artists; increased funding for Creative NZ, NZ Symphony Orchestra and Film Commission; Historic Places Trust incorporated into a rejuvenated Ministry of Culture and Heritage; arts education promoted in the school curriculum; Radio NZ and TVNZ to support local productions.


The Alliance supports radio and TV quotas particularly in children’s broadcasting, a youth radio network and a domestic AM network for Pacific Island New Zealanders. They would establish an Arts Marketing Board. They suggest possible tax concessions, art content in building planning requirements and forms of basic minimum income entitlement.


National’s new Culture and Heritage Ministry takes on the task of looking after arts policy and also the National Archives, National Library and NZ on Air. Its minister remains outside cabinet so the fight for funds is tough. National hasn’t released its complete arts policy but has given us a taster with a proposed youth radio network and a seeding grant for a music industry forum. Both these are a turnaround from the party’s position last year and probably owe a lot to Labour’s strong policy.


Act has yet to release their arts policy but given their reaction to National’s youth radio network (it was going to bring down commercial radio) and comments by Donna Awatere-Huata on Backchat’s recent arts debate (“We do not support government funding of the arts, we believe that that should come from the private sector” and funding for the arts is part of a welfare mentality) one can make an educated guess where they’re headed.

Mauri Pacific

Mauri Pacific has yet to release its arts policy but a draft policy statement suggests they are serious about setting up cultural and entertainment centres in places like South Auckland and Porirua “to promote NZ as a Polynesian centre of the world”. A Màori language discussion document released on 5 Oct says Mauri Pacific will set aside $10 million for Màori language broadcasting training.

NZ First

NZ First arts and culture policies were unavailable.

- City Voice election forum on the arts & broadcasting, St Andrew’s on the Terrace, Thu 14 Oct, 7.30pm.

© City Voice Newspaper – republished with permission

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