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The Show Must Go On, But it’s Time to Re-Think How We Fund the Arts in NZ

The past 12 months presented unprecedented challenges for the performing arts as the pandemic curtailed many live performances.

Some organisations relied on pushing digital content to remain in the public eye, but this was next-to-impossible to monetise.

Now, as the COVID vaccines roll out and the sector heads towards a reset, it’s worth applying some fresh thinking to the arts landscape of the future.

Some have asked for more sustainable funding, others for more funding. But the central question is: can we get better value-for-money from the spend through central and local government?

The answer is “yes” — if we don’t duplicate effort, if we target funding to those organisations that are of an appropriate scale, and if those organisations take a more creative approach to market development.

We love the arts

Pre-pandemic research in 2017 commissioned by Creative New Zealand (CNZ) found the majority of people agreed the arts improve our society and help define what it is to be a New Zealander.

The research also found about 52% of people believe the arts should receive public funding, with only 17% disagreeing.

The arts sector overall contributed NZ$2.38-billion to GDP in 2018, about half as much as sports and recreation.

Of all art forms, the performing arts (music, dance and theatre) are the most popular and just over half of all New Zealanders attended an event in 2017.

Value for money

Performing arts organisations receive some funding from local government but the bulk comes from CNZ, which in 2018-19 received $16 million from the Ministry for Culture & Heritage (MCH) and $43 million from the Lottery Grants Board.

A small number of national performing arts organisations receive funding from MCH directly, out of its total budget of $577 million.

A look at some of the publicly available performance reports of arts companies provides an interesting picture of how that money is used.

What becomes apparent if you adopt a systemic perspective of the sector are at least two key, interlinked areas that need attention:

  • scope and scale of organisations
  • the need for market development.

The first key issue is related to organisational scale and scope – those that are too large and those too small.

National tours

At the large end, NZ features organisations required to deliver performances on a national scale, in multiple centres around the country.

For the organisations themselves, this is expensive. It leads to large chunks of budget being spent on production costs — including hotels, daily allowances and airfares. Funding levels must make up for this.

For example, in 2019 the Wellington-based New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (NZSO) spent almost 40% of its total revenue of $20m on mounting its 98 performances around the country. These costs were over and above paying all the personnel and general operating costs.

In contrast, the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra (APO) spent almost half that proportion of its ($12.4-million) budgetmounting its 70 performances in Auckland.

Government funding must accommodate high touring costs. Almost three-quarters of the NZSO’s total revenue was derived from government funding. Less than half the APO’s total revenue came from government.

Similarly, the national opera company, NZ Opera, had to source almost two-thirds of its $6.3-million total revenue from government. Only 15% of its revenue came from box office.

National touring also leads to a lot of duplication of effort. In addition to the 70 APO performances in Auckland in 2019, the NZSO delivered 15 more to satisfy its mandate.

The Christchurch Symphony Orchestra (which received only 36% of its $3-million total revenue from government), performed 17 concerts in Christchurch. The NZSO performed another four…

Read the Full Article at The Conversation