February 12, 2007

John Smythe      posted 2 Apr 2006, 06:16 PM

Helen Clark’s much-touted cultural recovery package of 2000 has been good for recurrently funded organisations. But in the years since there has been no significant increase in project funding. Yet this is where the cutting edge is.

At last year’s Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards the chair of Creative New Zealand’s Arts Board, Alastair Carruthers, expressed frustration at having insufficient funds to support many excellent proposals from highly qualified practitioners. “In the most recent funding round close to $1.1million of highly commended theatre projects missed out on project funding,” he said. “We recognise that some of the most creative and inspiring new work comes through project funding; we hear the frustration of disappointed applicants and we would like to be able to do more.”

So what should be done? By whom? By when?

Meanwhile, what – and who – have been the casualties of the present system?

Paul McLaughlin               posted 8 Apr 2006, 09:59 PM / edited 8 Apr 2006, 10:02 PM

Downstage’s season of Winter’s Tale was forced to fold, as  Cathy Downes unfortunately had to tell me, due to funding issues. A season that would have provided much needed work to local actors and designers is replaced by another small-cast, pre-rehearsed  play. Circa’s TACT (an invaluable support to those at Circa, and one I appreciate hugely) funding to Circa 2 plays has also been drastically cut this year, forcing those of us still hanging in there to work for less and less, and making large cast shows impossible.

The situation is growing rapidly worse, and yet both local and central government still laud Wellington as ‘the cultural capital’. Ha! People who actually work in this industry (not in funding bodies or in related fields, I’m talking directors/designers/actors) are either giving up due to sheer frustration and/or financial pressure, or (worse) moving to Auckland. Imagine how we local practitioners then feel to see well funded shows from that fabled city north of the Bombay Hills now doing shows here in our local theatres who can’t employ us (The Women/Boys in The band), and local punters falling over themselves to both support and praise them!? 

 Catch 22? Time to pull the pin? I’m sorry I don’t have any answers to this debate, but I do think we gotta do something. And to those still turning up to rehearsals and performing to small houses in Wellington -GOOD ON YA’S!!

Shane Bosher     posted 11 Apr 2006, 12:19 PM

Paul’s commentary around this issue seems to be based on assumptions, rather than fact, and as such I feel it necessary to comment.

Both The Women and The Boys in the Band were shows which accessed large audiences in Auckland, which we wished to share as the beginning of a cultural exchange, which has been absent from our industry for too long. It is simply not true that these shows were well-funded. As touring shows, these productions have large expenditures, and we rely heavily on sponsorship and ticketing revenue in order to make them feasible. The Women had a budget of 217,000-00 – of this Creative NZ contributed 39,500-00. The Boys in the Band had a budget of 135,000-00 and was not funded at all. Downstage contributed a small component of funding towards housing the work, but did not share the risk.

The funding leveraged in Wellington is markedly higher than that in Auckland. In 2005, Creative NZ gave $1,191,500-00 to Circa, Bats and Downstage collectively as full-time companies. Wellington based companies Capital E and Taki Rua also leveraged significant funding, although their programmes of activity are nationally focused. In the same year, ATC was funded with $690,000-00. Silo Theatre leveraged $98,000-00 through project funding to support 13 productions (5 of which were new work), employing 84 actors. Auckland contributes 33% of the country’s economy, but does not seem to be able to leverage proportional funding which is appropriate to the cost of production in this city.

The assumption is that the grass is greener. The ground is fertile all over the country. A national effort toward opening up discussion about our difficulties in the environment with core stakeholders is much more effective than parochial blame.

Paul McLaughlin               posted 14 Apr 2006, 09:47 PM

Parochial Blame.

I do have to assume, because I am not a director or producer of theatre. My comments were based on how I see things at the moment, as an actor. I take on board all your figures and funding issues, and how you take pains to delineate between what Auckland gets and what Wellington gets. I can well appreciate what a difficult job those who manage our theatre companies have.  I do apologise for my assumption that The Women and Boys in the Band were well funded. They were both so beautifully costumed, in designer-labels; maybe that blinded me!

Many apologies for any offence you have taken from my thoughts Shane. I thoroughly enjoyed both shows that toured here – they were works of high production values, and of great style,  with some great performances and heartily I agree that we should move these good works about the country. I’m just in despair at the apparent state of theatre at present. Some of us are managing to stay in the game (mainly due to TV/TVC  fees), but I do worry how the next generation of young actors will make a go of it. Wages/co-op fees continue to drop for actors each year, and while young actors might be prepared to take the lesser fees to get a foot in the door; established actors are giving up and the state of the industry as a whole is gonna suffer in the long run.

Tolis Papazoglou               posted 24 Apr 2006, 01:43 PM

Parochial Blame?! I just spent a couple of weeks in Auckland for family reasons. Yet the word around Auckland-town is that “It’s about time to do something about that petty cash we are getting for funding”! That rings some bells… of young cousins producing some good stuff and wanting a piece of the action of the hard earned pennies of the old ones. If this rumor is not a rumor, allow me to give a word a warning from long experience: The only thing that can be gained from such an attitude is the loss of theatre companies as production houses, NOT an increase in funding. We should be definitely supportive of theatres like Silo or Luxemburgh Gardens or whatever the name or LOCATION of the theatres may be. But remember two (2) things: 1.”Touring” is desirable because exposes our Art across a wider audience and gives us the opportunity to see other practitioners’ work thus allowing cross-pollination of ideas. 2. Trotting out statistics that “prove” how “good” or “better” our productions are is very reminiscent of other times, when theatres had their funding withdrawn and production facilities lost. One could be provided with historical instances, if one is not blinded by parochialism.

Joe Patrick           posted 24 Apr 2006, 10:41 PM

Wellington theatre in danger of folding? So? That city gets it all; funding for Te Papa, the ballet company, the symphony orchestra, the drama school. If they can’t make something work with all that money sloshing then too bad. Aucklanders pay the most, because there are more of us, and so we should get the most. Either come up here, to stay where you are, but we don’t want to hear about hard times down there, because we simply don’t care. Aucklanders looking at Wellington are like Australians looking at New Zealand; its pretty much off the radar and of only passing interest. That’s me done. Enjoy.

Alex MacDowall                posted 25 Apr 2006, 12:38 PM / edited 25 Apr 2006, 12:41 PM

(apologies in advance here, I can’t seem to make this programme insert proper paragraph breaks) Oh dear. I have no regionally vested interest here, but I am extremely worried when people lower the tone of any debate to new lows of silliness – particularly the kinds of debates where practitioners should be attempting to find common ground; there’s going to be no useful lobbying until that happens! I would bite my tongue and respond in a less inflammatory manner if the previous post had displayed an ounce of constructiveness or useful reasoning. As it’s added neither, here goes: Yes, of course! There is so much money ‘sloshing around’, and if someone wants to make a piece of work, they go to one of these *recurrently funded institutions* and say ‘ooh, can I have some of that money’, and of course the institution hands it over. Eh? They’re completely different elements. These institutions are funded for different reasons. And unfortunately, as you’ve pointed out, there are a large number of these institutions, involved in a wide range of activities, so it shouldn’t be at all surprising that there might be more funding apportioned. Purely based upon the institutions you mention…um..there’s more of them…so your logic tends to be, oh, what’s the phrase? Completely self defeating. Add in a few more institutions I could think of to hand, and you have a fairly large picture of a place where there are, per capita (and full stop!), many more cultural activities undertaken than in a number of cities I can think of. More importantly, a huge number of the places that have been named have a national focus: factor in that Wellington theatre companies serve as production houses for touring productions, and you’ll see that the boundaries are blurred still further. Population base is simply one of many factors, and it really isn’t the most important one at all. Look at the fact that Palmerston North manages to support Centrepoint Theatre over a great length of time as one of the more obvious examples. Wellington, both historically and actually, has more cultural institutions, makes a disproportionate amount of cultural product, and if you factor in, ooh, that small film production house in Miramar, probably plays with a lot more cultural money. Leaving that aside, if people are complaining that there are more recurrently funded institutions in Wellington – which seems to be what this has boiled down to…um…set some up. Get off your rears. Build some synergies. Establish some like-minded practitioners and get down to it. Identify an area of need. The best people around you are already doing it. Get into those institutions in your home area and demonstrate, first hand, what makes them important. I know you can. Having said all of these things, as Tolis pointed out, isn’t all of this debate already getting a bit tedious? Rather than (rightfully) pointing out that there’s been parochial blame in some of the reasoning, and then *continuing* it by a litany of decontextualised figures (which as I’ve pointed out above, fall down in terms of the logic underpinning: have you *heard* of a fact/value distinction?), rather than looking in each other’s bread baskets and wanting a loaf, and finally of all rather than being our recent friend, who just seems to be more interested in trying to establish some sense of superiority (and, in doing so, comes across as a totally uninformed poster!), shouldn’t we be attempting to establish what are common problems and attempting to solve them? Just to point out a couple, and possibly suggest some more useful areas of enquiry: -Paul is correct in noting both that newer entrants to the industry are presently working for very little in order to stake a claim, and that they will find it harder to make a living wage from what they do. They already *are* having this difficulty. Given that John originally established this as a debate about project funding (to which there seems to have been very little attention paid as yet), this is a huge problem for those practitioners, as project funding is frequently their point of entry. We are about to lose a generation of practitioners. It’s already starting. -Shane notes that we need to establish common ground in funding lobbying. I totally agree. One thing that occurs to me is that this doesn’t only need to take place in terms of public funding. We don’t sufficiently cooperate in terms of securing corporate support – there isn’t the same level of philanthropy here as in other countries, but often there’s a willingness to at least listen: we aren’t accessing this as well as we might. Factor in that we need to build in an awareness that disproportionate amounts of cultural product, equally disproportionate in the craft and skill that is brought to bear – with smaller amounts of support and less time – is created in this country all the time, not just at Big International Festival People Time. Additionally, many amazing practitioners, who we are in danger of losing, do not and probably never will get the change to play in the Big International Festival Sandpit. Building an awareness of the amazing calibre of work that we all have on our hands, and an awareness not just of what the work *is*, but what it *can be*, is a big step we need to take in our cultural maturity. Okay. That’s my more than 5c worth. I would genuinely welcome hearing what others have to say, because this discussion is vital, and I’d really hope that we can have something *useful* to contribute with each other. Cheers

Paul McLaughlin               posted 26 Apr 2006, 12:25 AM / edited 26 Apr 2006, 12:50 AM

Ok, to go back to John’s original questions for this thread.

 What should be done?

 The Government and its funding agencies must both continue to support the regional theatre model and seek to identify and support new theatre groups or companies regardless of geographical location. It is vital that everyone has access to good theatre. In larger centers this means a local theatre/s. Touring and festivals for other regions. I believe the Government has a social responsibility to support established theatres in order to keep production values high and ticket prices low.

 Secondly I believe groups who demonstrate a high proficiency in creating world-quality works of theatre should qualify for direct funding. Groups such as Trouble, failed to continue their ground breaking work in the 1990’s due to a lack of continuing support. This same failure can be seen in the lack of support given to the SEEyD co-op. When groups like this come together their work must be recognized and accordingly funded. CNZ need to identify these groups and help them negotiate the red-tape and wasteful bureaucracy that mire these theatre groups down. 

 And fund them properly. In an effort to please everyone CNZ has cut an already small cake into even smaller pieces, with the result that while more work might be created it is often of a lesser standard, – forcing established professionals to give up, as they cannot keep accepting smaller and smaller slices and be expected to create better and better work.

 These groups are usually driven by actors/designers and directors – not producers. Here’s another point I have observed – these ‘creative’ types cannot realistically be expected to produce the work, to seek commercial sponsorship, to do battle with CNZ for proposals. We need producers, people with business backgrounds, to alleviate this burden from those on the creative side, so that they can get on with creating. Funding bodies therefore need to support producers, and nourish upcoming producers.

 With no cohesion in funding, and of  co-ops or groups, we are damned to keep re-inventing the wheel each time a production is mounted. Theatre professionals cannot commit to future projects with any certainty in case a more well-paid job (usually TV) comes up.

I hope these ideas can spark some discussion as to what needs to be done, by whom. When, is obvious, and I think we know who is suffering out there as a result of the current state of the play.

David Lawrence                posted 26 Apr 2006, 10:17 PM / edited 26 Apr 2006, 10:18 PM

The problem (for practitioners) with all of these kinds of debate is that everyone is always looking for an ulterior motive when someone has their say – “Oh, they’re just bitter because their work isn’t getting funded etc,” or that tedious old Wellington versus Auckland debate, which must be 20 years old at least.  So read what ulterior motives you will into my comments (and John, I like your policy that no one can post anonymously here!).  Let me say in advance that, like Paul, I’m not trying to make personal attacks here or run down anyone else’s work (or over-inflate the importance of my own), merely to deal with some facts:

Creative New Zealand’s job is, or so I’ve been told when querying funding decisions, to fund New Zealand work.  NOT tours of Shakespeare/Neil la Bute/Clare Boothe Luce/Crowley – no matter how much relevance these works might have to our national identity/consciousness.  For Shane to say of The Women “it is simply not true that these shows were well-funded” is complete bollocks – the $39,500 that CNZ contributed toward the show is a HUGE amount.  My production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream last January/February, for example, (and please all forgive me for producing more boring statistics and figures here) which employed 10 people for 8 weeks and visited 17 centres -cost a total of $47,018 to produce.  Not a single dollar of that came from CNZ – even though the project met most of the relevant criteria and ticked all the right boxes.  We’d have LOVED $39,500 from one source instead of having to deal with 30 different organisations for small sums.  Many of the towns and centres we visited are starved for ANY sort of live performance EVEN THOUGH THEIR TAXES ALSO go toward funding all the cultural institutions Aucklanders and Wellingtonians enjoy and take for granted.  

Shane also cites statistics in terms of funding for Auckland versus Wellington theatres and theatre companies.  This is nothing to do with geography or which city contributes more to the national economy (interestingly, no one complains that Centrepoint or the Court do better than either Auckland or Wellington at the end of the day).  If the Silo’s percentage of new New Zealand work was on par with that of BATS, Circa or Downstage, I bet you their funding would be too.  And again, I’m not saying that we SHOULDN’T be doing the latest US or UK work, or Shakespeare/Luce/Crowley – but when I put on a Shakespeare or a new UK play, I don’t expect to get CNZ funding (although, of course, I still apply, since there’s never any rhyme nor reason from funding round to funding round).

I don’t mind working for a low wage, because I knew at the ground level that choosing a career in theatre meant I’d never be well-off, never have a stable home life or routine, I’d probably never own my own home or be looking at any long-term financial security.  And that’s fine – I’m over-qualified and not unintelligent, so if I wanted to earn money I’d have chosen a different career.  It would take a fair bit more disillusionment and far greater financial hardship before I’m ready to chuck it in.  What frustrates me, as I bemoaned at the end of last year, is the double standard that playwrights like Paul Rothwell and Miria George – both writing works that are absolutely keyed in to our present national consciousness and identity – can be sent overseas to conferences and festivals as examples of our best new young playwrights, and yet they can’t get productions of their plays funded.  One review of Paul Rothwell’s Hate Crimes (staged to packed houses at BATS in 2005) said “Every New Zealander should see this play” but CNZ wouldn’t fund it to tour (and interestingly Shane, lamenting the lack of cultural exchange between our cities, wouldn’t programme it either) despite, once again, it meeting the relevant criteria and ticking the right boxes.

Paul is right that most actors/directors/designers don’t have the necessary skills (or patience) to deal with funding bodies and seek commercial sponsorship and so on, even though I fully believe there’s much more money out there and MANY more alternatives to CNZ.  Increasing the amount of funding the government gives CNZ won’t solve the problem, as there are always going to be more people wanting more money for more projects than there is realistic support for. 

John Smythe      posted 26 Apr 2006, 11:19 PM / edited 30 Apr 2006, 12:32 PM

Thank you ALL for your thoroughly wrought thoughts and your generosity in sharing them.

The only thing I disagree with in your tremendous contribution, David, is the idea that more project funding is not the answer. It’s certainly part of it, when the Arts Board is constantly faced with having to reject projects that come to them Highly Recommended by the Assessment Panel. Remember Project Funding has not benefited from the significant increase in arts funding overall and while this is the area where most of the cutting edge work is done, that anomaly has to be rectified!

It is false economy to alienate so many highly skilled and talented people – not to mention the hard-working assessors and board members. They bleed too, I’m sure of it, especially when they have to bite their collective tongues.

By the way, while I much prefer people posting their comments under their own names, it is not compulsory. You can overwrite the name that defaults to the field with whatever you like – as long as it’s not someone else’s real name! (It won’t be easy to track down felons, but it can and will be done if people are defamed!)

Hugh Bridge       posted 8 Jun 2006, 11:08 AM

Press releases at the time of the 2006 budget would have left many with the impression that the arts, including CNZ had scored well, eg, from the Herald:

 “Arts funding agency Creative New Zealand is the other big winner, receiving an extra $2.5m per annum for the next four years. … the extra funding would assist CNZ maintain funding for its key 30 clients, which include major centre theatres and the National Opera.”

Those who had been paying attention would have realised that this ‘extra’ simply firms up the one-off emergency funding included in the previous budget (most welcome, of course) so it mantains the status quo.  It’s not till we read the second bit that we realise that none of the extra will go to project funding. Meanwhile, expectations will be raised, more will be asked for and more heartbreak all round will be experienced. The project funding pie has been effectively shrinking as costs increase and the amount remains static.

Maybe this is the Government’s way of telling CNZ to redirect the funds spent on the Venice Biennale. On balance, having visited the 2005 Biennale and being an avid arts consumer in NZ, I would favour such a move.

Charlotte Larsen               posted 8 Nov 2006, 12:19 PM

Having read all the comments, and this being a topic close to my heart, I’d like to fill you in on something going on in Wellington. Bear in mind this is new, a work in progress, and with limited funds (to start with).

I am in the process of setting up a new Charitable organisation for new and emerging Wellington filmmakers and theatre practitioners. I’ll refer to the theatre side of the trust as this is a theatre forum. Hoping to launch in December (organisational skills and IRD permitting), the trust is currently unnamed but the purpose is to “provide development and production funds as well as encouraging the emerging talent to grow within the Wellington Arts world through access to resources”.

What this means is that not only will there be much needed money available, but companies can provide discounts (or even better, free!) services and products to make a project happen, and applicants can network to find much needed help with getting the project completed.

Don’t be fooled. “Emerging” is a very broad term. Basically it applies to anyone who is not self funded/profit making. And it covers all kinds of funding – wages, publicity, audio/visual, production costs… pretty much anything you need much needed dollars for. The application deadlines are every month, so within a month, your project can be funded. The aim of the trust is to (hopefully, funds permitting) fund every project that applies, unless of course you ask for money for a research trip to Fiji, in which case you’ll be flatly denied and probably laughed at for the rest of the decision making meeting. If you are denied, you’ll be given a reason why and possibly ways to fix this (Fiji is too expensive try google.com).

Two comments that made me sit up and take notice –

Paul said – “And fund them properly. In an effort to please everyone CNZ has cut an already small cake into even smaller pieces, with the result that while more work might be created it is often of a lesser standard, – forcing established professionals to give up, as they cannot keep accepting smaller and smaller slices and be expected to create better and better work.

 These groups are usually driven by actors/designers and directors – not producers. Here’s another point I have observed – these ‘creative’ types cannot realistically be expected to produce the work, to seek commercial sponsorship, to do battle with CNZ for proposals. We need producers, people with business backgrounds, to alleviate this burden from those on the creative side, so that they can get on with creating. Funding bodies therefore need to support producers, and nourish upcoming producers.” – The trust will be providing mentors and networking in order to provide help in making the project happen. If your group has no idea how to budget for an arts project, or how to budget at a loss, we can provide a mentor, business lawyer, producer who CAN. Even a dramaturg or a publicist.

David Lawrence – “Paul is right that most actors/directors/designers don’t have the necessary skills (or patience) to deal with funding bodies and seek commercial sponsorship and so on, even though I fully believe there’s much more money out there and MANY more alternatives to CNZ.  Increasing the amount of funding the government gives CNZ won’t solve the problem, as there are always going to be more people wanting more money for more projects than there is realistic support for. ” – We’re new right now, finding our feet and working with limited funds for now. But eventually… wouldn’t it be nice if we could give you enough money to fund your whole show, and everyone else’s, even if it makes a loss?

This brings me to another point about the trust – its designed purely as Angel funding. Your show doesn’t have to make money in order to qualify for funding (of course, thats nice, but you get to keep what you make. We don’t ask for anything back, except your love!).

If anyone would like to find out more or would even like to be a committee member for either the film or the theatre committee (theyre the ones who review the applications one day each month and make a shortlist for the trustees), or a mentor, feel free to email me.


One last point – this is Wellington based for Wellington practitioners. One day when we are big enough, we’ll extend that to the rest of the country. Baby steps…

Charlotte Larsen               posted 11 Feb 2007, 07:06 PM / edited 15 Feb 2007, 11:53 AM


EAT Wellington (Emerging Artists Trust) has finally been put into trust deed form and awaiting IRD status.  I will keep you updated on progress and will be putting out a press release soon.

Next year – Fringe Fund ’08?

Eric Holowacz    posted 12 Feb 2007, 11:56 AM

Just reading over this discussion thread, and thought I’d add some typing to the mix. Here goes…

The fundamental flaw in the funding structure for our smaller local arts organisations is the total lack of Operational Grants. A non-profit organisation’s annual budget is usually divided into Operational Expenses and Programme/Project Expenses. There are plenty of funding sources for projects, but such contributed income is usually restricted to certain direct expenses related to the project activity (a theatre production, dance workshop, music festival). Where, in all of New Zealand, is there a funding source dedicated to the operational and head office costs for smaller, emerging, visionary companies? Can they even establish a head office (desk, phone, computer, administrative person) without annual operational funding?

CNZ’s Recurrently Funded Organisations are at the top of the food chain, as are the select few who receive uncontestible, multi-year unrestricted funding from their local governments. Good for them. But the rest of the cultural ecology is left to fend for project grant money that does little or nothing to help cover staffs, overheads, office rents, and the essentials of existing as an organisation. This is one reason, and a big reason, why many smaller, exciting arts organisations founder from project to project, unable to stabilise and professionalise, and grow. Is this why perfectly wonderful and ambitious festivals, even those running budgets of $50K+, work out of someone’s spare bedroom and close up shop entirely in the off season. Is this why many theatre companies exist for only a few years, producing high-quality work from production to production, then evaporate? Is this why professionlaised dance companies are as scarce as hen’s teeth? Is this why talented administrators and producers hop from job to job, season to season?

My answer is for CNZ and local governments to develop grants schemes for annual operating support, providing funding of say $10-30K per organisation. Focus on start-up organisations (1-5 years old) who are doing interesting things, serving unique niches, building audiences, engaging communities. There are many. These grants can be applied for annually, as a competititve process, and requested amount will be based on total projected annual budget, track record of orgnaisation and its principals, public exposure and audience development impact, etc. This bread and butter support would go a long way towards (and provide leverage for) the securing of project grants, major sponsorships, infrastructure development, etc.

Cultural organisations, and the non-profit sector in general, are businesses. The ones that do not work as such are ephemeral and one-off affairs, and that’s perfectly fine. But why are we not treating the fresh and visionary ones, the ones striving to professionalise and achieve a long-term presence in New Zealand, as an important part of our overall economic and business ecology? Investment in the long-term stablity of widget-making is fine and good, but how about a bit of investment in our local cultural industry and our amazing, creative start-up arts enterprises?

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