February 5, 2015

A Wero to CNZ

K. C. Kelly             posted 5 Feb 2015, 10:24 AM

EnsembleImpact: The Proof is in the Pudding, a Wero to CNZ

Part of my frustration with the Creative New Zealand “contestable round” of project arts funding can be directed at its unswerving faith in the “absolute fairness” of their application procedure. In their search for “total impartiality” it must be inferred that CNZ is never to blame for a declined application.

Their claim is that “they are there to help” in the application process.

However my experience as an arts practitioner tells me that gaining access to this assistance can be problematic.

If each application in each round is judged by and of itself, it also means that each application does not carry with it the history of a proven record of success.

With panel changes, there is no understanding that they will have knowledge of a previously successful project or fairly consider practitioners who are growing their work and have earned a CNZ grant in the past wanting to gain repeat support.

Therefore if you’ve been doing something continually over time, and doing it successfully, as we have at EnsembleImpact, this is not necessarily beneficial in the annual arts round.

Unless, of course, a CNZ “expert” intervenes.

Then, you might get a “nod” from the official funding body, provided, of course, you have time to meet with them regularly to ensure your application material conforms exactly to their requirements. Which usually means seeking expert help with an application, and having resources to  “hire a grant writer.” In order to be impartial, CNZ has set up an application process in which each facet of their contestable application can be graded numerically. We were told “We can put it on a computer.”

Good applications can earn marks in each phase of the application.

We agree this sounds reasonable, because how else can a government institution spending tax payers funds for which they are accountable, be impartial? Therefore a well prepared, detailed grant application = better chance of success. However, a project which may fulfil many or all of CNZ’s strategic goals, could also be an application that does not reach all the formatting requirements and is thus in jeopardy.

One problem we see, is the “one size fits all” algorithm.

And that’s not only unfair, it’s detrimental to the working practitioners CNZ is designed to help. And a glitch in the system seems to happen when CNZ panel members cast their collective eyes at an application.

In our case, EnsembleImpact, the programme I administered for 7 successful years was graded “very highly” for fulfilling the outcomes and objectives of CNZ in that it “works with children and young people.”

It is true EI presents curated sections of NZ plays to high schools students. We also hired four young professional actors to present those plays. Those plays were, in turn, directed by an accomplished NZ director and each selection in the programme was written by a New Zealand playwright, further endorsed by the national organization, Playmarket, which represents NZ playwrights.  The entire fifty-minute programme had a dramaturg and was designed with a specific audience and theme in mind, presented in situ, in the high school or community centre of the targeted audience.

Now put these facts in an algorithm, and it seems that three CNZ strategic goals have been met for the assessment of the EI application.

CNZ says:

“We achieve our purpose through supporting:

• the creation and presentation of high-quality and innovative art

• the careers and work of individual artists and practitioners

• the growth and strengthening of New Zealand’s arts infrastructure, arts communities and audiences.

We are unique among New Zealand arts funders because we provide grants and support to individuals as well as to organisations, and we support a diverse range of activity in the arts sector across all artforms.”

Looking at CNZ Required Outcomes:

“Outcome 1 – New Zealanders participate in the arts

By “participate”, we mean the direct involvement of individuals, groups and/or communities in making or presenting art. This includes opportunities to:

•   celebrate, practise and transmit their diverse artistic traditions and cultural heritage

•   develop links between communities that improve cross-cultural understanding.

Outcome 2 – High quality New Zealand art is developed

Creative New Zealand seeks to ensure that artists, arts practitioners and arts organisations have the opportunity to fulfil their potential by:

•   continually developing their artforms, the quality of their work, and their artistic skills and capabilities, and

•   having opportunities to experiment, be innovative, and take risks.

Outcome 3 – New Zealanders experience high-quality arts

Audiences are vital to a vibrant arts sector. Creative New Zealand aims to broaden the opportunities for all New Zealanders to experience the arts, providing them with access to a diverse range of artistic experiences.

Outcome 4 – New Zealand arts gain international success

International interventions connect high-quality artists with global markets and audiences through presentation, touring, relationship building and collaborative projects, including cultural and artistic exchange.”

And we believe we also meet three out of four of these key outcomes.

Another problem I perceive is in the panel of outside experts brought together by CNZ.

Many practitioners like myself have a similar question – “Who are these people?”  I’m not alone in thinking “lottery” when it comes time for CNZ to consider another round of arts applications.

When people on the panel knew me (and I knew them) there wasn’t a problem – I felt that it was still a lottery, but I knew the players and I knew the parameters of the game.

I would therefore like to issue a wero to CNZ:

Please give us (and the NZ Educators who have relied upon EnsembleImpact to fulfill a national NZQA requirement) some evidence of where and how you are supporting a viable alternative which will fulfill these same CNZ strategic outcomes.

In other words, where is the other CNZ supported group which can:

    cover the nation taking New Zealand plays into NZ schools,

    perform these works by NZ artists, directed, produced and designed by local practitioners,

    match the reach and regard which EnsembleImpact has earned over seven years of success.

Kua takoto te Manuka … mau e tiki?

K.C. Kelly, Chair

EnsembleImpact Educational Trust


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