Story: Arts funding and support

Page 1. Government support for the arts

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In New Zealand, as in all developed countries, the state provides support to the creative arts. Most support is given either directly or through funding organisations.

The government provides support directly to national arts organisations. These include the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (a Crown entity), the Royal New Zealand Ballet and Te Matatini Society (both non-government organisations). The government also provides support through distribution agencies, such as the Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa, better known as Creative New Zealand, as well as the New Zealand Film Commission. They in turn support arts and film projects developed by a range of artists and organisations.

‘Arm’s length’ decision making

A highly developed cultural strategy has not been a feature of New Zealand cultural policy, in contrast to some European democracies. For the most part New Zealand governments have been content to provide some of the means for the creative arts to develop, without seeking to shape the ends.

Both Creative New Zealand and the Film Commission may be asked to have regard to government policy. Both, in their founding acts of Parliament, are protected from ministerial direction on cultural matters. Making cultural funding decisions at ‘arm’s length’ from the government of the day protects freedom of expression. It also usually (though not always) protects government ministers from controversies that sometimes arise from funding decisions.

No comment

In 2005 a New Zealand art ‘collective’ called et al. exhibited work at the Venice Biennale, but refused to talk directly to the media. Prime Minister Helen Clark was infuriated. The Biennale, a contemporary art exhibition, is a showcase for nations round the world, which fund exhibits. While et al.’s silence was not politically approved of, the art work itself won high praise from critics.

Lottery and other funding

Some of the public funding for these agencies is provided from taxation, through the annual Budget process. However, since the late 1980s the Lottery Grants Board (LGB) has been a major source of funding for arts organisations – for some, the principal source. Creative New Zealand, for example, received $27.516 million in lottery funding in 2011/12, compared with $15.689 million from Vote Arts Culture and Heritage. Because it comes from state-run lotteries such as Lotto and is distributed by the LGB, a Crown entity, this too is a form of public funding.

Another kind of government funding support is the revenue the government forgoes through providing tax incentives for cultural purposes. An example of this is the tax incentives for individual and corporate donations introduced in 2008.

Art form development

A further objective of public funding of the arts is to support the development, not just of individual creators or works, but of the art forms themselves. Some art forms – film, television and music – are industries, and have significant economic potential

Preserving creative arts

As well as funding new work directly or indirectly, the government plays other roles in supporting the creative arts. Works of the past may become part of our cultural heritage. The government plays a role in their preservation through institutions such as the National Library and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, which holds national art collections as well as presenting new work. It also supports Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision in preserving New Zealand’s audiovisual heritage, and provides building grants to regional museums.

Local government’s role

Local government is also a significant contributor of public support for the arts. It owns galleries, museums, and performing venues. It supports community arts, public art works, and festivals. Indeed, its role in relation to the arts started earlier in New Zealand history than that of central government.

Regulatory support

Central government and Parliament make laws that support the creative arts. For example, copyright provides an incentive to creation, by allowing creators to control the distribution of their work and helping them to profit from it. Other types of regulation may operate as a kind of check on cultural creation, in the interests of avoiding social harm. Film and video classification and censorship are an example.

How to cite this page:

Martin Durrant, 'Arts funding and support - Government support for the arts', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 9 February 2023)

Story by Martin Durrant, published 22 Oct 2014