Story: Arts funding and support

Page 3. Changing reasons for government support

All images & media in this story

As government support for the arts developed, so did the rationale for it, and the idea of ‘culture’ itself. In the early 1960s, the emphasis was on building professionalism in the arts, and on making them available to the public. Economic benefits were seen as secondary to spiritual and aesthetic ones. The focus was on the traditions inherited from Britain and Europe.

A broader idea of culture

A decade later there was a new emphasis on wider participation in the arts, and on popular as well as ‘high’ arts. The Arts Council was given a regional as well as a national role. In 1978 a combined Council for Maori and South Pacific Arts was established within the Arts Council structure.

A developing concern to reflect the status of the Treaty of Waitangi led, in 1993, to a new structure for the Arts Council with separate general and Māori arts boards. These boards had little input into the Arts Council’s wider strategy, though. An Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa Bill, introduced in 2010, sought to replace them with a single council responsible for policy and strategy, and including members with knowledge of tikanga Māori and Pacific cultures. The bill was expected to be passed in early 2014.

New Zealand identity

The government’s sense of the purpose of cultural funding widened further in the 1990s and 2000s. There was a self-conscious stress on New Zealand’s special identity in a globalising world, and on the role of the arts in shaping that identity.

Under the Labour-led governments of 1999 to 2008, the theme of identity was combined with a stronger economic emphasis. The arts were seen as helping to produce a smarter, creative workforce and as contributing to an economically useful ‘brand’ for New Zealand. A cultural diplomacy programme, from 2004, was another development in this period.

War of wearable arts

The World of Wearable Arts was a prize fought over by Nelson and Wellington local councils. The show was a money maker, drawing crowds whose spending spread through hotels, cafes, and shops. Wellington won the fight. In 2009 WOW was estimated to have brought more than $15 million into the city’s economy.

An international trend

These trends in cultural policy can be found elsewhere, particularly in Commonwealth countries. A key influence was the promotion by UNESCO, from 1970 onwards, of a broader definition of culture and of the cultural development of communities and nations as a whole.


In New Zealand there was continuity although governments came and went. Changes in the mandates of cultural agencies, in particular to recognise the Treaty of Waitangi, were adopted by one administration and then maintained by the next. A general agreement that the creative arts were important survived changes in economic fortunes and in economic policy.

It is also generally true that the different historical emphases did not replace each other, but grew in layers. The original stress on supporting exceptional talent and fostering professionalism remained, along with later concerns such as participation, community development, realising the economic potential of some art forms, and giving effect to the treaty.

How to cite this page:

Martin Durrant, 'Arts funding and support - Changing reasons for government support', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 26 February 2024)

Story by Martin Durrant, published 22 Oct 2014