SCENE BY JAMES: To Support the Arts, buy a Lotto Ticket…

National Treasure Roger Hall

[More Fool Us]

The most dramatically interesting part of the opening night of Auckland Theatre Company’s You Can Always Hand them Back was actually what happened after the bows. The production marks 40 years of playwriting from national treasure Roger Hall, and the occasion was quite rightly used as an opportunity to pay tribute to Hall’s enormous contribution to New Zealand theatre, though it was unfortunate that ATC Chair Gordon Moller fudged the name of the play.

Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Maggie Barry was invited onto the Skycity stage to pay tribute to Hall, and as the playwright himself commented, it was great to see her at the theatre (too bad she didn’t get to Polo, she might have enjoyed the portrayal of a National Minister in that play…). Minister Barry used the spotlight for a performance of political puffery, expounding how theatre is in rude health at the moment.

Meanwhile, Arts funding agency Creative New Zealand are advising individuals and organisations to assume they will receive “up to 10% less financial support from Creative New Zealand” in the coming year and beyond.

This was in a statement released this week entitled “Decline in Lotto revenue to affect the arts”. With the fall in lottery profits, Creative New Zealand are budgeting to receive “$11 million less this financial year than it did two years ago in 2013/14”.

The press release was dated on April 1st, but as much as those who will be affected would like to say otherwise, this is no April Fools.

Creative New Zealand chairman Stephen Wainwright says, without an apparent hint of irony, that “New Zealanders can help mitigate the negative effect of the decline in revenue is by going to the arts, giving to the arts, or buying a Lotto ticket.”

The fact that funding relies so heavily on Lotto money (not to mention gambling funds from  the charitable trusts that also support the arts) is the dirty secret of New Zealand theatre and arts industries. People are often surprised to learn that 2/3rds of Creative New Zealand’s funding comes not from government income, but from the sale of lotto tickets. The Ministry for Culture and Heritage funds CNZ for only $15.69 million.

Creative New Zealand had already reduced spending in the 2015/16 year by not renewing pilot projects. Unable to continue using financial reserves, spending will have to reduce further. “Unfortunately we are now unable to sustain our current level of support for artists and the arts in the coming financial year” says Wrainwright. Spending in 2016/2017 is expected to be $38 million compared to $44 million in the last financial year.

These cuts do not bode well for the continuing health of the theatre industry.

In his speech, Roger Hall named Auckland as New Zealand’s cultural capital, and gracefully encouraged audiences to see other plays in nearby venues. There is an extraordinary productivity and energy in Auckland theatre.

Reduced CNZ funding leads to less artistic risk and more conservative programming. Roger Hall’s successors may not get a look-in during belt-tightening times.

Canada has been lauded for its significant re-investment in the arts (with $550 million going to the Canada Council for the Arts), recognising that “investing in the Canadian cultural sector helps to create jobs, strengthens the economy and ensures that the unique Canadian perspective is shared with the world.”

With budget 2016 coming up, Minister Barry has the chance to put her money where her mouth is, and increase the Government’s direct contribution to Creative New Zealand. The arts should not be at the mercy of the rise and fall of the lotto numbers.

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