24 Sep 2021

Arts sector warns there will be nothing left unless government steps in with support funding

8:38 am on 24 September 2021

As the arts industry continues to experience crushing losses, they say they need urgent financial support from the government or there will not be an industry left.

Actor Jack Buchanan rehearsing for Silo Theatre’s production of Live Live Cinema: Night of the Living Dead.

Actor Jack Buchanan rehearsing for Silo Theatre's production of Live Live Cinema: Night of the Living Dead. Photo: Supplied / David St George Photography.

It comes after over 50 leaders in the sector signed an open letter to government asking for funding and support.

And with most in Auckland still unable to operate under alert level 3, they say it is just getting worse.

On 17 August, one community case of Covid-19 was found in Auckland's Devonport.

That evening, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a country-wide alert level 4 lockdown.

Actor and musician Jack Buchanan was a week-and-a-half into rehearsals of Silo Theatre's production of Night of the Living Dead, which was supposed to open on 9 September.

"It was a project that all of us had been really excited about for months," Buchanan said.

"That afternoon we were rehearsing, and Hayley Sproull stopped us all because she had an alert come up on her phone and she said, 'Guys, there's been a community case', and the room went silent for a moment. And then we all went, 'Well keep working'.

"At the end of the day, we discussed what the plan was with the realisation that we could be about to go into a snap lock down and we said we'll hopefully see you tomorrow.

"We all thought at that point it might be, four or five days, maybe a week, but we weren't quite prepared for what it's turned into."

After the show was put on hold he had been in limbo, hoping cases drop so restrictions ease.

"It's pretty demoralising, and I see that from a lot of my peers and friends on social media talking about it and talking about how just suddenly the rest of this year is just completely uncertain in terms of employment for so many people, and the start of next year and everything."

Buchanan was fortunate he was being paid through lockdown by the Silo Theatre, despite the postponement of the show.

But he was joining the chorus of voices asking the government for targeted financial support.

Last year, Creative New Zealand, the government's arts funding agency, was able to put together an emergency relief package, drawing on their reserves and investing $29 million over two months.

However, you can only draw on reserves once and Creative New Zealand said they now did not have money to implement any new financial support programmes.

Victoria University theatre lecturer James Wenley said if the arts sector did not receive funding soon, there might not be any shows to go to see when we get out of lockdown.

That was why the government needed to step in, he said.

"There's also what's going to need to happen in the future after, optimistically, we're out of lock down and back to level 1.

"There's still going to be the chance that there could be another outbreak, so we need something like a live performance insurance scheme, which means that if the worst happens and there is another outbreak and we go back into higher alert levels that there is some support there that producers can access, so they still have the confidence to put on live events for the rest of the year and into next year."

Without that "insurance" and added funding it was too big a risk for many practitioners, he said.

"If there was another outbreak - because all the money has been spent - this is where you start would start to get companies that would fold, people that leave the industry because they just can't go on and this is what we're really worried, about if there's going to be no support coming.

"People are really exhausted, they're mentally exhausted, financially they've spent all that they have, so if this happens again, they're just not going to be able to continue on."

Auckland Pride Festival director Max Tweedie also joined the call and was asking the government to provide specific funding for Creative NZ to complement existing financial support and to fill the gaps in resourcing the creative industries.

Everyone in the industry was feeling the effects of the latest outbreak, he said.

"That's independent artists who've had work cancelled or aren't sure when they'll be able to present work from the production teams to independent producers and directors. All of those artists make up the ecosystem," Tweedie said.

"We want to see an industry wide response that enables Creative New Zealand or the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Heritage to basically ensure that it's not our artists that are bearing the brunt of the impacts of this latest outbreak."

Amber Curreen is the Kaihautū Taha Whānau for Te Pou Theatre in Henderson

Amber Curreen. Photo: Supplied

Henderson's Te Pou Theatre - a kaupapa Māori performing arts venue has had to move their Kōanga Festival online for the second year in a row.

Theatre Kaihautū Taha Whānau Amber Curreen said she and over 50 other industry leaders had signed open letter addressed to the Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage to ask for more funding and support.

"For me this is about holding the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Heritage to account to make sure that they are being active in their support. There are clear pathways forward that they can really come to the party and support the sector with."

In a statement, Minister of Arts, Culture, and Heritage Carmel Sepuloni said she wanted to acknowledge the huge financial and emotional strain performers, organisers, and everyone involved in the live arts sector was facing as a result of Covid-19 restrictions.

"Whilst I'm keeping a watchful eye on the situation, I'm also receiving advice and updates on the ongoing impacts of Covid-19 on the arts and culture sector, and what other measures might be needed to ensure the sector not only survives, but thrives."