A shot from a Matariki celebration with people gathered around a fire. There is some money in the image with a morning sky above the money.
Matariki funding cuts are impacting events around the country.

ĀteaJune 26, 2024

Matariki events at risk after funding cuts

A shot from a Matariki celebration with people gathered around a fire. There is some money in the image with a morning sky above the money.
Matariki funding cuts are impacting events around the country.

Funding for Matariki events was almost halved in the latest budget, leaving the future of some events uncertain. Liam Rātana looks at what impacts the funding cuts might have.

Update: A response from Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage was received but not in time to be included in the article. It said Te Puni Kōkiri is distributing Matariki funding on behalf of the Ministry through Te Pū Harakeke Fund, rather than through a separate fund managed by Manatū Taonga. “It is too early to measure the impact of this year’s funding decisions as they are still being finalised,” said Helen McCracken, (Taupua) Pou Mataaho o Te Hononga Acting Deputy Secretary, Te Hononga Māori Crown Partnerships.

Musicians were booked, extra staff rostered on and all the necessary infrastructure pencilled in. Even the traffic management plans had been drafted. Businesses in the popular Far North settlement of Pēwhairangi Bay of Islands were gearing up for another influx of visitors for its annual three-week-long Matariki celebrations.

Then the budget was released.

The government announced it was cutting Matariki event funding, administered by Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage for the first time last year, by 45% from $5.5 million to $3m. Jackie Sanders, Matariki Pēwhairangi Festival director, was soon told she would not be receiving the $100,000 in funding required to hold the anchor event.

“We started booking things last year. We’d locked in every major aspect… It’s all done in advance, there’s been a lot of time put into it. A lot of businesses had planned for it,” Sanders said.

The annual festival has been running for four years and usually draws in a crowd of at least 10,000 people, which means a lot of planning is required well in advance. Events such as rongoā workshops, light festivals, dawn cruises, and the Brew of Islands beer festival would still be going ahead as scheduled this year. However, the most popular event, Te Tau Hou Māori light and waka spectacular, is cancelled. The festival received funding through the Matariki Ahunga Nui Fund last year for its anchor event, and was planning ahead for the same this year.

Last year, funding from the Matariki Ahunga Nui Fund was allocated by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage in May, within two months of Matariki itself. This meant organisers of festivals such as Matariki Pēwhairangi Festival had to prepare their events in advance and hope their bids were successful. With her application for funding of this year’s festival being declined so close to the event, Sanders said she was lucky a lot of businesses were willing to return deposits. However, she also said a lot of them would struggle to fill the gap on such short notice.

Pēwhairangi Bay of Islands Matariki Festival 2023 Puanga Matariki celebrations at Kororāreka Russell Wharf.
Pēwhairangi Bay of Islands Matariki Festival 2023 Puanga Matariki celebrations at Kororāreka Russell Wharf. (Image: Supplied)

“It’s such a late notice that it’s giving them little to no chance to then go and find other business on those days. Many of the businesses held out from booking other work because the funding has come out late in previous years,” Sanders said.

With an average spend of $150 per person, the influx of approximately 10,000-15,000 visitors to the area saw a much needed cash injection of between $1.5m-$2.25m over the course of three weeks. With ongoing closures to main access routes and issues such as recent power outages, Sanders said the boost was crucial for local businesses that typically struggled over the slower winter period. Although there were still some events happening in the area, the impact of the cancellation of the anchor event was expected to be widely felt.

“Many businesses feel that it [having the funding pulled] has been a slap in the face. People get angry about funding, thinking it’s some kind of handout, but all that money circulates back,” Sanders said.

A report released at the beginning of this month from the Ministry for Culture and Heritage revealed during the Matariki weekend, consumer spending trends showed strong performance in the arts and recreation sector, although overall retail impacts were minimal. Total electronic card spending was $606.7 million, a 2.7% increase on last year and 10.8% increase on 2019. The arts and recreation sector saw the highest growth, up 32.7% from last year and 61.7% from 2019, despite only making up 2.8% of total retail spend.

Tourism-related sectors like accommodation and hospitality also saw spending increases. Although overall spending was down 9.4% compared to average weekends, excluding Fridays, arts and recreation spending was 23.3% higher. Overall, Matariki significantly boosted spending in the arts and recreation sector across all consumer groups. Something Sanders worries will diminish without the marquee event.

“The numbers will be down. There’ll be a larger economic impact with a reduced number of visitors, which means less of an injection into the region, which is quite critical at this point in time,” she said.

Looking ahead to next year, the festival was hopeful it could find other sponsors to help fund the event, including local businesses. They had applied to other organisations for funding before the budget, such as community trust Foundation North, but had been unsuccessful. While the event had been free in the past, Sanders said the organisers were now considering all options to ensure it could continue moving forward, including charging for admission.“I think they overlooked what the economic impact would be for regions such as Northland, we have had it pretty tough,” she said.

Waimihi Hotere, Kaihautū – Festival Director, Matariki ki Waikato Festival. (Image: Supplied)

With 121 applications funded by the Matariki Ahunga Nui fund last year, the Matariki Pēwhairangi Festival is not the only Matariki event that will be feeling the impact of the funding cuts. Fortunately, the importance of such events has not gone unnoticed by businesses and sponsors elsewhere. Matariki ki Waikato is a festival that umbrellas several other community Matariki events. It has been running for the last 16 years (well before it was a national holiday) and received $50,000 from the Matariki Ahunga Nui fund last year. Despite not receiving funding this year Waimihi Hotere, the festival’s Kaihautū – Festival Director, said the only impact would be on marketing spend and an arts programme linked to the festival.

“There are some local organisations that have it [the festival] built into their budget for the year. Because of that, the events are going to happen regardless of the funding that we get,” Hotere said. “Most funding usually doesn’t come in until around June, or the end of May. That is partly because it’s the end of financial year for a lot of organisations and that’s when they’re able to share what funds they have available for kaupapa Maori events.”

Matariki ki Waikato has received ongoing funding from Hamilton City Council, and several local organisations such as Trust Waikato and WEL Energy Trust. Seed funding is supplied by the largest sponsors, which also enables events to be held across the region. According to Hotere, these groups understand the value of honouring Matariki and revitalising mātauranga Matariki. This makes convincing them to help fund the events, which cost in excess of $250,000, a lot easier. Over 20,000 people attended all of the Matariki ki Waikato events last year, which undoubtedly had a significant effect on the local economy.

“Because we’ve been going for so long – and in the last four years, have had great support from Hamilton City Council, Trust Waikato, and WEL Energy Trust – we’ve been able to continue with the same level of events,” said Hotere.

Looking to the future, Te Ohu Whakaita, the charitable trust behind Matariki ki Waikato, was now focussed on shoring up funding streams and growing networks and relationships to foster greater cohesion and collaboration among the region’s Matariki events.

“Aotearoa needs a way for us to be able to grieve collectively and to dream collectively. Kotahitanga is an amazing thing and Matariki gives you the opportunity to do that as a community,” Hotere said.

With funding halved and uncertainty surrounding the future of Matariki celebrations around Aotearoa, the economic impacts of the cuts are already being felt. While some events can continue without extra support, others are unsure if they’ll be able to stay afloat. How the Ministry for Culture and Heritage will prioritise future funding applications remains unclear.

The ministry was approached by The Spinoff for comment but said they were “busy prepping for the nationally broadcast hautapu to be held down in Wānaka on Friday morning”. That will be of little comfort to businesses in the Bay of Islands and beyond where the funding cuts have had a major impact.

This is Public Interest Journalism funded by NZ On Air.

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