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On Thursday, three politicians will go head-to-head-to-head (or mask-to-mask-to-mask) to discuss arts policy (Image: Tina Tiller)
On Thursday, three politicians will go head-to-head-to-head (or mask-to-mask-to-mask) to discuss arts policy (Image: Tina Tiller)

PoliticsSeptember 22, 2020

To fund or not to fund: What our political parties think about arts policy

On Thursday, three politicians will go head-to-head-to-head (or mask-to-mask-to-mask) to discuss arts policy (Image: Tina Tiller)
On Thursday, three politicians will go head-to-head-to-head (or mask-to-mask-to-mask) to discuss arts policy (Image: Tina Tiller)

On Thursday night the arts, culture and heritage spokespeople from Labour, National and the Greens will have a conversation on arts policy, facilitated by Miriama Kamo. We’ve got all their policies here, so you know who stands for what.

Earlier this year, Ben Thomas wrote for The Spinoff about why politicians find it hard to care about the arts. Remembering a big arts funding boost he’d been involved with more than a decade ago, he noted that it left both recipients and the wider taxpaying public feeling aggrieved. “This then is the political formula for funding the arts sector: the public hates it, and the arts community hates you for it,” he wrote. That’s a bit simplistic, but not unfair. If policy in general is unsexy, then arts policy is a goddamned chastity belt.

However, like all policy, it’s important. Arts policy determines the structures that support the art that our country makes, and ensures that our culture and heritage has a strong continuity from the past into the future. In an ideal world, arts policy should allow for as many New Zealanders as possible to access and participate in the arts. In a speech for Arts Month last year, prime minister Jacinda Ardern, also the minister for arts, culture and heritage, said, “We may have different views about what art is, what it means and why it’s important, but if there’s one thing I think we can all agree on, it’s this: our arts and our artists are vital in helping us to imagine and build a better Aotearoa.”

There’s another thorn in the side of arts policy this election: Covid-19. This year the government has pumped in an unprecedented amount of funding for the arts as a safety net to prevent the industry from collapsing, and policy that can respond to the crisis long-term will be key to any party, governing or otherwise.

On Thursday at 6.30pm, Te Taumata Toi-a-iwi, Auckland’s arts regional trust, is holding a discussion forum (co-hosted by The Spinoff on Facebook Live) between Labour, National and the Greens on how arts policy will shape the future of Aotearoa. Jenny Marcroft from NZ First was scheduled to appear but has since pulled out; Act was invited but declined to participate. 

I sent questions to each of the participants (Carmel Sepuloni for Labour, Jonathan Young for National, Chlöe Swarbrick for the Greens) about their policies, so that an audience can be better informed going into the conversation. Below is the state of play (or plays, ha) as we know it.

Jacinda Ardern with a piece of art gifted to her by a constituent (Photo: Supplied)


During its current term in government, Labour has made the first significant increase to the Ministry for Culture and Heritage’s funding baseline in a decade, invested in Tuia 250, established the Fairer Wage for Artists and Arts Practitioners initiative, launched Creatives in Schools, and have renovated venues around the country.

Arguably the most significant development in Labour’s arts policy over the past three years was the extensive Covid-19 arts support package, a massive injection of funding to provide both support and a safety net during the pandemic. The package included:

  • $7.9 million to support artists and creatives back into sustainable work;
  • $70 million for a Creative Arts Recovery and Employment to support the rebuild of creative industries;
  • $60 million for a Cultural Innovation Fund to support new ways of operating;
  • $20 million for a Cultural Capability fund to focus on immediate needs in response to Covid-19;
  • $16.5 million for a New Zealand Music Recovery Fund specifically directed towards the contemporary popular music industry

The party’s other relief initiatives included a $25 million injection for Creative New Zealand, $31.8 million for Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision, $11.3 million to Heritage New Zealand and $18 million for the Museum of Te Papa.

Although Labour has not yet released its arts, culture and heritage policy for the upcoming election, Labour says it believes the arts are “an essential part of our individual, community and national identity”. Its upcoming policy will look to implement its vision for the sector, “where people not only value the arts, but consider careers in the arts as viable and where all communities have access to cultural experiences”. 

Associate minister for arts, culture and heritage Carmel Sepuloni will be speaking on behalf of the Labour Party at the forum.


For National, getting the arts back into public activity is the number one goal. The party believes the arts have an important part to play in revitalising the nation’s city centres and creating value for the hospitality and tourism sectors. The party’s arts, culture and heritage spokesperson, Jonathan Young, says, “The arts, culture and heritage sector should work hand in glove with Tourism NZ. Aotearoa New Zealand’s attractiveness is not only the beauty of its landscapes, but the diversity and vibrancy of its cultures and their heritages.”

Young admits that the parties have a lot of similarities: everybody tends to want more funding for the arts. The point of difference for him is ensuring that the arts, culture and heritage (ACH) bureaucracy is fit for purpose, and funding makes its way efficiently to the individual creative sector practitioner. “I would encourage the different institutions of the ACH sector to find new ways of responding to their market. The challenge in our Covid-19 world is engaging with the market.”

The response to Covid is also a key issue. Young wants to see focus on building the preparedness for the sector when the country is more open. The more positively New Zealand is  viewed on a global stage, the more opportunities – for example, in regards to international touring and festivals – are likely to come our way while other countries continue to battle the pandemic. He also wants to hear from those on the ground about how the creative industries should respond to Covid-19. 

“When the Covid Response and Recovery Fund was established after the budget, very little advice was taken from each of the different streams of the sector. All advice on funding support came from the Ministry of Culture and Heritage. That seems limited to me.”

Young also wants to attract young people to creative careers, through a programme called “Creative Accelerator”, which has similarities to the UK’s Creative Industries Federation’s Creative Careers Pathway. This programme would be open to senior secondary students, and complements Labour’s “Creatives in Schools” programme. It would be a behind-the-counter look at creative careers and could cover areas ranging from photography to graphic design to architecture.

National Party spokesperson for arts, culture and heritage Jonathan Young will be speaking on behalf of the party at the forum.

Chlöe Swarbrick


The full Green arts policy was developed and ratified by the party in 2014, and forms the foundation for its 2020 policy. It states that the Green Party is committed to fostering the arts, culture and heritage at all levels. Chlöe Swarbrick, the party’s arts, culture and heritage spokesperson, says, “We’re big believers in sustainable public funding for the arts, and central government must take a lead in fostering this, as it has done historically. This means directly funding artists, particularly those starting out their careers. It means working with local government to ensure adequate resourcing and support for the local venues and spaces that are so critical in incubating the careers of our creatives – throughout the regions, not just in our main urban centres. There must also be a particular emphasis and responsibility to foster and encourage the taonga of toi Māori.” 

The party says its policy recognises that Aotearoa New Zealand has a strong creative sector, and that with the right support it has the potential to become a significant export industry. The policy also recognises that the country’s unique heritage includes the taonga of toi Māori and te reo Māori, and the party’s support of these includes the retention of Māori TV and iwi radio.

In this election year, the Greens say they acknowledge that Covid-19 has left many artists, especially those who rely on live performance, without a paying audience. “The rising costs of living, the housing shortage and now the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic are hitting Kiwi creators hard. Venues are closing, gigs and shows are being cancelled and artists and technicians are having to down their tools to make ends meet,” says Swarbrick.

“The Greens are committed to helping artists get through this and continue to produce the work that we’re so proud of as a nation. It would be gutting and an absolute tragedy for this generation’s Cliff Whitings and Rita Anguses to not have the opportunity to flourish and contribute in their own way.”

The Greens’ specific arts policies are:

  • Require public funding goes directly to artists themselves.
  • Work to ensure publicly funded creative projects pay a living wage.
  • Collaborate with local councils, community groups and iwi to ensure there are enough venues for all forms of art and that these venues are accessible to everyone.
  • Ensure laws support creative workers on big projects to get a fair share of profits and decent working conditions, especially for international film and television projects.
  • Make donations to non-profit art and creative organisations tax-deductible, like charities are.
  • Support Aotearoa’s artists to tour overseas.
  • Support and fund more locally made content on television, radio and online.

Swarbrick says the Greens have a comprehensive and coherent vision for the future of Aotearoa that includes the arts. “We recognise how critical the arts and creative sector are for our national identity and telling our own stories, and are committed to fostering a really vibrant creative sector that we can all be proud of.”

The Green Party spokesperson for arts, culture and heritage Chlöe Swarbrick will be speaking behalf of the party at the forum.

The other parties

The arts policies of other parties are, to be blunt, limited. Using our handy Policy tool, these are the arts, culture and heritage policies that were publicly available at the time of writing:

Act Party: Abolish subsidies for the film industry.

Māori Party: Establish an inquiry to identify and remove racist monuments.

New Conservatives: Stop trading on Good Friday and Easter Sunday; protect public statues and memorials to historic events and figures.

NZ First: Keep historic statues.

Interested in how arts policy will shape the future of Aotearoa for the next three years? Join Te Taumata Toi-a-iwi’s livestream pre-election conversation this Thursday, 6.30pm on arts policies with Labour, National and NZ Green Party candidates, hosted by Miriama Kamo. RSVP to the event here.

Keep going!