Was it really about Shakespeare after all? Sam Brooks sifts through Creative New Zealand’s feedback to the Shakespeare Globe Centre’s funding application.
Yesterday, Creative New Zealand made the unprecedented decision to proactively release its feedback to the funding proposal from the Shakespeare Globe Centre (SGCNZ). For nearly a month, the organisation being let go from CNZ’s Toi Uru Kahikatea Investment programme has been at the centre of a roiling controversy, with heated opinion pieces and responses flying back and forth both here and overseas
That SGCNZ was to be dropped from funding was reported in mid-September, but the story was reignited after the publication of an open letter from SGCNZ supporter Terry Sheat. That open letter highlighted two phrases from the nine pages of CNZ feedback to the application, in which the assessors questioned “the role and relevance of Shakespeare in Aotearoa” and claimed “the genre [Shakespeare] was located within a canon of imperialism and missed the opportunity to create a living curriculum and show relevance to the contemporary art context of Aotearoa”. This led to several days’ worth of media furore and talkback appearances. You can read a summary of the stoush here.
Now, CNZ has published its entire feedback to the SGCNZ proposal in response to an OIA request. Its stated reasons for releasing the feedback include the “many requests” for the information, excerpts of the feedback already being shared in the public arena, and to provide more detail around the Arts Council’s decision to decline the proposal.
A statement from the organisation reads: “We don’t typically discuss declined applications in the public arena. While we’ve had to make an exception in the case of SGCNZ … we don’t typically discuss or comment on declined funding applications in the public arena for the following reasons.”
SGCNZ has been consulted on the release of this information. In the interest of clarity, The Spinoff has read through the feedback and pulled out relevant parts to help readers can understand the process.
Two external assessors, whose names have been redacted for privacy reasons, were hired to provide feedback on the funding application, which the Arts Council then bases its decision on. There are three overall criteria that the assessors hold the funding application against: relevance, viability, and investment outcomes (as in, whether the organisation aligns with the CNZ’s investment priorities). Underneath these three criteria, there are 10 factors the application is measured against, including budget, vision, planning and ability to deliver. The assessors score these 10 factors a number between 1 and 5, 5 being the highest.
The feedback for SGCNZ is largely positive from both external assessors, with all of its scores being either a 3 (“good”) or a 4 (“very good”). Positive feedback includes passages like:
“The endorsements that you highlight demonstrate that participation in the Festival can be life changing, leading to increased confidence and a life long passion for the performing arts.”
“Shakespeare’s texts remain imminently suitable for adaptation and experimentation, with young people drawing connections with Shakespeare’s themes and making the plays relevant to themselves and their audiences through directorial and acting choices.”
“This programme of activity is well conceived, with regional festivals leading towards a national festival, complemented by education workshops and other initiatives.”
The few critical notes from these assessors revolve around the organisation itself, not anything to do with Shakespeare. Those include one assessor noting they would have appreciated a “more robust self-examination of its practice and functions” and another wanting “to get a clearer idea of SGCNZ’s longer term goals and where it is heading”. That same assessor notes that the emphasis on succession planning in the application was not reflected in its strategic and operational plan, another part of the application.
Ultimately, the organisation scored a 70/100 on its application, with one assessor giving it 34 marks and the other 36. (To crudely give it a grade, that would be a B.)
Creative New Zealand also solicited feedback from a strategic advisory panel. That feedback is summarised here as recorded minutes, not the detailed feedback provided from assessors above.
It’s from here that the quotes “located within a canon of imperialism” come from, not from one of the assessors, as previously reported. This panel notes the strong youth engagement, positive impact of participants, and the continued love of Shakespeare, but agreed the proposal did not demonstrate “the relevance to the contemporary art context of Aotearoa in this time and place and landscape”.
The panel’s feedback is summed up in four bullet points: that the proposal was “not strong”, the organisation seems “quite paternalistic”, “located within a canon of imperialism” and “relies heavily on schools who have busy calendars”.
As a result, it did not recommend SGCNZ for funding. Its rationale was that the proposal did not demonstrate the relevance to the contemporary art context of Aotearoa, and the panel was concerned for the number of theatre organisations in the round. It also questioned the role and relevance of Shakespeare in Aotearoa.
Recommendations from Creative New Zealand
This part of the feedback sums up what both the external assessors and the panel said, as summarised above.
Of particular note here is that Creative New Zealand staff noted that the views of the assessors and the panel “do not seem to be held by the many thousands of young people who have participated in the programme”, and that the panel hadn’t considered that the programme (by which it means the Sheilah Winn Festival and its resulting offshoots) acts as an on-ramp to a career in the performing arts. The CNZ staff also noted that this was one of the few proposals received with a “primary focus” on providing opportunities for youth participation and leadership.
CNZ staff also acknowledged that SGCNZ had consistently met or exceeded CNZ’s expectations for quality and alignment, and that as an organisation receiving less than $75,000 a year in funding, isn’t required to report on financial or organisational health. CNZ agreed that SGCNZ delivers on CNZ goals, and a gap will “be created by its exit from the Kahikatea programme”.
The CNZ staff finally noted that there were concerns about the relevancy and future focus of the proposal that challenged the assessors’ confidence in the organisation’s capacity to “deliver strongly”.
They did not recommend the organisation for Kahikatea funding.
The one part of the application that remains opaque is the internal assessment, which looks at an organisation’s financial viability. It is largely redacted, to protect “information subject to an obligation of confidence”.
The one piece of information left unredacted is that “the organisation is perceived to be exposed to financial risk”, which led to it scoring a 2 out of 3. It’s important to note that without knowing what other organisations scored in this funding stream it’s hard to correctly weigh the importance of this ranking. At any rate, SGCNZ scored 12 of 15 in this internal assessment.
The Arts Council meeting
Here’s where the final decision actually gets made, based on the feedback in the application that you’ve seen above. Again, this feedback is provided via minutes, not detailed feedback.
The Arts Council discussed what options were available to continue youth participation and leadership offered by SGCNZ. The council noted SGCNZ would be able to apply for funding under the Annual Arts Grants (and might do better financially under this scheme), and that there were other organisations delivering to youth.
They ultimately agreed SGCNZ had a “weaker delivery to assessment criteria than others”, and approved the recommendation to not offer funding through the Kahikatea programme.
Creative New Zealand funded 58 out of 62 applications that applied for the Kahikatea funding stream. Shakespeare Globe Centre NZ now receives funding through the Ministry of Education, and the Sheilah Winn Festival will go ahead as planned in 2023.