An arts organisation awarding a contract to provide a ‘digital service’ wouldn’t normally be newsworthy – but today’s announcement from Creative New Zealand will raise some eyebrows. Sam Brooks explains.
Today, Creative New Zealand, the government’s arts funding organisation, announced that it would be investing more than $5m into establishing a digital service for the arts. While it’s not the first investment of this nature by CNZ, it is the first time the organisation has made such a hefty investment in the digital space, and alongside this announcement, it also released, unusually, the lengthy procurement and due diligence process it undertook.
The proactive release is because the recipient is a subsidiary of We Are Indigo, the firm which is embroiled in a lengthy and ugly dispute over secret due diligence reports compiled by another government agency, Callaghan Innovation. The procurement report released by CNZ says that “management was satisfied with We Are Indigo Ltd’s explanation of the circumstance and noted that the various media reports were believed to be largely based on social media posts, rather than information sourced from Callaghan Innovation or We Are Indigo Ltd.”
Here is an explanation of what this means for New Zealand’s art sector, with comment and clarification from CNZ CEO Stephen Wainwright where appropriate.
Who is involved?
Creative New Zealand (CNZ) is a Crown entity responsible for developing, investing in and advocating for the arts in New Zealand. It fits under the umbrella of the Ministry of Culture and Heritage, and receives funding through them. Its processes have been in the headlines recently due to two notable organisations not receiving funding under one of its programmes, and the media outcry that ensued.
Toi ki Tua is a new company, established and wholly owned by We Are Indigo. We Are Indigo is a self-described “innovation company arming you in the fight against the status quo”. It was founded in 2019 by former Warriors captain Monty Betham and ex-Xero exec Patrick Macfie. Earlier this year, We Are Indigo was the subject of reporting by the NBR that government agencies had hired private investigators to look into the company, and an investigation by The Spinoff’s Duncan Greive revealed the contentious battle over confidential due diligence reports, the release of which is currently before the Ombudsman. Greive’s reporting was based on the due diligence reports and interviews with senior Callaghan sources, including a board member.
Back up, what is a “digital service”?
Wainwright says that this new digital service forms an important part of Creative New Zealand’s strategy. “If you were to establish Creative New Zealand in 2022, digital infrastructure would be quite high up on that list.”
At this stage, the digital service is defined quite broadly by Creative New Zealand. The service will actively look for opportunities for artists to secure intellectual property, monetise their work through digital platforms, and commission digital content across those platforms. It will also increase engagement with audiences and connect artists with services and providers to create, develop and enhance their work. There is a specific focus on developing training and skills development around these platforms.
If that sounds unspecific, that’s because it is. Within those parameters, the digital service could be anything from a new streaming service to an education provider. Wainwright clarifies that it will be “an enabler for all sorts of practitioners for digital ambitions”.
The actual parameters will be defined by Toi ki Tua in “consultation” with the arts sector in 2023. “Toi Ki Tua will engage much more closely with the community as to how it can help companies, collectives and individuals become more competent and comfortable in the digital space,” Wainwright says.
Why is CNZ even doing this?
“The demand for public funding is way above supply and a lot of practitioners are saying that it’s really challenging and they would like the tools to become more self-sufficient,” says Wainwright. “I think most people are saying that we need to have a ‘yes and’ kind of set-up, which is digital plus a live experience. We’ve been much more geared as an ecology towards the latter than the former.”
This sort of investment is not uncommon for CNZ – the Arts Council has established organisations like the Arts Foundation, which specifically enables philanthropic contribution to the arts and Tour-Makers, which supports nationwide touring – to specifically kickstart and build infrastructure around the arts sector. Similar to those, this service would be one that CNZ invests in, but does not run directly.
Where is the money coming from?
The total amount of money that We Are Indigo will receive is $5.3m over four years, from the end of this year until the start of 2027, though the initial term of the contract runs through to June 2024. Of this, $2m comes from Manatū Taonga’s Cultural Sector Capability Fund, which is earmarked for the contract for the years 2022/24. This funding was established in 2020 so that the arts sector could meet the “challenges of a post-Covid-19 environment”. The remaining funds for Creative New Zealand’s investment will be sourced over the duration of the contract.
Crucially: It does not come out of the same pool of money that would fund, say, a show at the Basement, an arts exhibition, or a nationwide Shakespeare festival for high school students.
If there’s not enough public funding for the arts, how will this help?
CNZ has been exploring options for building the digital infrastructure of the arts sector for a few years now, largely spurred on by Covid-19. Many organisations, especially live performance companies, pivoted to digital throughout the pandemic, with varying levels of success, but many have shifted back to “in person” performances since.
The pandemic highlighted for CNZ the necessity for the arts and culture sector to engage with the opportunities that digital technology presents. While Creative New Zealand had invested in several services that served as a boon for live infrastructure, there was no such investment in a digital service.
How did We Are Indigo get awarded the contract?
CNZ opened up a call for “providers” in early March of this year. After 21 providers were whittled down to three, it was decided that We Are Indigo was the frontrunner, based on multiple factors (government model, establishment plan, its knowledge and implementation of Te Tiriti o Waitangi principles, so on and so forth).
In a statement, We Are Indigo said, “Our approach to delivering this solution is unique, in that it takes hold of the opportunity to lead this transformation in a manner which places Te Tiriti o Waitangi, Māori outcomes, and representation for Pacific Peoples and underserved communities, at the heart of our solution.”
After the company was selected by CNZ, what Wainwright calls a “gold standard” due diligence process was taken. This can be read in full on the CNZ website here, but in summary, the organisation was made aware of the reporting on We Are Indigo by several mainstream media outlets. On November 1, 2022 (the same day The Spinoff published Greive’s investigation), the Arts Council asked management to pause the signing of the funding and partnership agreements. After information was provided to the Audit and Risk Committee, it was determined that an “extensive due diligence process” had been undertaken and that the issues raised were “unsubstantiated allegations”.
Wainwright is aware of the reporting, which is why the due diligence process has been “more exhaustive” than its usual approach. “We’ve done all we can, and we’re confident that these are people we want to have a relationship with, and we are,” he says. “In the past, there was some rady-rah over something that went south. In enterprise that’s not totally unusual, I don’t want to comment on why things went south with other people.”
But is it necessary?
Without knowing what the platform is yet, it’s hard to say. One thing is clear: the current funding model is not working, and even people outside the sector are starting to notice. There is also an undeniable accessibility factor that Wainwright points out – a digital service has the potential (read: potential) to allow people who haven’t been able to access arts, due to disability, remoteness or income, to access experiences that are purely live.
“Even though most of the conversation that most people want to have with us is to do with funding, we don’t control the funding levers,” Wainwright says. “We actually need to find some new ways that can shift the dial from participants in the system to, when the system works well, providing new opportunities for creativity to make work, give the new skills to make work and have that work distributed previously both domestically and overseas.”
“Our role really is to invest in the sector and to create value for the sector and the public.”