Creative New Zealand left screeds of Arts Grant applicants disappointed when its latest funding round closed in less than 24 hours last week. What happened?
On Thursday, February 9 at 9am, Creative New Zealand opened applications for the first Arts Grant round of 2023. On Friday at 8am, the organisation announced the funding round had closed.
A funding round closing less than 24 hours after opening is an anomaly, as is the reason why it closed: the maximum number of applications submitted had already been reached. In less than 24 hours, 250 funding applications had been submitted, with more than 150 applications still in draft form on the CNZ site when the round closed.
In a social media post later that day, the organisation acknowledged that “this will be disappointing to those of you who missed out on getting your applications in”.
Hold up, what is an Arts Grant exactly?
An Arts Grant is Creative New Zealand’s most accessible tier of funding. It funds individual artists and arts groups and organisations across a wide range of artforms (excluding film and TV) to an amount between $5,000 and $75,000.
So what’s different this time?
Historically, Arts Grant rounds have been open for three to four weeks. This allows applicants time to put together their funding proposal in CNZ’s web portal, ask advisers questions and, essentially, put more work into an application.
CNZ’s Gretchen La Roche, the senior manager for arts development services, explains why the changes to the application model were made: “It was initially introduced to ensure swifter decision-making timeframes for applicants,” she says. “And also to assure assessors were given adequate time to provide robust assessments of individual applications.”
The cap on applications, however, is not new. In May 2021, CNZ announced that the 2021/22 financial year would have six Arts Grant rounds, each capped at 225 submissions; a total of 1350 applications for the year. This was adjusted in May 2022 last year: the year would have four rounds, each capped at 250 submissions. Under the current model, around 350 fewer applications are processed, a cut of 20% (not counting the roughly 20-40 applications deemed ineligible).
Since this pivot, the Arts Grant funding rounds have closed faster each time. Funding rounds in 2021 closed after several weeks. The first round of the new model closed in nine days. The second in four. The third, this one, in less than 24 hours.
So what happened on Thursday?
The round opened at 9am, as per usual. When a round opens, it means that CNZ opens the web portal for applications to be loaded into the system. While applications can be prepared ahead of time (and most are, as the application requirements are publicly available and don’t change from round to round), they can’t be preloaded or drafted – somebody has to physically put it into the portal when the round opens.
By 1pm, there were 91 submitted applications with 189 in draft form. The demand for funding already exceeded the number of applications CNZ was allowing. By 9pm that day, 217 applications had been submitted, with 157 in draft form. As we now know, by 8am the next morning, the round had closed. Applications that were in draft form were not able to be submitted.
Why did this one close so fast?
A few factors come into play here.
Firstly, there is still not enough money to go around. A recent funding injection of $22m from the Ministry of Culture and Heritage, while definitely a welcome announcement, did not seem targeted to this specific round, or anything specific at all. (More than one commentator has noted the need for a proper arts strategy from MCH, rather than blunt-force funding injections.)
Since October, when CNZ made headlines for not funding a few organisations that had been on recurrent funding, that lack of funds been made abundantly clear. The most recent Arts Grant round was notably populated by organisations and artists who had previously been on the Annual Arts Grant funding stream, signalling a knock-on effect: if you don’t get it in this round, try in the next one. (Creative New Zealand allows for a project to be submitted more than once, contingent on their approval.)
Secondly, it’s the first funding round of the year. La Roche admits the first round of the year traditionally sees high demand, but there’s another factor at play. “Combined with the announcement of additional reprioritised Covid-19 funds, this round attracted considerable attention,” she says. “People were very prepared and had their applications ready to submit as soon as the round opened.”
Is all of this fair?
In a word, no. A funding model where the most prepared and well-resourced have a leg-up is not an equitable one.
Writing a successful funding application draws on a wide range of skills. You need to be able to speak the simultaneously blunt and obtuse language of funding bodies, write a budget, and have the ability to advocate clearly for the importance of your project above all others. While such skills don’t necessarily equate to more worthy creative projects, the process is generally accepted in the creative community as a necessary inconvenience.
I’ve spoken to many in the sector who had their applications for this round ready to go by 9am Thursday morning, anticipating that it might close by the weekend. Those 91 who had submitted their applications by 1pm didn’t start writing them that morning; weeks and months of preparation had gone into them. These were experienced people who knew what hoops they had to jump through. The 189 in draft form probably knew those hoops too. But artists and organisations who were putting together their first-ever application, who didn’t know the ins and outs of the system, simply didn’t stand a chance.
CNZ’s current model, while enabling quicker turnarounds, robust feedback and less stress on the system, rewards those who are most-prepared and well-resourced to write a funding application and completely excludes those who aren’t. That creates a bureaucratic barrier between the people who get to make art in this country and those who don’t.
So will the next round be the same?
In its social media post on Friday, CNZ said that “long term change” to arts funding is underway. La Roche noted that the future of the Arts Grant framework will be part of that work, but CNZ also has a short term plan:
“We’re looking at ways we can accept more applications into the next Arts Grant round in April. We will be able to provide more information about this in the coming week.”