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All the world’s a stage upon which we can get played (Image: CC BY-NC 2.0)
All the world’s a stage upon which we can get played (Image: CC BY-NC 2.0)

The BulletinOctober 20, 2022

The battle that was not for the Bard at all

All the world’s a stage upon which we can get played (Image: CC BY-NC 2.0)
All the world’s a stage upon which we can get played (Image: CC BY-NC 2.0)

A frenzy over an arts funding decision reached fever pitch this week. The upside? We did, in the end, get some nuanced coverage of arts funding issues in New Zealand, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in this excerpt from The Bulletin. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday morning, sign up here.


Double, double, toil and trouble – from funding decision to full blown frenzy

I participated in the Sheilah Winn Shakespeare festival back in ancient times. I had one word as Lady Capulet – a trilled and loud “Juliiieeet”. I delivered it with such aplomb, I was commended above everyone else who had roles more fundamental to the scene being performed. I pulled focus and it’s a convenient analogy for what’s happened over the last week in relation to the funding decision made by Creative New Zealand about the Shakespeare Globe Centre New Zealand (SGCNZ). I once again commend Sam Brooks’s forensic examination of how things got overblown – beyond the facts and amplified by the way it was framed in the media.

Is not the truth the truth?

In the interests of clarity, CNZ declined an application for $31k from SGCNZ to fund an executive assistant and succession planning, as confirmed by CEO, Dawn Sanders. Also confirmed was the fact that the Sheilah Winn Festival, which SGCNZ is most known for, would continue despite not receiving that funding. CNZ did not “cancel Shakespeare”. Brooks writes that the media stumbled in multiple ways including by framing this as a debate about cancel culture. Hayden Donnell looked into the coverage for RNZ’s Mediawatch last night. Donnell said he thinks the thing really driving a lot of the coverage was “the almost irresistible culture war narrative”.

If money go before, all ways do lie open

Writing for Stuff, James Wenley said the focus on the one funding decision masked a broader issue – that of arts funding in New Zealand. In his book Yes, Minister, former arts minister Chris Finlayson wrote “the primary responsibility of a National minister for arts, culture and heritage is to keep the luvvies at bay and stop them complaining.” Arts and culture policy is never going to be a big election platform but CNZ has repeatedly warned it has a limited amount of money to invest at the moment. CNZ is largely funded via the Lotteries Commission meaning the amount fluctuates each year. The government contributes a small amount. As Wenley writes, in 2006/2007 the crown gave $15.45m to CNZ ($21.56m in today’s dollars). CNZ only received $16.68m in baseline funding in the 2022 budget.

All’s well that ends well?

In the end the prime minister intervened on the SGCNZ issue and the Ministry of Education will provide the funding not provided by CNZ. While SGCNZ got its money, it’s a short term solution amid longer term funding issues within the arts. All and all, it’s been a reminder to be on guard about the lure of populist narratives. That it’s been covered by The Bulletin, Mediawatch, the Herald’s Front Page and the RNZ/Newsroom podcast The Detail in the last 24 hours does say something good about the media’s capacity to recalibrate and reflect. As the man himself said “Oppose not rage while rage is in its force, but give it way a while and let it waste.”

Keep going!