Savage cuts to Christchurch Art Gallery funding

NO MORE OUTER SPACES: A statue by artist Ronnie van Hout is erected on the roof of C1 Cafe.
John Kirk-Anderson

NO MORE OUTER SPACES: A statue by artist Ronnie van Hout is erected on the roof of C1 Cafe.

The Christchurch Art Gallery's fund for purchasing artworks will be cut by more than two thirds under wide-ranging budget cuts proposed for the arts.

The cuts mean the gallery's art buying fund will fall from $250,000 a year to $80,000 a year, making it one of the most poorly funded art collections in the country.

It has to trim 6 per cent from its budget over the next three financial years as part of operational spending cuts proposed in the Christchurch City Council's draft long-term plan.

Under the cuts, the gallery would host about 12 exhibitions a year compared to about 18 before the 2011 earthquakes, reopen later this year without some hoped-for building improvements, and not replace some staff cut after the earthquakes.

Gallery director Jenny Harper said the cuts would mean more reliance on external fundraising.

"Everyone knows that $80,000 doesn't buy you much, even from younger and less established artists.

"It is fair to say that this is a city with multiple priorities. We will still be able to buy a few things and we will still be able to receive gifts and fundraise. We will be increasingly reliant on community funding to build the collection."

With a full plate ahead of its reopening, "you have to live with it", she said.

Harper said the collection was "at the heart of what we do", but would suffer under the cuts.

"To build a collection you need consistency and you need to be able to build it up over time with confidence.

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"Just as libraries are needed to extend the literacy of communities, we are needed to extend the visual literacy. A lot of people learn through looking."

Christchurch Art Gallery would have one of the smallest acquisition funds in New Zealand if the cuts are approved. Auckland Art Gallery has an acquisition fund of about $300,000 a year, Dunedin Public Art Gallery has $50,000 a year and Te Papa has about $1.3 million for art a year.

Auckland and Dunedin art galleries also have access to long- standing bequests and reserves for the development of their collections.

The Challenge Grant, where council matches funds raised by the gallery's foundation up to $220,000 a year, will remain.

Arts Voice chairman Warren Feeney said the funding cut harmed the city's cultural scene.

"That collection, over the last 10 years, has been significantly developed. It is a collection that needs building up.

"This kneecaps that ongoing process, which is really unfortunate."

It undermined the quality of the collection because "that opportunity to grow it and and buy historical works is lost".

The long-term plan is open for feedback until April 28.

ARTS CUTS LEAVE CITY A 'CULTURAL WASTELAND'

Proposed arts funding cuts will hamper regeneration of central Christchurch and make the city feel like a "cultural wasteland", arts advocates say.

Cuts proposed in the Christchurch City Council's draft annual plan will mean fewer exhibitions, less public art, scaled down events and festivals, and a 68 per cent drop in public funding to buy artworks for the city's collection. The cuts will also mean more arts organisations will be competing for less money and will have to rely on public fundraising campaigns.

The cuts will impact on the range and quality of arts in Christchurch, according to Arts Voice chairman Warren Feeney.

"It is a real worry that events will have to sustain themselves. It will be challenging for all of them," he says.

"They will all have to downsize and there is a point when quality is threatened."

Feeney believes the funding cuts will slow the rebuild.

"Festivals and events are the best way to generate activity in the city centre. By cutting them you slow down the regeneration of the city. This enhances the idea of a potential cultural wasteland rather than alleviates the sense of that."

The council's community grants and events funds have both been suspended until the long-term plan is finalised.

Under the proposed budget cuts, the community grants fund would be cut from about $8 million in 2014/15 to $7.4m in 2017/18. The grants help fund organisations like the Court Theatre, the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, New Zealand Opera and musical theatre company Showbiz.

The events and festivals fund would be cut from about $8.3 million in 2014/15 to $6.6m in 2017/18. Christchurch festival organisers have already experienced grant cuts from the fund. The Scape Public Art event had its council funding cut by $20,000, the Body Festival had its funding cut in half to $20,000 and World Buskers Festival funding went from $230,000 to $195,000.

Funding will also get tighter once emergency funds established after the earthquakes are expended, according to a council report on public grants.

"It is anticipated that the oversubscription of funding requests will continue to rise once the full effect of earthquake specific funds are withdrawn or are closed as a result of being fully expended," it states.

Christchurch Arts Festival director Craig Cooper says funding was already competitive.

"The constant message we are getting is there is a lot more pressure on funds. As a result they are spreading the same amount of money much more thinly. That is having an impact.

"National funders look to regional funding decisions. A reduction in that kind of funding can have a flow on affect to national funders. It is not just a regional matter."

Council director of community and democracy services, Mary Richardson, commented in a written statement: "The Council remains committed to supporting the not-for-profit sector and the community arts and events sector as we recognise the importance strong social infrastructure and culture has for residents and visitors to our city."

FUNDRAISING CHALLENGES IN CHRISTCHURCH

Fundraising is challenging in Christchurch because many new arts organisations have emerged since the quakes.

New events like the Festival of Transitional Architecture and the Oi You! street art events have successfully attracted funding and made the arts scene more competitive.

Christchurch Art Gallery director Jenny Harper says institutions have struggled in post-quake Christchurch.

"The unfortunate side effect of this is a number of us are competing for similar amounts of money among the same people.

"Arts are used to being at the bottom of the heap, but it doesn't feel good to be constantly bidding with the same people for money and competing with each other."

The Christchurch Art Gallery has to cut 6 per cent from its budget over the next three years, while the gallery's acquisition budget for the city's collection will be cut from $250,000 a year to $80,000 a year.

The budget cuts mean the gallery will only be able to host about 12 exhibitions a year, compared to around 18 before the 2011 earthquakes, and will not replace some staff cut after the earthquakes.

Significantly, the gallery will also drop its Outer Spaces programme of public art so the money can be used for exhibitions in the reopened gallery. The Outer Spaces programme commissioned Ronnie van Hout's Comin' Down statue on top of the Alices building and Gregor Kregar's large, reflective gnomes outside the gallery.

Funding for the public art advisory group, which commissions new public sculptures in the city like Julia Morison's Treehouses for Swamp Dwellers, will be cut from about $296,000 to $225,000.

GALLERY HOPING FOR DECEMBER REOPENING

The budget cuts also mean the gallery will reopen later this year without hoped for improvements, like a revamped forecourt, making the library more public and new auditorium seating. Although the building is being base-isolated to protect the collection.

The gallery has been closed since the 2011 earthquakes and is scheduled to reopen in December this year.

Harper says the cuts will mean the gallery will do less.

"Inevitably this means cutting our levels of service," she says.

"This means I will have an increasing emphasis on external fundraising. It pushes us all into that role."

The Christchurch Art Gallery Foundation launched a campaign last year to raise $5m to invest for the collection over five years.

Councillors and council staff appear reluctant to talk about the reasons for the funding cuts. Council finance spokesman Cr Raf Manji declined to comment.

Council communications staff were unable to find an employee who could talk publicly about the cuts.

A written statement from council general manager for culture, leisure and parks, Michael Aitken, read:

"Due to the council's financial situation, all departments were asked to go through their budgets and trim wherever possible. These changes have been reflected in the draft 2015 long term plan.

"We are encouraging people to have their say on the [plan] and provide feedback on the proposals."

The cuts are open for public feedback until April 28.

 - The Press

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