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Will arts, culture, entertainment miss Clark’s support?

Nov 11th, 2008 | By | Category: Featured Article, News

Outgoing PM Helen Clark was an ardent supporter of the arts. As John Key’s razor gang gets set to move in for the kill, REESH LYON looks at what her relegation to the opposition benches might mean for the Arts, Culture and Heritage sector:

New Zealand’s new leader John Key has promised to cut government spending – which could see the end to the high-level support the arts sector received under Helen Clark.

The Ministry for Culture and Heritage was established in 2000 – shortly after Miss Clark’s Labour party came to power – with Miss Clark taking personal control of the portfolio.

In April, 2000, she announced millions of dollars of funding for the arts, heritage and culture sector, starting a trend that continued during Labour’s nine years in office.

As recently as last week, Labour reaffirmed its commitment to the arts sector.

 “Our arts, cultural and heritage organisations have thrived as a result of the increased investment under Labour, with funding for the sector, including broadcasting, increasing from $97 million in 1999 to $286 million in 2008,” Miss Clark said in a press release on November 6.

“Labour will continue to increase the level of funding and support for arts, culture and heritage, and provide Prime Ministerial leadership to the portfolio.”

However, with National ousting Miss Clark’s party from power, John Key’s earlier pledge to cut government spending could see the arts sector targeted.

Mr Key has previously said he plans a “Cabinet Expenditure Control Committee” (dubbed a “razor gang” by the media) to be established, with departmental chiefs required to review their spending “line-by-line.” It has been suggested Mr Key would head the committee himself.

Prior to the current global economic crisis, National spokesman for arts, culture and heritage Chris Finlayson said he understood people held concerns about National’s commitment to the sector, but assured them the party would not be cutting funding.

“I am pleased to announce today that the next National government will be maintaining funding to this vibrant, creative, and dynamic sector at least at current levels.

“While in these tighter economic times it is not appropriate to significantly grow funding, it would also be counter-productive to reduce funding.”

As an example of specific policy, National has pledged to retain the Pathways to Artists and Cultural Employment scheme – commonly referred to as the artist’s benefit.

This is a turnaround for the party – before the 2005 election, then-leader Don Brash rubbished the scheme, saying: “Ambition is one thing, fantasy is another…this programme will go under a National government.”

However, National’s policy announcements regarding preservation of arts funding were made before to the global economic crisis added fiscal pressure on the incoming government.

Just before the election, John Key said: “There is very little room for new spending. The next government will have to work extremely hard to make the most out of every dollar.”

Earlier this week the New Zealand Herald reported Mr Key was confident he would keep National’s election promises, “despite deterioration in the Government’s books as the global financial crisis spread”.

The Herald also said Mr Key would “also want to look at the Government’s books… the so-called ‘razor gang’ could also be busy in the next few weeks, going through Government spending.”

What this poring of the books will mean for specific ministries is unclear, but the Ministry of Culture and Heritage certainly receives a significant amount of government spending at present.

Miss Clark is well known for her passion for the arts, and as prime minister and minister of culture and heritage took personal pride in building New Zealand’s reputation in this area.

As Scoop politcal editor Gordon Campbell noted: “Artistic achievement is a marker of national identity fully comparable to economic, military or scientific achievement.

“Certainly Helen Clark has played that card, by making her government such a visible and substantial patron of the arts, of all kinds, old and new.”

After losing the general election at the weekend, Miss Clark – in a statement that could be appropriated to the arts sector – said she was fearful the incoming government would undo what Labour had built over the past nine years.

“I just utter one fear, and that is that I do hope that all we have put in place doesn’t go up in flames on the bonfire of right-wing politics.”

While it appears National plans to retain the current level of arts funding, a prime minister in charge of a razor gang committee will be a stark contrast one who made such strong commitment to New Zealand arts.

PICTURE: Helen Clark and Artist Matt Gauldie observing unknown soldier painting – April 2005.

FOOTNOTE: The Ministry of Culture and Heritage funds the following agencies:

Arts and Film
• Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa (Creative New Zealand)
• New Zealand Film Commission
• New Zealand Music Commission
• New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
• Royal New Zealand Ballet
• Te Matatini Society Inc.
• NZ Film Archive
Sport and Recreation
• Drug Free Sport New Zealand
• Sport and Recreation New Zealand (SPARC) 
Public Broadcasting
• Broadcasting Commission (NZ On Air)
• Broadcasting Standards Authority
• National Pacific Radio Trust
• Radio New Zealand International
• Television New Zealand Limited
• Antarctic Heritage Trust
• Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (Te Papa)
• New Zealand Film Archive
• New Zealand Historic Places Trust
• Pukaki Trust
• Te Maori Manaaki Taonga Trust

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  1. […] November 12, 2008 · No Comments DISCLAIMER: The following is an abridged version of a story I recently wrote for NewsWire. To read the full version in its original context, follow this link. […]

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