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Saturday, 24 March 2018 07:18 pm

Arts and culture hit if capital ‘slush fund’ axed, says Foster

Andy FosterScrapping the council’s “slush fund” would deal a blow to Wellington’s arts and culture activity, says a mayoral candidate.

Andy Foster, right, who sits on the Economic Growth and Arts committee administering the fund, made the comments during an interview after a mayoral candidates press conference at Whitireia’s Dixon Street campus.

“The so-called slush fund that’s being talked about, one of the things that that does is support a lot of arts and cultural activity, and so people are promising to get rid of that.

“That doesn’t exactly work terribly well with supporting arts and culture because there are things like the Festival of the Arts gets funded through that fund.”

The festival and World of Wearable Arts are two events supported by the City Growth Fund, which operates on an annual budget of $3 million.  

Foster’s comments echo ones made earlier this month by fellow mayoral candidate and chair of the committee, Jo Coughlan, in response to candidate Nick Leggett’s pledge he would axe the fund if elected mayor.

The council has been criticised for a lack of transparency around spending, and Leggett described the fund as the “textbook definition of a slush fund,” in a article.

“This fund has contributed enormously to the vibrancy, buzz, culture, diversity, identity, and economy of Wellington,” Coughlan told Stuff.

“So if Nick doesn’t want to support festivals, the arts, sports or emerging talent, he should just say so.”

The council supports the city’s arts and culture sector through various funds, grants, schemes and partnerships across its network of portfolios.

For example, Foster chairs the Transport and Urban Development committee which is responsible for earthquake-strengthening Wellington’s heritage buildings, such as the Town Hall.

“Arts and culture funding actually covers a wide range of activities which often people might not think of as being part of arts and culture, and some of that is infrastructure,” Foster said.

The cultural wellbeing section of council’s Annual Reports splits arts and culture spending into seven areas, covering city galleries and museums, visitor attractions, arts and cultural festivals, cultural grants, access and support for community arts, arts partnerships and the Regional Amenities Fund.

According to a draft of the latest annual report, the combined operating net spend across the seven areas in 2016 was $18,367 million.

The net spend for the previous three years was $18,057 million in 2015, $16,378 million in 2014, and $16,823 million in 2013.

Foster said the council needs to continue supporting Wellington’s arts infrastructure of talent, which includes theatres, organisations such as Footnote Dance, the project to bring the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and Victoria University’s music school into the Civic Square area, and investing in earthquake-prone heritage performance venues like the Opera House.

He said some organisations face funding challenges and the council needs to ensure there is  enough money to keep them viable and provide access to venues.

“Obviously these things come at a cost to ratepayers if we do increase the level of subsidy.

“So we’ve got to be pretty careful about how we do that because everybody’s standing up here and saying we want the rates to be less than what we’re currently projecting.

“And yet there’s lots of promises about increases and funding for just about everything under the sun.

“So we do need to make sure we understand what the real needs are.”

That requires continuing the council’s engagement with the city’s arts and culture communities, an arts and culture summit, and renewing the council’s Arts and Culture strategy, according to Foster.

He would like to see more street art, “fun art works” and storytelling in the city centre, and more of the arts and culture in Wellington’s suburbs.

“In short, we are the arts and culture capital.  We need to work very hard to make sure that that continues.”

Five of the six mayoral candidates at the press conference mentioned capitalising on the city’s arts and culture sector when they were asked what they would do as mayor to attract international tourists, who bypass Wellington in favour of the country’s other tourism hotspots.

Voting for this year’s local government election closes on October 8.

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