Yesterday we got another harsh reminder that New Zealand is certainly not in the midst of a ‘golden age’ for the arts, as the Minister infamously claimed earlier this year. Downstage theatre, New Zealand’s oldest running professional theatre company, was forced to close after 49 years. The hard decision was made by their board on the news that Creative New Zealand would not be funding the theatre next year.
Downstage theatre is more than a theatre. It’s an extended family and an incubator for many aspects of the dramatic arts. Wellington and the arts sector deserves so much better.
Creative NZ is the national arts development agency, charged with investing in and advocating for the arts. The funding from Creative NZ made up 26% of their annual budget, so without this steady funding Downstage was forced to admit they couldn’t continue.
Creative NZ’s decision to pull the funding is devastating for the theatre community in New Zealand. Places like Downstage are a huge asset to the community, and they shouldn’t be forced to rely on ordinary New Zealanders to fund projects – philantropy can never replace sufficient government support for the arts.
The arts community deserves to be supported and valued, and recognised for the worthwhile contribution they make to New Zealand’s social, cultural and economic wellbeing.