What does it mean for funders of innovation in arts and culture? - Te Taumata Toi-a-Iwi

What does it mean for funders of innovation in arts and culture?

What does it mean for funders of innovation in arts and culture?

This is the fifth article in a series: The Future Emerging: Innovation in Arts and Culture in Aotearoa. You can start the series here.

In this series we have explored the future we want to create, how and where we can innovate, and what is needed from us to step forward and create that future. This final piece considers what this means for funders of innovation in arts and culture in Aotearoa. There are six provocations to funders in how they support innovation.

1. Innovate with the sector

2. Value and embrace Mātauranga Māori

3. Invest for the future

4. Embrace the boring revolution

5. Do the hard work of coordinating, so creatives don’t have to

6. Give degrees of freedom

1. Innovate with the sector

Funders are a vital part of the system. The values, behaviours and actions of funders have intended and unintended consequences for the sector’s ability to innovate. How might funders innovate alongside stakeholders to unlock potential?

This means developing the same mindsets and behaviours for experimentation as we advocate for the creative sector, including an appetite for risk. Simple changes, such as rewarding brave action and quality of learning over quantitative results could have significant downstream effects by removing the fear of negative consequences for productive failure.

2. Value and embrace Mātauranga Māori

Look to Mātauranga Māori frameworks in the design of funding programmes. Going beyond funding Mātauranga Māori to adopting Māori values and principles in the design of ‘how’ the fund is designed and operates. Genuine co-design of funding programmes with Māori creatives, producers and managers – from kaupapa to tikanga – will create new approaches to funding and produce outcomes not yet seen in Aotearoa. This is about authentic engagement with Mātauranga Māori and exploring the intersection and conflicts with Western organised systems. What Chellie Spiller calls the ‘interspace’[1].

3. Invest for the future

Invest in the sector’s ability to innovate as a strategic, long-term endeavour. Consider a 10-or 25-year strategy for creating a dynamic creative sector that has the connectivity, capability, assets and mindsets to continually generate, test and scale new developments – ensuring that they are rewarded for doing so.

For example, adopting new technologies. This is now an ongoing fact of life for all sectors rather than a point of evolution. Technologies, and their potential, will continue to develop at pace. How might funders support this in the long-term rather than supporting isolated projects? What platforms, agencies, or shared investments might accelerate this process in future? What can we learn and adapt from other sectors that have long-term strategies to develop innovation clusters?

Don’t innovate the product; innovate the factory.
– David Burkus

Where innovation funds support project-based initiatives, there needs to be early consideration of (1) the length of time and resource that may be needed to fully test, iterate and develop, and (2) the scaling or diffusion of tested innovations. Without these steps, there will be a continual cycle of investment in novel ideas, that are not sufficiently supported to then become transformational. Funders can assist by supporting innovations through a journey from initiation to iteration. To create a supportive pathway for these projects to shift, grow and make progress over time rather than focus solely on the ‘new’.

4. Embrace the boring revolution

Explore the powerful potential of a ‘boring revolution’ by shifting focus from start-ups and innovation projects, to more fundamental and lasting change – innovating the role and execution of regulation, institutions, administration and governance. What are the high leverage shifts that could free up creative capacity for example more efficient or shared productions and administration? Could a ‘sandbox’ be created to experiment with policy or regulation to create a more enabling environment? A regulatory sandbox enables innovators to conduct live experiments in a controlled environment under a regulator’s supervision.

5. Do the hard work of coordinating, so creatives don’t have to

It can be hard to align project funding. As the norm, creatives have to source and manage multiple funders for each production. It is time consuming and it takes away creative capacity.

Innovation funding can be even more tricky. Funds are sporadic, time bound, and can lack in alignment with other funding streams. It takes time to realise potential. It requires patience with a focus on continuing learning cycles, and cycles of investment.

Before Covid-19, it took an average of about 10 years to develop a completely new vaccine. For research scientists these years were punctuated by long periods where they sought funding and following a protracted process for approval. What has happened in the last year has shown that this length of time was a design flaw, not a necessity. How might funders in arts and culture learn from this and pave a way for innovators such as aligning interests, efforts or funding criteria?

The research shows that where short-term success is prioritised it’s much less likely that complex and unusual outputs will develop and be recognised as significant innovations2. How might innovation funding stimulate and support unusual developments that embrace complexity and generate more significant shifts instead of short-term solutions?

6. Give degrees of freedom

Who is driving the agenda? How much autonomy do practitioners have to determine their priorities and the standards for the sector?

“Funding determines practice in terms of shape and form of art, and that’s a kind of a cancer for me. It shouldn’t be driven through funding.”
– Karl Johnstone

Slack in the system

Research shows that organisations that consistently innovate have ‘slack’; a cushion of actual or potential resources – time, people, money – which allow an organisation to adapt successfully in response to internal or external drivers for change[3]. It’s a capacity that needs to exist over the long-term to ensure innovation can occur. How might we ensure that organisations have the ‘slack’ that’s needed over the long term to effectively innovate as the norm?


It is also important to consider how centralised or decentralised decision-making is in allocating resources. When the authority for access to resource is highly concentrated – by a small group of organisations or non-practitioners – there is less potential for more widespread shifts in dominant problems, approaches and priorities[4]. This is especially true when competition for resources and rewards is intense.

Practitioners need the autonomy to determine priorities; important problems to be solved; set standards of practice, and determine how resources are allocated. It is vital to having a sector that can push new boundaries[5].

“This dependency (on funders) means organisations are pitted against one another for inadequate sums of money, despite the popular rhetoric that we need partnerships to thrive.” Rosabel Tan


Beyond setting the agenda, practitioners need resource and time to gain new knowledge, skills and competencies. This requires space from ‘critical tasks’ that are necessary just to keep the work going. Yet most funding requires a commitment to more work and delivery. What if funding freed people from deliverables in favour of space to connect and learn from diverse spaces and industries? The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship, that focuses on learning as an outcome, is one example of this.


Funding calls can stimulate new initiatives and ideas that displace ongoing work programmes as creatives turn their attention to securing much needed additional resources. How might funders support creatives to amplify their current creative offers to be more sustainable in both creative and business terms?

How might we ensure that practitioners have the autonomy to dream of new horizons, set the direction and participate in resource allocation to enable greater diversity of thought and action. How might authentic co-design processes distribute power?

Moving forward

Below we have summarised the shifts that could transform how funders approach innovation in arts and culture in Aotearoa.

In this last essay in the series The Future Emerging we have offered six provocations to funders to consider their role in innovation in arts and culture in Aotearoa. The series is intended as an exploration – a provocation – to start a dialogue about innovation in arts and culture in Aotearoa: it contains as many questions as insights.

We invite you to share with Te Taumata Toi-a-Iwi what resonates, what’s missing, or any alternative perspectives that can enrich our understanding and action. We intend to collate, digest, and share the responses as the start of a dialogue on innovation in arts and culture, and how we shape the future emerging. You can do that by emailing info@tetaumatatoiaiwi.org.nz 

Start at the very beginning – article 1: The Future Emerging: Innovation in Arts and Culture in Aotearoa

For full download of Innovation in Arts and Culture in Aotearoa please click here.

This series was written in collaboration by Shona McElroy, Eynon Delamere, Jane Yonge, and Chantelle Whaiapu.


[1] Spiller, C. (2021) ‘Wayfinding Odyssey into the Interspace’ in Ngā Kete Mātauranga: Māori Scholars at the Research Interface edited by Ruru, J. and Nikora, L., W.. ( Otago University Press), 170.

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/dec/08/how-has-a-covid-vaccine-been-developed-so-quickly

[3] Richtnér , A., Åhlström , P., (2006) Influences On Organisational Slack In New Product Development Projects. International Journal of Innovation Management Vol. 10, No. 4 pp. 375–406

[4] & [5] Whitley, Richard & Glaser, Jochen. (2019). Changing Conditions for Innovation in Different Arts and Science.