Where do we want to play, and to innovate? - Te Taumata Toi-a-Iwi

Where do we want to play, and to innovate?

Where do we want to play, and to innovate?

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

Creatives employ a constant flow of creation and exploration. A natural process of innovation. They also exist in a system. An ecology. A complex interaction of people, organisations, artistic forms, relationships, resources and knowledge flows.

When looking to innovation as a source of potential for transformation in the arts and culture sector all parts of the ecology should be considered, and involved. Importantly, this includes the values and beliefs which inform our actions, and interactions. What values are upheld? Where does power reside? These are the most fundamental and potentially transformational, but arguably hardest to change.

This article explores the spaces of potential for innovation. It offers questions to stimulate thinking as a stepping-off point for a journey into innovation.

The model below shows the interconnection between different elements of the arts and culture creation. The kaupapa guides decisions about the artform or artifact, the audience and their experience. They are intertwined and influence each other.

They are also part of a wider whole. The way that creators, producers, administrators and managers are organised, and the environment in which they work, is what makes bold things possible. At each level the values and beliefs inform each and every decision and action, whether they are explicit or remain unsaid.

… the worldview that underpins our sector is utterly crucial to thoughtful change. These values are so often invisible, but they shape our entire world. They determine which art forms are considered more valuable, for example, or how our limited resources are distributed, or how we even conceive of leadership and hierarchy. – Rosabel Tan


A strong kaupapa is the most important foundation for innovation – without it there is no benchmark for whether innovation has brought us closer, or further away, from our intent. In the first essay in the series The Future Emerging we introduced this within a Mātauranga Māori framework. It has very real and practical implications.

For example, an organisation may consider the purpose of innovation to be increased income. The underlying motivation being to increase organisational stability and stop the chase for fragmented project funding; ultimately to free up creative resource to make more independent work sustainably.

In this case, new commercial activity may actually take the organisation further away from its purpose. New venture creation can reduce organisational stability. Introducing new projects can stretch capacity and distract from, rather than amplify, the current work of the organisation or practitioner. Innovation ‘funds’ with time bound entry points can have the impact of increasing this stretch where it stimulates additional work that has not been considered and designed to carefully align to purpose.

In this example, ‘greater income generation’ is the wrong expression of the kaupapa. Rather, they seek greater stable resource for independent creative expression. This reframing can unlock alternative ways to look at the problem and the source of possible solutions. For instance, how might we reduce the administrative and production burden on creatives? How might we fund shared resources across the sector to reduce replication of administrative functions? The solutions here may lay in systems change instead of product or service innovation.

This shows the importance of defining the real problem to be solved before exploring the landscape of possible solutions. Done well, it can be the catalyst to bring in diverse perspectives and skills through new partnerships. It’s an activity that needs to be given time and supported.


Artform development is perhaps the most highly recognisable and intuitive form of innovation by creatives. It includes exploration and ingenuity in content, form, and quality of artistic expression. It can include innovation that combines different artforms (interdisciplinarity) or the interaction with the audience during the performance (interactivity).

Funding for the artwork itself is reasonably commonplace, however it is important to consider what conditions are needed to enable greater speed, and quality, of artistic development. What acts as a barrier now? For example, there is often a need to bring in multiple funders for an artistic endeavour by design – such as co-funding requirement. But this presents challenges for creatives. To convince multiple funders of artistic merit can be a challenge. The criteria, and evaluation, vary. And without alignment between these funds, the ambition for innovation in artwork can be compromised.

Exploratory questions:

  • What conditions are needed to enable greater speed, and quality, of artistic development?
  • What are the barriers now?
  • How should decisions about artistic development be made, and by whom?


Audience Innovation is a part of a broader discussion about inclusion in arts and culture. It is a vital conversation about who art is made by and for. It is beyond the scope of this article to do the topic justice.

However, it is useful to acknowledge that in some circumstances there is a tension between the goal of audience diversification and financial sustainability. As Rosabel Tan says: “The easiest trap we fall into is privileging audiences who have more disposable income. That’s how we survive. But it’s also how we become a reflection, rather than a rejection, of society’s inequalities.”

If new audiences are a priority, how will you innovate with them. It is essential to get close. To move past a transactional relationship. What are their experiences of, and relationship with, the arts? Do they see themselves, their stories, reflected? How can we design experiences that engage them in a way that fits their lives, motivations and aspirations?

“The day has come when it’s not acceptable for people to claim to be making art for a national audience if they’re just looking out the window and not thinking about the whole country,” – Paula Morris (Ngāti Wai, Ngāti Manuhiri, Ngāti Whātua).

This applies equally to communities of practices that don’t directly interact with a public audience. These following questions can be as useful to those whose ‘audiences’ are other organisations or practitioners in the sector.

Exploratory questions:

  • How well do we understand our audience/s?
  • Who are they and why do/did they come to us?
  • Who is not in the room that is essential to our kaupapa?
  • Which audiences are a priority for us?
  • How will we explore the potential of new audiences? 

Audience Experience

Experience can be thought of as the culmination of all the interactions that an audience member has with an organisation. It extends beyond the interaction with the artform to the interaction with the organisation before, during and after the engagement. This can be fleeting, or enduring.

Innovation here creates new knowledge about how audiences encounter, value and experience quality in the arts[1].

Experiments should be aligned to the kaupapa with a specific audience or group of audiences in mind. Getting close to, understanding, and empathising with audience members can provide new insight about what is important to them, and how to engage them. Innovations may be narrow, such as new marketing channels, or more substantive such as co-created performances, radically different venues, and experiments in the product, membership and service offer. Innovators need to sense what is coming next and how other sectors are evolving.

“Why should people think we are relevant in their lives? It’s not just about attracting people to come into our theatres, it’s about what kinds of sustainable relationships we want to have with them. They are part of our society, they are part of our city.” — Kee Hong Low, Director of Programs (Theatre) at West Kowloon Cultural District Hong Kong

Exploratory questions:

  • What is the quality of our relationship with our audiences?
  • How might we re-imagine this relationship and the experience?
  • How might we use human-centred and co-design practices to better understand audience motives, hopes and preferences to engage them better[3]?
  • What practices are other sectors trialling that may be adapted or combined?
  • What do emerging technologies make possible?


The way we organise can have a significant impact on the outcomes of the work. It comes from challenging the underlying assumptions about how an organisation works and the culture we create. Significant changes can happen by innovating at the level of leadership and governance because it can cause a ripple effect. It can influence the values, culture, direction, and decision-making within organisations, whether they are formal or informal. How might new perspectives and thinking be brought in, and empowered, in this context? For example, decolonising practices.

Value is created through networks, collaborations, income and profit generation, management and operations. These are influenced by how the organisation is lead, and by whom. Indeed, innovation culture itself is a factor of this leadership. Each of these areas hold rich potential for innovation.

One of the other significant opportunities for transformation is business models. How income and profit are generated will have a significant impact on whether the organisation is free to authentically follow its kaupapa and what compromises are needed to satisfy commercial or funding imperatives. Different models require different capacities and compromises. What is optimal for an organisation will depend on its context and kaupapa.

Business model innovation is hard work, and requires disciplined identification of opportunities, small tests, learning and iteration. This is a continuous endeavour, not a one-off activity. It takes strategy and evaluation that address big questions about optimal scale for sustainability, the blend of commercial, public, and philanthropic customers, and whether partnerships and mergers should all be considered.

“This is a time for reworking our funding models and how we think about revenue streams.”
— Cat Ruka, Artistic Director of Tempo Dance Festival

Exploratory questions:

  • How might we radically change our leadership and governance to better serve our kaupapa?
  • How can we authentically diversify the people and perspectives around the leadership table, and empower and resource these voices to shape direction?
  • How might we curate and strengthen our networks, connections, and relationships within, and between sectors?
  • What practices, operations and systems are not serving us well? How might we reinvent them?What business model innovations are other sectors trialling that may be adapted or combined?
  • How will we invest in, and build our capacity for, innovation for greater organisational resilience?


Perhaps least considered, but with great potential, is innovation in the environment. It can have the greatest transformative effect on the health and wellbeing of the people and organisations in the creative sector, and subsequently the outcomes they deliver for the cultural, social, and economic wellbeing of Aotearoa.

Investment in innovative projects helps individual organisations or collaboratives to make strides. Investment in action for a more enabling environment for innovation can benefit all organisations, and lead to greater innovation, resilience, and sustainability in the sector as a whole.

The environmental factors that impact the sector include national and regional strategy and policy; funding flows; explicit and implicit incentives (e.g., competition, criticism and external perceptions of failure); networks and advocacy; learning and flow of knowledge; the wider arts ecology (e.g. critics, educators, the public programmers, marketers); and infrastructure such as assets, international festival and prizes that connect and celebrate Aotearoa’s unique arts offerings.

Innovation in the environment can have significant downstream effects. While there remains a high degree of uncertainty about when and how a ‘new normal’ will emerge in Aotearoa, experimentation now could pave the way for more significant shifts as this new reality sets in, i.e. co-design of policy for innovation or collaboration by funders to experiment with new ways to manage or distribute arts and culture funding.

“We need to, as a sector, figure out how we align with each other and where we sit in relation to each other, where we are similar, where we are different.  Often our sector is pitted against each other in competitive funding models, which doesn't encourage us to share knowledge and resources… this is not a pathway to healthy organisations.”
— Jo Randerson, writer and Artistic Director of Barbarian Productions

By recognising their place in the system, agencies and funders can unlock potential to innovation with the sector. By adopting the same innovative and agile methods these agencies and funders can build stronger, more dynamic relationships with the sector, and respond more readily to their needs as they innovate forward.

Exploratory questions:

  • How might we radically change the arts and culture environment in Aotearoa to enable more innovation, sustainability and resilience?
  • How might agencies, funders and other stakeholders innovate with creatives?
  • How might we build stronger relationships, feedback loops, and responses when barriers to innovation are encountered.

Moving forward

We have explored the ‘where we wish to play, and to innovate’ and looked at the scope for transformation arts and culture organisations and the sector more broadly. The aim has been to provoke thinking by posing questions for exploration and dreaming.

Innovation in kaupapa, artform, audience and experience is interconnected. At the level of environment or the organisation can have a ripple effect that moves through the whole sector, and ultimately impact the quality of the artform, and the wellbeing of the people that create it. For change at this scale, all of the parts of the system need to innovate and learn together.

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

A summary - where to innovate?

We have prepared a summary of these provocations for use with teams, whether they are in arts and culture organisations, or funders.
Download here.

Read the next in the series article 4: Enablers for innovation.

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] Walmsley, B and Franks, A (2011) The audience experience: changing roles and relationships. In: Walmsley, B, (ed.) Key Issues in the Arts and Entertainment Industry. Goodfellow.

[2] Walmsley, B and Franks, A (2011) “The audience experience: changing roles and relationships”. In: Walmsley, B, (ed.) Key Issues in the Arts and Entertainment Industry. Goodfellow.

[3] Hoty, D., Sutton R., (2016) “What Design Thinking Is Doing for the San Francisco Opera”. HBR. Accessed March 2020: https://hbr.org/2016/06/what-design-thinking-is-doing-for-the-san-francisco-opera