Funding asked for to keep venue alive

Dunedin Fringe Arts Trust co-directors Katrina Thomson (left) and Ruth Harvey have asked the city...
Dunedin Fringe Arts Trust co-directors Katrina Thomson (left) and Ruth Harvey have asked the city council for $75,000 in funding for their main performance venue. Photo: Gregor Richardson
The team behind the Dunedin Fringe have told the council the arts sector is on "life support" in the city, and funding is desperately needed to keep one of its key venues alive.

At yesterday’s annual plan hearings, Dunedin Fringe intern Brent Caldwell called on the council to provide operational funding to Dunedin Fringe Arts Trust to continue running Te Whare o Rukutia in Princes St until permanent, affordable and sustainable solutions to the city’s performing arts and music venue issues were found.

The trust is asking for $75,000 in operational funding from the council for the next year to keep the venue running.

Trust co-directors Katrina Thomson and Ruth Harvey also spoke at the hearings.

They said they were not taking bookings at Te Whare o Rukutia until the issue was sorted.

They warned the council that without the operational funding support, it could face the same issues as the Fortune Theatre, which closed about six years ago.

"We’re here to say: we need your help.

"We’re putting our hands up to do this work because it’s important."

From May 2022 to January 2024, the trust ran a pilot for the venue in formal partnership with the council.

"The space was originally created to be a temporary venue for professional theatre to help meet the gap left by the closure of the Fortune Theatre.

"However, it’s evolved into a space for rehearsals and residencies, festivals, workshops, live music and all-ages gigs, performance of all types, community events and more."

Mr Caldwell said it was vital funding was provided for the venue for the sustainability of the city’s arts community.

"Think of the arts community as being in hospital on life support, and this venue as its heart."

The trust secured $572,000 from local and national funders to equip the venue, fund artist residencies and provide operational funding for the 20-month pilot.

This was on top of the council’s support.

Mr Caldwell said council support would "ensure our lifeblood will flow while we wait for an artistic transplant as promised in the long-term plan".

The council’s long-term plan had set aside $17m towards researching and establishing a new performing arts venue.

Ms Harvey asked the council to consider transitioning to multi-year, general operating funding for well-established, anchor cultural organisations such as the trust, so as to give them more certainty.

"Without greater investment by the council, the outstanding reputation Ōtepoti Dunedin has enjoyed as a hotbed of creativity will disappear."

When Te Whare o Rukutia was conceived, the goal was for the venue to access Kahikatea funds from Creative New Zealand to support its ongoing operations, Ms Harvey said, but changes to the funding model meant this was not a possibility.

The Covid-19 funding had also wrapped up, she said.

"Dunedin Fringe has invested a lot into Te Whare o Rukutia, as has the council — it’s as good as a retro-fitted space can be. We’re asking the commitment be honoured."

Cr Steve Walker asked whether the threat to Te Whare o Rukutia was a threat to the Dunedin Fringe, which will be celebrating its 25th anniversary next year.

Mr Caldwell said discontinuing the venue would be "akin to flicking off the switch".

"The quality of the performers Dunedin Fringe can attract is often based on the venues we provide.

"If we have Te Whare o Rukutia as the beating heart of the fringe, then we have performers who will come from further north and overseas. It is right in the heart of the city, and first-rate."

Cr Jim O’Malley said one of the council’s challenges was the need for clarity about what the new venue needed to offer.

Mr Caldwell said it was up to the artists to provide that sort of feedback, but Dunedin needed a bespoke venue.

"My two cents is that we have some wonderful little diamonds, and it’s up to the council and the community to polish them."