The Government must pull the plug on the Ministry for Culture and Heritage's $60 million COVID "Innovation Fund" as it continues to grant taxpayer funding to bizarre projects, says the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.
So far, 105 projects have received $15.9 million from the fund. Since the Taxpayers' Union's last update on the fund, new questionable grants include:
• $700,000 on a "digital storytelling experience" about the Manawatū River
• $321,740 to tell the story of the Grey River using virtual reality
• $20,000 on a business plan for Tongan mat-weaving
• $250,000 on an online children's game about an albatross
• $900,000 on an arts strategy for Christchurch
• $20,000 on a children's book that requires the reader to install an app
• $248,460 on traditional Māori painting
Common themes in the funded initiatives include virtual reality, storytelling, digital installations beside rivers, and bespoke IT projects.
Needless to say, none of these projects have any relevance to COVID-19, despite the money coming from Grant Robertson's rapidly-dwindling pandemic fund. The spending decisions are almost funny until you remember that every dollar spent on "digital storytelling" is a dollar that could have been spent bolstering our health system, or returned to a struggling taxpayer.
The fund's basic "seed funding" grants are all set at $20,000, with no apparent regard for whether the project justifies the full sum. Regardless, the sheer quantity and variety of projects funded means there is little realistic possibility for follow-up analysis to ensure each project delivers value for taxpayers.
Incredibly, there is still another $44 million to be spent from the fund, and it already seems the Ministry has run out of worthwhile projects to bankroll. It's only a matter of time before taxpayers are literally funding underwater basket weaving.
Below is a longer list of project descriptions from successful grant applicants.
To scope and test a new interactive social gaming experience meant to democratize content creation and e-sports, increasing commercial opportunities, sector sustainability and improving access and participation
Co-funding for the initial stages of Toi Ōtautahi, the Christchurch arts strategy. Work includes mentoring, commissioning, professional development, and creative practice platforms for artists. The project will support artists and improve access to the arts for people of Waitaha Canterbury.
To develop an accessible online game, Toroa, that gives tamariki and rangatahi an experience to fly as Toroa on its journey from the Pacific Ocean back to its home on Taiaroa head. It will explore the themes of whakapapa as the Toroa soars over the ocean, deified as Takaroa, on the winds of Tāwhirimatea.
Good Company Arts
To create a series of immersive virtual reality journeys that celebrate the sound and form of Taonga Pūoro [traditional instruments], thereby connecting a wider audience to the artform and to the whenua.
Te Rūnaka o Ōtākou
Scoping the use of a web platform to leverage pūrākau [myths and legends], and traditional and contemporary technologies to connect with the Ōtākou diaspora.
To research a business plan to understand what is needed to produce authentic Tongan mats and make them more accessible for Tongan people, and to teach this craft and pass on the knowledge to those who wish to learn it.
Dr Rory Clifford
To develop a business plan for virtual reality recreations of current Māori wāhi tapu [sacred places] with an initial focus on Kāi Tahu marae and their historic sites of interest.
Greymouth Heritage Trust
To tell the story of the Grey River using virtual reality, simulative, and immersive technologies. The project will bring to life both Māori and European settlement and use of the river.
Makaira Waugh - Rōreka
To contribute to the creation of a te reo Māori children’s book which uses an app to embellish the story with music and claymation videos, and allows the reader to recreate waiata using instrumental loops.
Toi o Taranaki Ki Te Tonga
An inter-generational and multi career stage approach to encourage, empower and enable Māori artists who whakapapa to Taranaki or live in the rohe, to wānanga, create, collaborate, exhibit and sell their work and to provide improved community access to mahi toi Māori.
To further develop a project focused on transmitting, revitalising and providing accessible ways of learning tikanga Māori practices surrounding deathing, death and after death.
To undertake research and engagement to support the development of Te Āhua o Te Tangata, a cultural competency framework for local government.
To create a digital repository and digital rights management framework through development of open-source software to ensure that cultural knowledge and artefacts can be hapū governed, retained and protected for future generations.
To build local capability by repurposing two under-utilised waka ama [outrigger canoes] into waka tere [racing canoes] and increasing traditional sailing capabilities through wānanga
Kauae Raro Research Collective
To commission and promote new works by Māori creatives using customary Māori paint making knowledge.
Wawata Creative Limited
To develop the sitemap and prototype ‘look and feel’ of an app that captures and stores key stories, kōrero, imagery, waiata, whakapapa, and knowledge from marae
To produce Pounga Wai | A Digital River - an interactive, real-time, large-scale digital art installation of the Whanganui River, embedded in Māori kaupapa.
To upgrade and enhance the immersive experience of the Durie Hill Elevator and Tunnel, providing access to stories about public transport, the way we build our cities and housing, engineering and built heritage.
Māoriland Charitable Trust
To deliver Purita, a capability system to enable identification and development of Māori potential through the creation of content, but also a platform for this content to be distributed and seen around the world. Purita will also platform an extensive library of global indigenous content.
Central Development Agency (CEDA)
To deliver a digital storytelling experience of the Manawatū Awa [river], with interactive cultural and historical maps and a virtual guide.
To hold wānanga [classes] to brainstorm the design and content for a system for embedding mātauranga [Māori knowledge] in ngā toi [the arts] to safeguard it and provide access to it in a managed and safe way that aligns with the kaupapa of Maungarongo Marae.
To develop 'Atuatanga', an interactive virtual reality gaming experience that will use te Reo Māori and mātauranga Māori to engage players through challenges as they navigate through an ancient world restoring the taiao for future generations.
To support the development of Narrative Muse, a digital platform to help Aotearoa audiences access books, movies and television content that reflects intersectionality and gender diversity.
To scope the development and prototyping of a digital storytelling platform using the vaka as medium for navigating and exploring Tokelauan heritage. This will enable and improve Tokelauan and Pasifika access and participation in art, culture and heritage.
TPW - Māori Pokemon
To develop creative assets for an augmented reality app called Pūrākau. The app embeds Te Ao Māori content into the environment around us using mixed reality technology. The project is delivered via smart phone devices to enable accessibility to a wide audience.
Taki Rua Productions
The development and delivery of two immersive live productions of large-scale contemporary Māori performing arts pieces. By presenting mātauranga Māori within contemporary performances the project will increase access and participation to both mātauranga and contemporary performance art.
To design a suite of tools that helps arts and culture organisations to measure, understand, increase and articulate their wellbeing impact in order to unlock the value of culture and their assets. The development of these tools is aimed at increasing the capacity to generate wellbeing for communities, helping improve access and participation.
Public Art Heritage Aotearoa NZ
To develop a website of Aotearoa’s remaining twentieth century public art heritage, which will enable New Zealanders to access and build awareness of our public art heritage. Funding will also support the development of a national public art forum to develop best-practice guidance and resources for those involved in public art.
To develop a new values-driven ticketing platform, empowering audiences to choose their own ticket price, thereby increasing access and participation in the cultural sector.
To develop Guardian Maia, an online game for rangatahi that imagines a Māori future and uses culturally inclusive creative technology to explore mātauranga Māori traditions and new cultural concepts.
Aotearoa Live Music Recovery Project
To support small to medium sized live music venues with artist and audience development that increases diversity. The project will increase access and participation in live music.
To develop a platform to enable artists, arts venues, arts organisations and cultural institutions to create their own hybrid and virtual events, allowing them to reach new audiences and drive new revenue streams for their work.
Joel Baxendale and Karin McCracken - In World
To develop a flexible and dynamic creative tool that will enable multiple sectors to apply app-technology in an interactive context, thereby creating new opportunities for the arts sector and enabling access and participation.