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12 Apr 2024

Future for Community and Arts Infrastructure uncertain amid funding cuts at Hamilton City Council

Hamilton City Council are proposing broad cuts to a range of community service providers, whilst also declining community partnership funding to two community-run theatres.

This reduced service is presented alongside an additional proposed 20% cut to community granting which will compromise the delivery of core services to local communities at an increased time of need.

The application process for the Council’s ‘Community Partnership Agreements’ (previously known as multi-year grants) has been concluded, despite the funding pool budget being unconfirmed. This fund has been designed to invest in not-for-profit community organisations who provide key services and spaces that support the achievement of Council’s strategic outcomes and improve community connectivity in Hamilton.

Along with a range of organisations receiving reduced proposed funding levels, The Meteor Theatre and Clarence Street Theatre have both been denied funding from this grant.

This was an unexpected outcome given these organisations have been in multi-year funding agreements since the theatres were passed into community service provision. There has been no increase in funding levels to those venues for a decade, despite a significant increase in costs through inflation. 

Twelve years ago, Hamilton City Council operated and fully funded all three main theatres in Hamilton – Founders, Clarence and The Meteor. This operating model resulted in limited community access due to cost and low occupancy levels.  HCC sought to sell both Clarence and the Meteor. The community initiated a process to have these spaces run by community trusts. This shift has seen significantly increased activity, engagement and occupancy levels supporting a vibrant arts scene in Hamilton. 

The provision of community spaces like theatres, sports facilities, community houses, and libraries are an expectation of a Council that supports a thriving community.

These spaces are contributors to community wellbeing, and the provision of cultural wellbeing is a required component of the local government legislation. It is necessary for councils to continue to invest in services and spaces that provide for people. So, it is unfortunate to look at the negative impact of the proposed cuts to these community grants considering they are less than 0.1% of rates. 

There has been a suggestion from Council that the theatres have not had their funding cut, but that they have been referred to the single-year ‘Community Services Grants’ pool. While this may present an avenue for support, this approach is still a cut in funding. 

“This proposed cut in funding is a misguided approach from our current decision makers” says Creative Waikato board chair Sam Cunnane.

“This lack of vision for sustained partnership with organisations who provide an important service, alongside improving the cultural wellbeing of our community, and enhancing accessibility to local storytelling is not an example of good practice”. 

These proposed cuts place a frustratingly complex burden on those volunteer community trusts who are tasked with the sustainability of those theatres, and increases the demand on staff, volunteers and the broader performing arts community.

The true risk is that the theatres in Hamilton are no longer able to operate.


The Meteor Theatre

The Meteor Theatre

“Declining support for these spaces seems a clear signal from Council that the Arts are not a priority, which is quite devastating after a decade of community investment, through people and fundraising, into the Meteor” says Meteor Chair Charlotte Chuen.   “As well as running the theatre, the community has invested over $1.5m in the building.  Last year we hosted 84 different public events, with 16,785 audience members.  There is no comparable space to host this arts activity, should The Meteor cease to exist”.

Likewise at ,numerous local, national and international productions are staged for the benefit of Waikato audiences. Chairman of the trust, Paul Mitchell points out that this venue has a long association with our city’s Dance Schools and also with Hamilton Operatic Society, the original owners of the theatre and who still house their wardrobe and offices there. Without reliable ongoing support from HCC it is hard to imagine where all of these activities will occur in our city if we are forced to close.


“Not investing in arts, culture, and creativity, is essentially a commitment to taking our community backwards at a time of growing population,” Cunnane shares.

This statement refers to the Creative Waikato-led community-wide research and delivery of the Waikato Performing Arts Strategy, which highlights the need for increased investment in the infrastructure of the local community.

Waikato research shows that access to arts, culture and creativity is a core driver of individual and collective wellbeing, so it is through partnership with arts organisations that sustainable funding and investment contributes to community access. There have been efficiencies and effective outcomes through these spaces being run by community trusts, but this does not remove the obligation for council to invest in the ongoing sustainability and provision of these services.

The benefits for the city go beyond wellbeing as well. Having creative spaces and events in the city contributes to economic benefits (including property value and GDP), but also provides amenity outcomes that contribute to positive growth (having things to see and do), and civic pride in having your community represented in events and activities. 

Currently the community is the largest funder of arts, culture and creativity in our city, and while that makes Hamilton a vibrant and engaging place to live, the arts community wants Council to prioritise their role in supporting that delivery through investment into the future. 

Beyond the cuts to the theatres, there are a number of other community houses, service providers and capability builders that face significant reductions in funding. These community partner organisations deliver wellbeing outcomes to diverse people including those with a focus on youth, older people, and underserved communities. Creative Waikato, a capability building service provider is also among those organisations impacted by these proposed cuts.

It is important to consider the importance of maintaining provision of service and investing in people which has a much smaller impact on budget lines than overarching infrastructure. There is a balance to be struck, but without the service provision in place we can’t grow well, or serve the communities of people who live here. 

The additional 20% reduction in the community granting pool included in this LTP, will reduce the delivery of community events, concerts and activities in Garden Place, and has the potential to negatively impact funded support for things like the lantern festivals, Matariki celebrations, kapahaka performances, childrens day, christmas celebrations, lunchtime concerts, light installations, and other much-loved celebrations of community creativity. 

The arts community is calling for Hamilton Councillors to commit funding the theatres through multi-year Community Partnership Agreements, and to maintain or increase the community grants pool in this Long Term Plan. This means ensuring that there is continued support for the range of essential community service providers who will be impacted by these cuts. The work of theatres sits alongside community houses, capability builders, and community support services to deliver to the legislated wellbeing outcomes of Hamilton City Council.  

People Make Place. 

The community calls for a budget with people at its heart.


Go to https://hamilton.govt.nz/strategies-plans-and-projects/future-hamilton/ to have your say.