Brian Rudman: City comes to aid of Auckland Philharmonia

Who says the festival spirit isn't catching? Not only are Auckland City and the Bank of New Zealand offering a glimmer of hope for the future of the Jean Batten State Building, but Auckland city councillors have voted a $200,000 top-up to add to the city's $300,000 annual grant to the ailing Auckland Philharmonia.

At first glance, the Jean Batten deal seems to be a case of Auckland City throwing itself on the mercy of the BNZ and praying the bankers will suddenly tear up their plans to demolish the heritage building.

The city has called for a month of expert deliberation on the best use for the site and persuaded the bankers to keep their steel balls shackled during that period. After that, all bets seem to be off. Let us all use the month to pray - and protest - for the right outcome.

There's much more positive news on the orchestra front. Just a week after the Auckland Philharmonia's latest financial crisis was revealed, Auckland city councillors have voted a major funding top-up.

It's a generous and speedy response which, hopefully, will encourage - or shame - the other local councils, and Government agencies, to play their part in rescuing this cultural mainstay.

Auckland City's decision follows last Friday's submissions by the orchestra to the regional mayoral forum. Forum chairman Sir Barry Curtis said afterwards that the orchestra was an Auckland institution living from hand-to-mouth and worthy of ratepayer support. What a shame it takes a crisis to acknowledge this.

The mayors called for an urgent report from their chief executives on ways of providing financial certainty for the band, including the possibility of legislating for regional funding similar to that used by Auckland Museum and Museum of Transport and Technology.

In submissions to the forum, the orchestra said it was "not financially sustainable beyond June 05 without your support".

It proposed two alternative funding scenarios, one based on existing audience numbers from each council's territory, the other on a population basis. On the audience basis, it proposes Auckland pay $520,800; North Shore $235,200; Manukau $126,600, Waitakere $86,400; Rodney $43,200; Franklin $24,000 and Papakura $14,400. The total, based on $3 a head of the philharmonia's 400,000 annual audience is $1,053,600.

On a population basis, Auckland would pay $551,605, North Shore $277,231, Manukau $424,795, Waitakere $253,129, Rodney $114,273, Franklin $77,503 and Papakura $60,997. This would raise $1,759,533.

In the subsequent confidential debate, several mayors asked regional council chairman Mike Lee why it wasn't also contributing. They had a point. Until the local government reforms of 1990, the ARC had been the main funder of the regional orchestra, in some years providing up to $70,000. Since the 2002 local government reforms, social and cultural well-being has once more been returned to the goals of regional government.

Obviously, if agreement can be reached between the territorial and regional councils, funding a regional organisation like the Auckland Philharmonia through the ARC makes more sense than the orchestra having to go cap in hand, repeating its case to territorial councils seven times over. It's also likely to produce a better result.

Presently, Auckland City, home to less than half the audience, pays the bulk of the support, its $300,000 dwarfing the next highest, Manukau on $30,000.

Creative New Zealand chairman, Alastair Carruthers's message to the forum was blunt.

The Government arts funding agency approved a six-month operational deficit budget until June 30, 2005, "on the basis that the philharmonia's structure would be reformed and other funding sources were secured, especially from territorial local authorities. Time is short and the stakes are high."

He told the mayors there was "a strong case for substantial increase in territorial local authority support. Just matching Creative NZ funding ($1.6 million annually) would lift central and local Government support to 46 per cent of revenue."

This, he said, was comparable to Sydney Symphony's public support, but substantially less than given to city orchestras in Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane, Melbourne and Tasmania.

"The sums are not large ... success and ongoing growth and the development of this vital orchestra is easily achieved."

Over the next few weeks, the orchestra will be trailing around the councils following up on their forum submissions. It would be a good time for patrons to get along to their local councils and give the musicians the backing they deserve.

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