Wellington City Council is looking to review its "money-go-around" venue subsidy model following criticism the spaces remain unaffordable for the performing arts sector.
This is despite a review just five years ago that found Wellington's venues were the most expensive in the country and the commercial lure of Auckland was threatening Wellington's status as the capital of culture.
The 2016 council-commissioned report said local organisations were being priced out of these venues because they couldn't afford the rates.
"That, in turn, is putting pressure on other less expensive venues. In light of this situation, any and all options for providing community rates or venue subsidies for local organisations should be explored," the report said.
The council has a Wellington Venues Subsidy, which makes available $245,000 worth of grants each year to help make spaces more accessible to locally-based community groups.
The grants are available for the Adam Auditorium at City Art Gallery, the Michael Fowler Centre, the Opera House, Shed 6, and TSB Bank Arena.
But council officials have recommended this current venue subsidy
model be reviewed to better support affordability and access for the community, arts, and creative sectors.
This is in response to feedback the council received during consultation on its Aho Tini 2030 Arts, Culture and Creativity Strategy and Action Plan.
The feedback said the venue subsidy scheme did not fundamentally alter affordability and urged the council to be bold and decisive.
"We, and other independent artists, have repeatedly tried to signal to council that it is extremely difficult to present work in Wellington. WCC venues are not affordable. We know that they are expensive even in an international touring context."
The Herald asked WellingtonNZ, the region's economic development agency, how much it cost to hire council venues.
Events and experiences general manager Warrick Dent only said WellingtonNZ worked with clients to provide a deal that worked for everyone.
"No two deals are exactly the same and can be cut a number of ways."
One Wellington performing arts sector organisation, that didn't want to be named in fear of jeopardising the grants it gets from the council, said the venues should be pulled back under direct council control.
A spokesperson said the commercial imperative for venues should be removed or at least reduced, which only the council has the ability to do because it's the owner.
"We cannot do yet another review, which is going to say all the same things."
Creative Capital Arts Trust chief executive Drew James said a balance needed to be struck between running commercial venues in a professional manner and providing community access and stimulus.
"Venues need to be forward thinking as the cultural leaders within a community and as a result of that the mandate they are given is that they need to respond to their community and create venues that deliver back to the community."
James said some of the biggest costs came on top of the cost of already expensive venue hires.
He said they were generously offered the Opera House rent-free when the main stage of the CubaDupa festival had to be moved indoors because of a security risk following the Christchurch mosque attacks.
But they still spent upwards of $20,000 on sound, lights, and getting people in and out of the venue over two days, Drew said.
Grants subcommittee chairwoman councillor Fleur Fitzsimons said the subsidy review was needed to better support community and arts groups to access venues.
"It can be a money-go-round where we fund groups to support their work only to take more of it back from them in costly charges for venues.
"The current model is failing community groups and our arts sector because it is too expensive and a barrier to their important work."
Fitzsimons said the council has many venues which are not well utilised and these groups needed affordable places to meet and perform.
Not only are Wellington's venues expensive, many are not fit for purpose and some are closed for earthquake strengthening like the Town Hall and St James Theatre.
Last year the Herald revealed a WellingtonNZ-commissioned report found the city's key venues were only being used at half their capacity and were not fit for purpose.
One unnamed stakeholder quoted in the report called the TSB Arena "one of NZ's worst big rooms" and another referred to Shed 6 as a "big box".
The report also found content was skewed towards those over the age of 55, with an untapped potential to cater for a younger and increasingly diverse audience through live music, comedy, theatre, and cultural festivals.
Supply gaps were identified in performing arts venues with a capacity between 500 to 1000 people and in concert or indoor events venues with a capacity of more than 6000 people.