Clive Fugill is a carver at Te Puia's Maori Arts and Crafts Institute in Rotorua. He's the longest-serving member, spending more than half a century at the important cultural centre.

"Fifty-three years, coming up 54," said Fugill.

"It started out as a hobby, then it went ballistic. I love it, something that is an introduction to the rest of the culture."

The institute opened in 1926 and has been largely funded by the neighbouring "Te Puia" geothermal tourist attraction. However, when Covid-19 forced Te Puia to close, the financial future of the institute was looking bleak.

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This week the Government threw it a lifeline, announcing it will spend $7.6 million to keep it afloat.

"It's fantastic really, we're not just a tourist organisation, we're a cultural identity," said Fugill.

"It's keeping our culture alive at the same time - because we don't get Government funding.

"All our funding comes from tourism, so if you've got no tourism, how are you gonna fund the rest of the culture?"

"The whole world had to act fast, so in a matter of two weeks it went from a real busy space to absolutely no one around," said Eraia Kiel, general manager of New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institution (NZMACI).

"We, unfortunately, had to lay people off, which is the hardest thing to do. Our staff, our students all took it well - they knew it was something everyone had to do for the benefit of our kaupapa and now we've been given a lifeline to come back so, we're really grateful."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made her first trip outside the capital since lockdown began, to visit the institute and announce the investment.

"New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute really holds an important place in Aotearoa," said Ardern.

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"That's why the extra support is going in place to make sure that as we come through Covid, we don't lose the chance for us to ensure we have weavers, carvers, those with specialist knowledge to pass on through the institute here."

"Māori Arts and Crafts Institute has contributed to the revitalisation of Māori arts and culture, bone carving and those skills have been grown over a long period of time," said Nanaia Mahutu, Māori Development Minister.

"What is unique about Te Puia, is it offers so much for New Zealand tourism, not just Māori tourism."

The Government confirmed the investment was exclusively for Te Puia. Additional funds were being made available for other tourism operators.

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