More than a decade of supportive relations have soured between Estuary Arts Centre and the organisers of the Harbour Hospice art show over a massive hike in exhibition fees.
Hospice’s Queen’s Birthday fundraising art exhibition and sale has been held at Estuary Arts Centre for 11 years. The proceeds support services at Hibiscus House hospice in Red Beach.
Initially the not-for-profit organisation was given space in Estuary Arts’ gallery to hold its exhibition free of charge. However, hospice fundraiser and exhibition convenor, Vicki Lambert, says that in 2012, when hospice became aware that the arts centre was short of funds, the committee offered to pay. It paid $480 for its exhibition space for four years.
After the centre built its education wing, in 2016, it increased the fee to $650 for the larger space, which is the amount that hospice has paid until this year.
Vicki says it was a shock to see a 154 percent increase – $1650, with $1000 of that “a salary contribution” – in this year’s contract.
She says it was too late to recoup any of that money by charging artists more to exhibit and they were lucky to find sponsors to foot the bill.
“If Forrest Funerals hadn’t offered at short notice to pay the extra $1000, and Harcourts the other $650, we would have had to bite the bullet and take it off our profit,” she says.
Covid has caused funding shortfalls for community organisations and both Harbour Hospice and Estuary Arts Centre are struggling to make ends meet.
The Queen’s Birthday event normally raises around $30,000. Last year a small pop up was held instead, due to Covid-19, which raised around $13,000. Vicki says hospice is desperately playing catch up. It is partly funded by Waitematā District Health Board, which covers 52 percent of operating costs, but relies heavily on grant funding, donations and fundraising to keep its services free for patients.
Estuary Arts Centre is run by a charitable trust. It gets most of its income from Auckland Council, with the rest coming from grants, donations and fundraising as well as commercial activities including sales from its gift shop, art classes and venue hire. Last year there was a shortfall of almost $32,500.
Estuary Arts Charitable Trust chair Samantha Cranston says her organisation has been generous in its support of hospice – providing services at a discount that equates to around $25,000 over 10 years. She says the increase in charges is long overdue.
“The post-Covid world has forced us to re-evaluate our approach to philanthropy, given that we too are a charitable organisation,” she says. “So many more organisations are seeking support, particularly post-Covid.”
The $1650 fee is half what the gallery normally charges to use its entire space.
When hosting hospice, the centre has no means of generating income, apart from the gift shop, for nine full days, including set up and take down of the works.
A paid staff member needs to be present throughout the hire – in the past the centre did not factor this into the cost.
In addition, arts centre manager Kim Boyd says a flyer that hospice sent to all artists noted the increase in rent.
“That threw us under the bus,” Kim says. “It damages the centre’s reputation among the community’s artists.”
Hibiscus & Bays Local Board chair Gary Brown says if the arts centre was on a firmer financial footing, it could perhaps afford to be more generous in situations like this. The local board has been pushing for years to obtain more equitable regional funding for the arts centre, in line with similar facilities elsewhere in Auckland.
“We have made this a key issue to advocate for in our feedback on Council’s 10-year Budget,” Gary says.
In the meantime, Gary suggests it might be fairer for hospice to pay Estuary Arts a small percentage of whatever money the fundraiser brings in.
“That would be more of a win-win, in my view,” he says.