Kia rapahoe te uru, anō he matimati nō Tangaroa ā te Toi
When the blade of the steering paddle - Te Urungi - plunges into the water, it becomes the creative fingers of Tangaroa.

Innovation Fund

COVID-19 has created many challenges for those in arts, culture and heritage. The Cultural Sector Innovation Fund is part of the Government’s $374 million Arts and Culture COVID Recovery Programme. The Innovation Fund supports innovative projects that meet one or more of the Fund’s outcomes:

  • Sector sustainability and resilience are increased
  • Commercial opportunities are increased
  • Access and participation are improved

Innovative projects that meet one or more of these outcomes and safeguard Mātauranga Maori are also a focus of the fund.

Round one of the Innovation Fund is delivered through a series of nationwide events called Te Urungi: Innovating Aotearoa.

Te Urungi is a new approach to arts funding, helping creative New Zealanders turn their innovative ideas into reality. Te Urungi is the steering paddle at the back of a waka hourua, a large ocean-going waka. It acts as a rudder that guides the waka with agility and stability. It is equal parts technology and art, science, and spirit.

More information about the Innovation Fund

In this section:

Purpose and outcomes


The purpose of the Innovation Fund is to support innovative projects that improve the sustainability and resilience of the sector, provide commercial opportunities, and improve access and participation. Innovative projects that meet one or more of these outcomes and safeguard Mātauranga Maori are also a focus of the fund.


The outcomes for the Innovation Fund are:

Sector sustainability and resilience are increased 

  • For example, projects that solve sector challenges or bring about transformational change for people, the sector, or audiences. Or projects that test new employment opportunities and business models. Or projects that support that preservation, retention and transmission of Mātauranga Māori.
  • QWB Lab received project funding to develop a tool that measures the wellbeing impact on people attending a gallery. In addition to providing information that can help galleries improve wellbeing outcomes for audiences, the tool can help arts organisations demonstrate the impact they are having on audiences' wellbeing.

Commercial opportunities are increased 

  • For example, projects that support the commercialisation of product, including for export. Or projects that explore and identify other funding streams that are sustainable and enduring, or those which create innovative opportunities for Māori.
  • For example, Joel Baxendale and Karin McCracken received project funding to create In World, a dynamic creative tool that will enable multiple sectors to apply app-technology in an interactive performance context. This will create more performance opportunities for practitioners with the potential to generate new sources of income.  

Access and participation are improved

  • For example, projects that remove or reduce barriers for participation, including people with disabilities, or isolated communities.
  • For example, Aotearoa Live Music Recovery Project received project funding to support small to medium sized live music venues with artist and audience development that increases diversity. The project will increase access and participation in live music.

Innovative projects that meet one or more of these outcomes and safeguard Mātauranga Maori are also a focus of the fund. That means projects that safeguard, retain, and transmit Mātauranga Māori are welcome in this fund. However, your project does not need to be a Māori project to qualify for the fund.

  • For example, Atawhai Interactive received project funding to develop an accessible online game, Toroa, that gives tamariki and rangatahi an experience to fly as Toroa on its journey from the Pacific Ocean back to its home on Taiaroa head. Toroa will be the first in a portfolio of games that centre the natural world and leave players with a lasting experience of Te Ao Māori.

We encourage people to think beyond these examples – this fund is open to consider any innovative projects that support its outcomes.

What projects are likely to be funded?

Manatū Taonga is looking for ideas beyond business as usual – innovative projects that deliver direct benefits for the arts, culture, and heritage sector.

We are looking for innovative projects that meet the purpose and outcomes of the fund and increase sustainability and resilience – things that will allow arts, culture, and heritage to adapt and thrive, even in the face of major and unexpected shocks like the global COVID-19 pandemic.

In most cases your project needs broader sector reach and impact to receive funding. Read the Evaluation Criteria.

Recent technology is not in itself likely to be considered innovative. Digital projects are not more, or less, eligible for funding. However, there is a focus on supporting projects that will help safeguard Mātauranga Māori, and many applicants have chosen digital innovations to do this.

Examples of the sorts of innovative projects that are more likely to be funded include:

  • projects that meet the outcomes of the Innovation Fund
  • projects that offer new ways to support the preservation, retention, and transmission of Mātauranga Māori
  • projects which explore new business models that solve long-standing challenges for the cultural sector
  • an arts organisation using technology to bring a creative experience to audiences around the world
  • projects which create new and innovative ways for people to create, deliver or consume existing or new cultural products and taonga
  • projects which use innovative approaches to reduce or remove barriers to participation for people with disabilities.

Examples of the sorts of projects that are less likely to be funded include:

  • projects that do not meet the outcomes of the Innovation Fund
  • projects that may meet the outcomes of the fund in some ways but are limited in their potential for wider arts, culture and heritage impact
  • projects without direct benefits to the arts culture and heritage sector. Projects that only have benefits to other sectors (education, environment, health etc) are highly unlikely to be funded.
  • See also Purpose and outcomes and Evaluation criteria.

What funding is available?

There are two funding streams in the round one Te Urungi events - seed funding and project funding. 

  • Seed funding provides up to $20,000 to enable a team to further progress their idea to a point that they are ready to apply for further funding. Seed funding could be used to engage specific expertise, for example a lawyer, a designer, or technical expert. It could also be used to support the people in the team to take the time to develop their project.
  • Project funding is also available. The amount provided depends on each project and its potential reach and impact. Please note that the Innovation Fund is a highly competitive fund and Manatū Taonga is looking to support a wide range of projects across Aotearoa.

More information about funding

  • Manatū Taonga will fund a maximum of one project per team.
  • Seed funding can be used to validate and develop a project idea to the point where it is ready for implementation and/or ready to seek other funding opportunities, or philanthropic or commercial investment.
  • Manatū Taonga is currently planning for the future of the Arts & Culture COVID Recovery Programme. More information about the next phase of the Innovation Fund will be available in 2022.

Who can apply?

We welcome individuals or teams who work in arts, culture, and heritage, as well as those in the science and tech sectors. Kaupapa Māori, entrepreneurial, community group, and other initiatives are also encouraged to apply. 

How can I apply?

To apply to the Innovation Fund, you need to attend a Te Urungi event. How to apply.

How will I know if I’m successful?

Seed funding applications will be evaluated after each Te Urungi event. We expect to communicate decisions about six weeks after each event.

Project funding applications from multiple events will be evaluated together, to help ensure we’re supporting a diverse range of projects across Aotearoa. This means the timeframe for decisions will be different for different events. As a guide, we expect to communicate project funding decisions about ten to twelve weeks after an event.

Successful applicants must sign a contract with Manatū Taonga Ministry of Culture and Heritage. Funding terms and conditions and reporting requirements are detailed in this example contract.

How are projects evaluated?

Proposals for funding through round one of the Innovation Fund are evaluated by an independent evaluation panel with knowledge and expertise in arts, culture and heritage, innovation and kaupapa Māori. The panel uses a set of evaluation criteria to guide their funding recommendations. Manatū Taonga staff conduct due diligence on projects and then Manatū Taonga’s leadership team makes the final decisions.

Who is on the evaluation panel?

Having an independent evaluation panel ensures Manatū Taonga receives external advice and input from people in the sector who have knowledge and expertise in arts, culture and heritage, innovation, and kaupapa Māori.  The current Innovation Fund panel members are:

W. Gary Nicholas (Te Atiawa, Tangahoe, Taranaki, Ngaiterangi, Ngati Ranginui)
Gary is a trustee of the New Zealand Portrait Gallery, Te Māori - Manaaki Taonga. He has held senior Māori art advisory positions with MASPAC (Council for Māori and Pacific Arts), QEII/Creative New Zealand and Te Papa. Gary served as general manager of Toi Māori Aotearoa- Māori Arts New Zealand, the multi-disciplinary Māori artists organisation for 22 years. He provides advice on Mātauranga Māori to the Innovation Fund particularly as it applies to Māori arts, culture and heritage.  

Pelenakeke Brown
An interdisciplinary artist, curator, and writer, Pelenakeke’s practice explores the intersections between disability cultural concepts and Sāmoan cultural concepts. Her work investigates sites of knowledge, and she uses technology, writing, poetry, and performance to explore these ideas. She is a globally located and recognised practitioner with international and national publications, collaborations, presentations and development projects.

Ian Barrs
Ian is the founder of RedSky consulting, an innovation specialist with Creative HQ, and a growth advisor to several tech startups and growth businesses. Having spent a large part of his career working for innovative and digitally disruptive organisations, Ian brings experience in high growth digital, technology and consulting businesses and has enjoyed careers with global leaders including Dell and Getty Images.

Manatū Taonga staff also join the panel in a non-voting capacity:

  • Sharing session non-voting chair: Simon Bowden, Principal Adviser Sector, Te Aka Tūhono, Manatū Taonga
  • Evaluation non-voting chairs: Either Simon Bowden, Kirsten Lloyd or Paula Dixon. 

Whakapā mai ki a mātou
Contact us 

For all queries, please contact the Manatū Taonga team at [email protected]

Subscribe to COVID Recovery Programme updates

Arts and Culture COVID Recovery Programme