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‘Watershed’ moment for WA writing sector after literary groups defunded

The WA Department of Culture and the Arts (DCA) has defunded WritingWA, the state’s peak body for the writing sector, as part of its restructured multi-year funding program.

Only two writing and publishing organisations, Fremantle Press and Magabala Books, were awarded multi-year funding under the DCA’s new three-year Organisations Investment Program (OIP). Previous recipients of multi-year funding, WritingWA, the Literature Centre and the Australian Writers Guild, have not had their funding renewed, while Westerly journal, the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre and the Fellowship of Australian Writers were all unsuccessful in their bids for funding after being invited to apply.

The recipients of OIP funding, which replaces a number of the department’s previous annual, triennial and multi-year funding for organisations, were announced in December 2015. In total, 35 of the 67 organisations invited to apply for funding were successful, sharing in a total of $29m over three years.

WritingWA CEO Sharon Flindell told Books+Publishing the results were bad news for the entire writing and publishing sector in WA, which now faced a ‘watershed’ moment. ‘The process itself was very onerous, it took hundreds of hours of work on the application,’ said Flindell, who added that the DCA will continue to fund WritingWA until the end of 2016 as part of its previous funding commitment.

In a statement, WritingWA chair Dennis Haskell said that the organisation was was concerned by the ‘narrow focus’ of the state’s investment in the sector. ‘The writing and publishing industry is complex and depends on many more moving parts than just publishers,’ said Haskell.

Westerly editor Catherine Noske told Books+Publishing the decision by the DCA to ‘rethink and relaunch’ the multi-year funding program was to be applauded, as it’s ‘incredibly important to offer organisations stability in funding when pushing for growth’. However, Noske said she was also concerned that the funding didn’t acknowledge the range of sector organisations ‘from publications like Westerly, to writers’ centres, to writing festivals, and all the way to WritingWA as a peak body’. ‘It will be difficult for the sector to actively promote and represent itself as a whole if there is no peak representative body,’ said Noske.

Australian Writers Guild (AWG) WA manager Melissa Callanan told Books+Publishing the process had been handled badly, noting it was difficult to communicate with the department and that the burden of the application process for invitees was unsustainable for not-for-profits with part-time and voluntary staff. ‘From a business point-of-view, it’s not strategic or visionary to have us all pitted against each other,’ said Callanan.

Callanan said funding cuts were part of a larger challenge facing the sector to measure ‘the social impact of the arts’. ‘It’s a problem facing all of Australia and not just WA. What is it about Australia that we can take out a bunch of writing organisations and expect there not to be serious damage caused to our culture,’ said Callanan.

DCA director general Duncan Ord told Books+Publishing the process was ‘extremely competitive’ and that the amount of funding available was consistent with that previously available through annual and multi-year funding programs. ‘In 2016, DCA will be undertaking a review of the writing sector to identify the needs, barriers and opportunities for the sustainability of writing in WA and how the sector can best be supported,’ said Ord.

Ord added that the DCA and the State Library of WA had also met with groups to discuss ‘how the State Library can take on a leadership role within the writing sector to provide better alignment of services and support for writers and publishers in WA’. As previously reported by Books+Publishing, the WA Premier’s Book Awards, which are administered by the State Library of WA, moved from an annual to a biennial model in February 2015 due to funding cuts to the library.

Flindell said the department’s planned review of the sector was poorly timed. ‘The unfortunate thing is they’ve announced it when the sector is going to be operating at a much lowered capacity, rather than seeing how it could run at its full potential,’ said Flindell. ‘A review is something we’ve called for before, it’s just a shame it has to be under these conditions.’



Category: Local news