ACT Book of the Year advocacy: our letter

16 Jul

30 June 2014

Joy Burch MLA
Minister for the Arts
ACT Government
via email: burch@act.gov.au

Dear Ms Burch,

The Childers Group writes to express very real concern about recent changes to the eligibility requirements for the 2014 ACT Book of the Year award, as reported in the press and as confirmed by artsACT.

The surprising change to the award to being for ‘ACT residents only’ is inconsistent with the ACT Government’s Arts Policy Framework as well as contrary to other government initiatives and the work of the ACT’s key arts organisations, many of which provide programs and services to those who live across the border. Many of our artists who work in the ACT – writers, performers, sculptors, musicians, film-makers – reside in our flourishing regional areas. Indeed, the map often used in reference to arts funding makes clear the regions that are considered integral to our arts landscape.

Eminent regional writers such as Jackie French are now, for the first time, excluded from being nominated to the ACT Book of the Year

Eminent regional writers such as Jackie French are now, for the first time, excluded from being nominated to the ACT Book of the Year

As you are no doubt well aware, there is also an enormous amount of arts activity that happens in the towns and villages adjacent the ACT, and in many instances ACT-based artists are engaged in that activity. The majority of this activity has close, long-term, and ongoing mutually beneficial relationships. Indeed, the Childers Group has been active in advocating for a whole-of-region approach to arts support, including in terms of economic development and cultural tourism.

The new eligibility requirement for the 2014 ACT Book of the Year, that it be for ACT residents only, directly contradicts three key elements of the ACT Arts Policy Framework (the bolding is ours):

  • (1) ‘Guiding Vision: Canberra and its region comprise an inclusive, unique and creative arts landscape where excellence is highly valued’;
  • (2) ‘Principle One: Facilitate Community Participation in and Access to the Arts: Embracing Canberra’s position as a regional centre and fostering opportunity for increased regional engagement with regional communities’; and
  • (3) ‘Principle Two: Support Artistic Excellence and Artistic Diversity – The ACT literary awards recognising excellence in ACT region writing’.

Further, this new requirement is contrary to the fact that for decades the ACT Government has been consistent in acknowledging regional activity by supporting artists who aren’t ACT residents but are able to ‘demonstrate an ACT-based practice’.

Additionally, this recent decision to exclude regional writers from the ACT Book of the Year has created concern and confusion through the wider arts sector. In the near future will all regional artists be excluded from the ACT Government’s support through its arts funding program? Will the ACT’s key arts organisations be required to focus only on the ACT community at the exclusion of all others?

Finally, it is concerning to the Childers Group that the literary community appears to have not been consulted on this change of policy. We have been informed that the ACT Writers Centre, the ACT’s peak body for writing in the ACT region, was not consulted. A significant number of their members reside in the region.

We respectfully ask that you review the recent announcement about the 2014 ACT Book of the Year, and ensure that there is consistency in eligibility requirements across ACT Government’s various arts programs and initiatives.

The Childers Group will contact you shortly to request a meeting about this important – and potentially far-reaching – matter. We would greatly value your consideration of the matters we have raised in this letter and the opportunity to discuss them.

Yours faithfully,

[signed]

Professor David Williams

Spokesperson
The Childers Group

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