Parties urged to remember the literary arts

Young writers Joshua Barnes and Kelsey Oldham with the latest edition of Voiceworks magazine. Photo Pippa Bainbridge.
Express Media has lost its Australia Council funding after 30 years of encouraging the success of young Australian writers, writes Mia Burgess.

A youth organisation which kick-started the careers of some of Australia’s leading authors has fallen victim to Australia Council funding cuts.

Christos Tsiolkos, Benjamin Law, Anna Krien and Lilli Wilkinson are among those Express Media has helped through its creative programs for young writers.

Express Media is one of 62 arts organisations to have lost their funding through the Australia Council, due to a $60 million cut to the program. The Coalition’s controversial Catalyst program has received $12 million of this. Labor and the Greens have said if elected they will abolish the Catalyst program.

CEO of Express Media, Pippa Bainbridge said: “The news of the funding cuts comes as quite a shock, especially because we are currently building momentum with two new pilot programs for the organisation this year.”

Express Media programs include Voiceworks, Tracks and Buzzcuts, to encourage young Australians to engage in a variety of literary arts.

Ms Bainbridge said: “Without the support that we provide we wouldn’t see such an extraordinary cohort of writing talent in Australia.

“Over the last 30 years I think we have made a really large contribution of what is now a generation of writers and editors that wouldn’t have existed without us.”

Screenwriter and author Benjamin Law said: “Express Media [was] the organisation that gave me the foundations of my career and introduced me to a national writing community.”

The author of The Family Law and Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East, also criticised the arts funding cuts on Facebook saying they were, “unnecessarily stupid, brutal and savage”.

Ms Bainbridge said: “It’s a comparatively small funding cut for us, but if we’re not able to deliver the same level of support that we have been delivering, it will have a devastating ripple effect”.

In response to criticism of the cuts, Minister for the Arts, Senator Mitch Fifield said in a statement, “The Australia Council’s funding contracts are for fixed terms, and are not in perpetuity.

“Four year funding rounds provide new organisations the opportunity to apply for funding in a competitive environment, based on the council’s independent assessment.”

Australia Council media manager, Karen Smith said: “The funding has been assessed through a rigorous process, with arts practice panels of expert peers assessing the applications. There were 262 applications submitted and assessed and ranked by 73 peers across nine panels.”

Ms Bainbridge said: “It is disappointing news, but not discouraging news. We have quite a diverse portfolio of different income streams and our funding from the Australia council is just one of those streams. It is not the end for us.”

Although 128 arts organisations have received funding, there has been industry concern around the impact the loss of Australia Council funding will have on the future of smaller organisations.

“As we see less arts funding available, fewer independent artists and organisations will be supported. That says something about what is going to happen in future years.

“While now, the arts cuts may seem small to the broader community, I think we will see a devastating knock on effect in the years to come,” said Ms Bainbridge.