Friday, May 30, 2008

Why arts funding matters

A letter of mine has been published in today's Courier-Mail, responding to a piece by Chuck Brooks earlier this week.

Unfortunately Brooks' letter isn't online, so I can't link to it, but the general gist was that arts funding in general (and the One Book Many Brisbanes competition in particular) is a waste of money.

Here's my response, for those who can't get their hands on a copy of the newspaper:

I'm sure there are many people who would agree with Chuck Brooks' musings on arts grants. Just as there are many people who don't agree with taxpayers' money being spent on deploying troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, health funds being spent looking after chronic smokers, or public monies spent propping up unsustainable industries.

But just like defence, health and big business, the arts is a valid and vital part of our society.

Mr Brooks says most people have never heard of the winners. So rather than judging the stories based on merit, he would have preferred them judged on profile? Why not just commission stories from Nick Earls, Rebecca Sparrow, David Malouf et al?

Because the whole point of One Book Many Brisbanes is to encourage all Brisbanites (in fact, the competition was open to all Queensland residents) to reflect on the place they call home.

It was open to everyone, including the cash-strapped waitresses, taxicab drivers, brickies and labourers Mr Brooks mentions.

The total prize pool of $60,000 works out to just over 3c per Brisbane resident. The total cost to ratepayers: 12c each? Let's be generous and call it 50c each.

As for public arts funding as a whole, a 2005 report (by the Canada Council) puts Australia well down the list of comparable countries, on just 0.14 per cent of GDP.

Hardly a case of enslaving and plundering the Australian people.

If you have ever enjoyed an Australian movie, book, play or CD, thank public funding, because I'm sure if you dig down far enough, at some point in their careers those writers, musicians, directors and playwrights have needed a helping hand.

As for living on the public teat, I can say from a personal perspective that nothing could be further from the truth.

I've been writing seriously for 10 years - for love, not for the money. Most of my stories have been published by small press magazines (run by people who also do it for the love), paying generally $25-$50 a pop.

I write because I enjoy it, not for prize cheques. But I applaud Brisbane City Council for celebrating the craft of writing, and the contribution writers make to society, through One Book Many Brisbanes.

When the anthology is released next month, I invite all Brisbanites to read it (it will be available for Brisbane City Council libraries) and decide for themselves whether it is worth their 3 cents.

Gary Kemble
(One Book Many Brisbanes winner)


seanwilliams said...

Bravo! Very well said indeed.

Katherine Lyall-Watson said...

Fabulous letter, Gary! So glad they printed it. And congrats on being one of the winners. Well deserved.

Stone Thrower said...

Ditto, well said Gary. Of course, you sound so calm and learned in your letter, but I'll hazard a guess you were fuming on reading the offending piece...k

Gary Kemble said...

Thank you! No, stonethrower, I wasn't really fuming. The piece I responded to was a pretty standard anti-arts-funding rant.

I wasn't even going to respond, but my wife convinced me I should.