Australian Arts Funding Changes: Impact on Youth Literature

Recent Federal Budget decisions are beginning to have an impact on Australia’s artistic communities, including the literature sector. Alterations and cuts to the national arts funding landscape will affect young readers and youth literature creators; the Centre for Youth Literature is deeply concerned about these changes.

These changes include enormous cuts to the Australia Council, the establishment of a National Program for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA) within the Arts Ministry and the formation of a Book Council.

We have written to Arts Minister Senator George Brandis noting our concerns; we have also made a formal submission to the Senate Inquiry on Arts Funding. Such inquiries usually receive a few hundred submissions – this committee received over 2,000 letters from concerned arts practitioners. You can keep up with the Inquiry on the #Freethearts tag, and their report will be lodged on 25 November 2015.

What Can We Do?

We will continue to push for sustained, strategic support for young readers and youth literature, and for recognition of the amazing work so many of our colleagues and subscribers do to promote youth reading and creative writing.

We’ll be writing to the new Prime Minister to note our concerns, and to highlight the value of the youth literature community in Australia. We’d urge you to so the same, or to let us know in the comments any points you think we should add.

Our Senate Inquiry Submission

You can read our Senate submission below. (It’s pretty long, but contains detail about the changes noted above.) Alternatively, download it from the Parliamentary website – we’re submission 705.

For more information, contact Anna Burkey, Centre for Youth Literature Manager.

“Teenagers need Young Adult (YA) fiction because we want to read about people like us, who act like us, face the same problems as us… We want to see more, learn more, be more: we want to grow up, we want to stay young.”

Lily Stojcevski, Inky Awards teen judge 2013, writing for Meanjin.com.au

Senate inquiry into federal arts funding: response from State Library Victoria – Centre for Youth Literature

We welcome the opportunity to respond to recent federal Budget decisions and, along with many other institutions, note our deep concern about the changes to national arts funding.

The Centre for Youth Literature at State Library Victoria is the peak industry body that connects Australia’s young adults with books, writing, stories and each other. We champion the views of young people, support the professionals that work with them, and advocate for the creators of Australian youth literature. The Centre is a leader in the library sector, and is pleased to be a Key Literature Organisation of the Australia Council for the Arts.

This submission addresses the impact of the Commonwealth Budget decisions on the arts, and the establishment of a National Programme for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA), with particular respect to:

  • Young audiences.
  • Artists and organisations that support young people.
  • Access to the diversity of high-quality arts and cultural experiences.

Consequences of the combined Budget decisions on the Centre for Youth Literature, in addition to the young readers, artists and literary sector it supports, include:

  • Fewer opportunities to inspire a reading culture. Since 2013, the Centre for Youth Literature has commissioned 129 artists to deliver 253 sessions across Australia, promoting the value of reading and literacy to young people.
  • Decreased support for teen digital communities. Specialist online platforms run for young readers by the Centre saw a 30% increase in demand in the last two years, with 220,000 visits in 2014; this work is supported by funding streams now under threat.
  • Reduced investment in platforms for young voices. Budget decisions will mean suspension of arts funding for the national teen choice Inky Awards, despite a 93% increase in applications for inclusion by young readers.  
  • A reduction in the number of new literary works produced for young people, as funding for individual writers is reduced. This reduces opportunities to reflect contemporary Australia, a key motivator of teen engagement.
  • A decrease in media presence for youth literature. The Centre generates $260,000 annual coverage for books and youth literature engagement.
  • Decreased professional development for artists and librarians. Internationally recognised events like Reading Matters increase skills for teen engagement; these programs would be ineligible for support under new funding arrangements.
  • Greater marginalisation of diverse perspectives. Youth literature professionals champion the diverse and multicultural nature of Australia, through programs supported by Australia Council funds.

“Not nearly enough is being done to encourage and promote diverse voices … although we certainly have many diverse voices speaking in Australia. The Centre for Youth Literature provides one of the few forums in which these voices can be heard.”

Ambelin Kwaymullina

The impact of these Budget decisions will also have a ripple effect in the community, harming the outcomes necessary in tackling the extreme literacy and learning problems facing Australia.

  • 46% of Australians do not have the literacy skills needed to cope in everyday life. This shocking figure has been static for over a decade.
  • 26% of Australians are aged 19 or under; trends in Western countries show that on a daily basis 92% of young people access education, news and entertainment through digital channels.
  • 22% of Year 9 students in Victoria were at or below national minimum NAPLAN standards for reading in 2014.

It is essential for Australia’s credibility and integrity, as well as its economic future, that we excite young people about the value of books and writing. The alternative is to risk a literacy and skills deficit in future generations.

A significant global body of research agrees that a positive reading culture contributes to enhanced literacy skills, increasing employability and educational attainment. Reading for pleasure provides an improved sense of cultural and emotional wellbeing.

Instilling a positive literary culture requires the coordinated support of education, library and arts professionals. We believe these funding decisions threaten those relationships.

“Literacy is much more than an educational priority – it is the ultimate investment in the future.”

                                                                  UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova

Through the city of Melbourne, Australia is one of only 11 countries globally to be awarded the accolade of UNESCO City of Literature, respecting the heritage, contemporary and future contributions of our independent literary industry. We believe the federal Budget decisions undermine the established and creditable process of peer-review, putting that commitment to innovative literary thinking at risk, for this generation and the ones to follow.

Impact of the 2014 and 2015 Commonwealth Budget decisions on the arts

The diverse nature of the arts and creative industries provide many layers of social, cultural and economic benefits to Australia. In Victoria, these industries employ 220,000 people and generate $22.7billion – 8% of the State economy.

Artists exist in a supportive ecosystem strengthened by impartial support from arms-length Commonwealth funding. The investment in arts activity produces effective educational benefits that would otherwise be more challenging and costly to achieve.

The announcement of the Australia Council’s 2014-2019 strategic plan and stream-lined grants process was broadly welcomed in the arts world. The approach was committed to excellence and development, with a focus on inter-disciplinary work. The federal budget cuts mean that key elements of this plan have had to be scrapped.

In our view, the recent federal funding decisions will harm the coordinated approach for engagement with young audiences.

The Budget decisions represent the following changes to funding allocations across the arts:

  • Budget cuts of $28.2 million levied in the 2014 Budget.
  • Reallocation of $6 million in Australia Council funds to a new Book Council.
  • Reduction of $104.8 million for the Australia Council in the 2015 Budget.
  • Required future ‘efficiency savings’ of $7 million for the Australia Council.
  • Awarding of $80 million to the new NPEA, administered by the Ministry for the Arts.

The immediate impacts of the 2015 federal Budget decisions on the arts include:

  • Six-year funding program for small to medium arts enterprises has been suspended, leading to instability and reduced arts employment.
  • Programs supporting skills and capacity building have been axed.
  • Pressure is building on other funding sources, as the total Commonwealth funds available for individual artists is reduced.

The suspension of the six year funding program will directly impact the outcomes of the Centre for Youth Literature at State Library Victoria.

 “The Centre for Youth Literature is internationally regarded as one of the most important and successful institutions in Young Adult literature, offering a great deal to readers, teachers, librarians, authors and illustrators that simply isn’t found anywhere else.”

                                                                                                                Garth Nix

 Without access to programs targeted at building collaboration and professional capacity, talent will go unsupported, and we risk a move of these individuals away from the arts environment. In turn, we will be unable to attract younger generations to careers in the intersecting worlds of art, literature, design and digital culture.

With the Australia Council’s expertise and coordination, the work of small to medium arts organisations in local communities is amplified, leading to a coherent and strategic national approach to the common challenge of literature and literacy development.

Formation of the Book Industry Council

In the 2014 federal Budget, it was announced that $6 million previously held by the Australia Council budget was being redirected into the creation of the Book Industry Council. Little information has been released about this new body since that point, with no draft terms of reference available.

This lack of transparency is concerning at a time when other avenues of funding are being reduced and administrative grants functions duplicated. We trust the draft remit of the Council will be announced soon, and a genuine and robust discussion entered into with the wider literary sector.

Establishment of the NPEA

The creation of the NPEA directly duplicates the existing work of the Australia Council team. Expert staffing and administrative overheads will be required by two organisations with similar aims; this represents at a minimum the ineffective use of public funds.

We are disappointed that there is no reference to literature, publishing or writers in the draft guidelines for the NPEA, and no recognition of the vital work these artists do in connecting with young people and representing contemporary Australian culture.

Artists and arts organisations will be required to increase the already substantial time dedicated to the process of securing, administering and acquitting public funds through multiple channels. This damages the resources available to create new work, and develop new audiences. Fewer artistic achievements will be born in Australia.

The guidelines favour larger arts organisations at the expense of nimble and innovative small to medium enterprises, and proactive individuals. While the intent seems to be to increase the reach to more Australians, this concentration of resources will not support a flexible and truly national arts provision. It will instead serve to exclude many young regional, rural and outer-metropolitan Australians from formative cultural experiences, including direct connection to authors, illustrators and storytellers.

As a trusted and respected library for almost 160 years, we collect and preserve a significant Australian Children’s Literature research collection of over 100,000 items, representing the diverse and multicultural nature of children’s fiction. As less funding is available for individuals to create new literary works, fewer Australian stories will be told. The scope for us to gather these representative works for future citizens will decrease.

In conclusion

Again, we thank you for the opportunity to register our concern. On behalf of young readers and writers, we repeat our calls for the reversal of the recent federal Budget decisions regarding arts funding.

 

Justine Hyde

Acting CEO and State Librarian

State Library Victoria – Centre for Youth Literature

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