Editorial – Issue 44

Attitude and action

Beyond the wildest expectations of the artistic community – and confounding the scepticism we expressed in our March 2000 editorial – the Government announced an arts funding package on 18 May that was unprecedented in its generosity and far-sightedness.

The package includes: a $22m establishment grant for a new Film Production Fund; an extra $7m in annual funding to New Zealand On Air; a $3m capital injection into the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra this year, and an extra $1.4m annually; and an increase of $2m in annual operating funding for Te Papa plus an extra $9m in annual capital funding.

As for Creative New Zealand, it gets a special package of an extra $20m this financial year, which will allow it to enter into longer-term funding arrangements with major arts organisations over the next three years. In her press release, the Prime Minister said that this “injection of funds” is intended to “free up more of Creative New Zealand’s ongoing funding for other arts projects”.

Amongst all this good news, however, there was no specific reference to literature. Literature makes only modest demands on the public purse; and there are compelling economic reasons – quite apart from simple cultural ones – why our writers, whatever their genre, should receive increased support. After all, in her press release the Prime Minister also remarked that “[The arts sector] can also provide sustainable and rewarding employment, and contribute a great deal to economic growth and prosperity.”

Since the publication of the bone people (1983), there has been an unprecedented flowering of local literary talent. The international profile of our writers, and therefore of the nation as a whole, has risen markedly as a result. Fiction writers Elizabeth Knox, Emily Perkins, Catherine Chidgey and Kirsty Gunn have all achieved considerable success in the UK market. Poets Lauris Edmond, Bill Manhire and Chris Orsman have been published to acclaim by leading UK publishers Bloodaxe, Carcanet and Faber, respectively. Only last month C K Stead’s latest novel Talking About O’Dwyer was glowingly reviewed in the Spectator. And work by writers such as Janet Frame, Witi Ihimaera and Patricia Grace is regularly taught in a range of overseas universities. All this goes to show that literature is a part of our culture that travels very easily and now offers a sound national investment.

At a time when our beleaguered universities are less and less able to take a lead in our cultural life, and there is a reduced pool of funding available to writers from other sources, New Zealand Books would like to think that literature will not be forgotten when it comes to distributing the Government’s largesse.

Bill Sewell & Harry Ricketts

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