I have only recently stepped out to own my shy ambitions to be a writer. In my fifth decade of life. I have plenty of both life and work experience, but I come to the writing sector with fresh eyes.
As someone who has worked in the not for profit health and community sector for 15 years in many different roles, voluntary and paid, when I see the latest funding decisions and funding cuts affecting the writing sector, I see the same problems in the writing sector that seem to plague all of the not for profit sector.
Lack of co-ordination.
Humans love to create new things. Full of excitement and passion, we take up the challenge of starting (yet another) not for profit organisation. The Incorporations Act becomes our new bible as we try to put together the dry and complicated words of our Constitution which we will then spend countless hours trying to decipher exactly how this translates into real life.
For so long, we have all drawn up our separate constitutions and appointed our Board Members, usually one or two people will shoulder most of the work, and despite their job title will do the minutes, books, take memberships etc. Sharing the workload can actually be harder than working out who is doing what.
In the end there are a plethora of organisations that to the outsider have differences completely opaque to the naked eye. Like the Judean Peoples Front, and the People’s Front of Judea, each separate organisation undertakes the basic tasks stipulated in our separate constitutions, and endless scrabble for Board Members, attendees at desultory AGMs. Scratching one’s nose in an AGM can be accidentally interpreted as assent to undertake the role of Treasurer, or worse, Secretary. I’m joking of course, but you get the idea.
In Western Australia where I live you have plenty of options; Australian Writing Centre, Writing Australia, The Fellowship of Writers WA, The Katharine Susannah Prichard Writing Centre, Out of the Asylum Writers Group and the more recently the Centre for Stories.
In the health sector I have been intimately involved with state funding reforms and the increasing unwillingness of government to dole out small parcels of money to an unco-ordinated group of grass roots organisations. Each of those contracts will require significant paperwork to ensure that the money is being used how it ought to be. While variety and difference are exciting, sometimes what people want as a separate Judean People’s Front is actually a project that would fit nicely under the People’s Front of Judea’s objectives.
Unless the community sector organises itself, it will have decisions made for it by bureaucrats. Contracts will be awarded to those who have tender writing skills rather than those who offer the best training and resources.
Self-organisation takes discipline, willingness, and someone with the skills of a Middle East Peace negotiator to help people see how much money they may have to compete for, if only they could all collaborate. Discussions need to take place slowly and steadily over months and years to work towards healthy, respectful, fair partnerships. Money can’t be on the table when the discussions are taking place.
To structure these discussions, a separate consortium could be set up which will not receive funding and which has representatives from all the key organisations. Being able to collaborate on one huge unwieldy tender document (with hopefully funding to match) could ultimately fund all the different aspirations of the organisations of the consortium. Or, it could sometimes highlight that much wasted effort is being undertaken and that working together will ultimately create better supports for WA writers and excellent WA-written books (and isn’t that really what it’s all about?)
In WA it looks like the money discussions have already been had. The new funding cycle will start now, which leaves three years until the next round of funding is available. That should be just enough time to call in the Middle East Peace negotiators and start connecting with the bigger vision that will unite us all.
That’s my two cents, fresh-eyes perspective anyway.