Some are more equal than others

I had a post prepared about language for my first one of the year, but this morning I received something in the mail that changed my mind.

Every January the Ontario Arts Council puts out a brochure detailing the arts grants for the coming year. When I looked at the literature grants for 2017, I was shocked to see that they’ve been drastically reduced.

What do I mean by “drastically”? How about two granting programmes, Word of Mouth and Writers’ Works in Progress, being reduced to a single one called Literary Creation Projects? How about four deadlines for Works in Progress, and whatever deadlines the Word of Mouth programme used to have, being reduced to two, total, one of which is reserved for adult fiction writers only?

Let me expand on that a bit. This means that writers in Ontario who write fiction for adults get one deadline all to themselves. The other deadline is designated for “comic arts, non-fiction, northern writers, performance literatures, poetry and young adult fiction/non-fiction”. So writers of comics and graphic novels, poets, performance artists and people who write anything for young adults are all lumped into one grant deadline. Oh, yes, and the Northern deadline, the one that guaranteed that not every grant would go to a writer in Toronto, is now a mere subset of “all you guys who don’t write fiction for adults”.

I don’t know how these grants will be allotted. When I served on the WIP jury a few years back, there were twenty grants, three of which were earmarked for poetry. Poetry was judged by a separate group of jurors. I can see how it might be possible to split up the grants, allotting three for poetry, three for performance literature, whatever numbers and proportions the OAC folk decide. But with only four jurors, will those grants be decided by people who have enough knowledge of all these categories to judge pieces against each other not only within their category, but against others?

This division of the two deadlines essentially says that if you aren’t writing adult fiction, you aren’t as important. You’re in the “other” pool. That seems like a pretty high-handed and short-sighted decision, given the expanding popularity of graphic novels, young-adult literature and performance literature, not to mention the enduring appeal of poetry.

But what I’m really pissed about is the loss of the Northern grant. See, in the five years before John Degen introduced that grant during his tenure as Literature Officer, there had been exactly one Works in Progress grant awarded to a writer north of Parry Sound. One out of three hundred grants. So this lumping of Northern Ontarians into the “other” category means that, once again, Northern writers could easily be left out of the artistic support that is supposed to be for all Ontarians.

I’m sure we Northern Ontario writers are in part to blame for the loss of our own deadline. If the entry numbers didn’t justify the money and effort of a separate deadline, it was going to go. I’ve wondered for several years when the axe would fall. I’ve encouraged writers to do what was necessary to make the cut – get two paid publication credits and put together a polished, forty-page entry – because I didn’t want us to lose that grant. Now we have.

The thing about artists is that they will do art, even without support. I was a writer before I ever got a grant, and I’ll still be a writer if I never get one again. But I am unhappy that the support that we used to have is gone, and that the appreciation of our particular style and sense of place, and of the value of writing that is not fiction for adults, has been so greatly diminished.

How this new literature granting programme will play out is anyone’s guess. If arts money is cut, then the OAC has to make cuts, too. I’m sure other granting programmes have also lost funding, but literature is the one I know. And I’m disappointed to find that the OAC has decided that fiction for adults is as important as poetry, non-fiction, young-adult writing, graphic novels, performance and absolutely anything written by a northerner, all lumped together.

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6 Responses to Some are more equal than others

  1. palfreyman1414 says:

    Angry face.

  2. Jennifer says:

    This appears to be unrescued Conservative thinking.

    • ecreith says:

      I know the OAC had a budget freeze – which works out to a cut over time – a couple of years ago. It does seem that every Conservative government makes a practice of backhanding the arts.

  3. Jack Illingworth says:

    Hello Elizabeth,

    I’d like to address a couple of misunderstandings about the new program design reflected in this post.

    Let me reassure you: we have NOT cut any program budgets. All of these changes are related to the need to streamline our programs to go online. Where we could, we collapsed programs and the budgets for these programs were also combined.

    The new deadline structure for Literary Creation Projects was devised to allow us to provide more specialist juries, not fewer. In 2017 there will be a specialist jury or juries for each individual grouping named in a program deadline.

    In order make that happen, it was necessary to make sure all applications of the same type arrive at the same time. We also needed to continue to break the program up in order to handle the very large volume of applications we receive from writers across Ontario in the most efficient way.

    When we looked at all of our literature programs, we noted that fiction for adult audiences represents about half of the applications we receive: last year, of the approximately 630 applications to our juried literature creation programs, 270 were fiction applications to Writers’ Works in Progress. We therefore decided that taking all fiction at one deadline was the best way to divide the work of assessment across the year. It isn’t a question of importance: fiction writers won’t enjoy more (or less) specialized assessment, or have better odds of success.

    As the program webpage states, each group in the fall deadline (northern writers, poetry, non-fiction, performance literatures, young adult fiction/non-fiction, and comic arts) will have its own jury so long as application volumes allow. This means there will be six juries behind this deadline, each with its own granting budget. We have used this process successfully in the past for northern writers, poetry, performance literatures (through the Word of Mouth program), and comic arts, and will now be able to expand it to fiction, non-fiction, and works for young adults. In the past, only about a third of all applications to Writers’ Works in Progress went before a specialist jury. In 2017, all applications will be assessed by specialists.

    The granting budget for each grouping will be primarily based on the total number of applications received in each genre or deadline the previous year, with some adjustments to reflect OAC priorities, meaning that applicants to the Northern Writers group and the Performance Literatures group will continue to enjoy higher success rates than applications to other groupings.

    A separate jury of and for northerners will continue – you just need to apply to the Northern Writers group. It still will be up to writers from the north to choose whether they prefer to apply to a multi-genre northern jury, or to a jury from within their own genre.

    The applications that used to come to Word of Mouth will continue to be assessed by a jury of performance-oriented literary artists, based on audiovisual material. They will not be mixed in with applications intended for publication.

    A small amount, based on an average of the last five years of grants awarded to French-language applications to Word of Mouth, has been transferred to Création litteraire, our Francophone program for literary artists. Otherwise, the budget of Literary Creation Projects will combine our 2016 commitments to Writers’ Works in Progress and Word of Mouth, without reductions.

    I hope this addresses your concerns. If you have more questions, feel free to email me at

    Jack Illingworth
    Literature Officer

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