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.