Canberrans have long claimed authors and artists from the surrounding region as our own, but when it comes to cash prizes, how far out of town is too far?
This year, for the first time, the ACT Book of the Year award has set the boundaries strictly within the capital’s borders, leaving some sectors of the small but thriving Canberra literary community up in arms.
For Goulburn-based Canberra Times contributor and novelist Nigel Featherstone, the new guidelines for the $10,000 prize mean he can no longer officially identify with the Canberra community when it comes to his writing.
“What the ACT has effectively done is make one of the smaller Australian literary awards even smaller,” he said.
“On a personal level, it has meant that in the future I won’t have the opportunity to be recognised by the community in which I am so active.”
And there are several well-known regional authors who are now in same boat, including Jackie French and Roger McDonald, who both live in Braidwood, and Queanbeyan-born Omar Musa.
Mr Featherstone said the guideline change was inconsistent with ACT arts policy, which specifically refers to the importance of the Canberra region.
“For example, project funding, which closes today, is open to ACT and regional writers, so why be inconsistent and screw over people who are nominating for book of the year?” he said.
“It’s a mean-spirited policy change by a government that’s not known to be mean spirited. Whatever we think of same-sex marriage and Skywhale and the Centenary, whatever we think of light rail, whatever we think of climate change, they have been a government that’s tried to be open minded and outward focused and open to things. So, why do this?”
A spokeswoman for Arts Minister Joy Burch said the policy change was in keeping with “funding priorities”.
“The change to writers living in the ACT for the 2014 Book of the Year was made following the review of the arts landscape and funding priorities to focus on ACT artists living in the ACT,” she said.
“The project round allows for an artist to demonstrate an ACT practice, as they invariably expend the grant in the ACT through use of ACT artists, present activity in the ACT and use artsACT and other facilities for workshops, rehearsals and creative processes.”
Entries for the ACT Book of the Year Award close on August 1.