Open Letter from Noted Writers Festival | It’s not goodbye, it’s see you later
Noted Writers Festival has recently made the very difficult decision not to run a festival in 2018. Instead, we will be spending the next year looking at ways to make our organisation more financially sustainable. We intend to be back in 2019, and will continue to run smaller, one-off events in Canberra in the meantime.
In 2014, an informal collective of local artists came together because we believed that our city – our arts community – deserved its own literary festival (Canberra had been without one for five years). From the outset, the purpose of Noted was to build a festival with and for anyone who loves to write. We connected local writers with writers from interstate and around the world. We tried to make every decision – small and significant – with inclusivity and accessibility in mind.
In our first year and with a non-existent budget, we lent on organisational friends for support: You Are Here Festival allowed us to leverage their infrastructure and audience networks. The ACT Writers Centre, Canberra Weekly and the ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences gave financial support. Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centres (AGAC) provided space. And, through our crowd-funding campaign, you helped us too.
In 2015, we ran the inaugural festival on a budget of less than $4500. Running a festival on so little money was challenging to say the least. In 2016, Noted’s cash budget swelled to $26,000 and then, in 2017, to $38,800. Each year, more than half of our budget was spent on artist fees. We were also able to pay our volunteer production team a small contribution to reflect the enormous time commitment it takes to put on a festival. This extra cash was primarily provided by the ACT Government through artsACT project funding, for which we remain very grateful.
On top of artsACT’s contribution, we continued to be supported by and collaborate with many of our friends from the inaugural festival – particularly AGAC who became our auspicing body, major venue partner and all-round cheer squad. We received help from new friends too: The National Library of Australia, The Stella Prize, YHA Canberra City, The AIDS Acton Council of the ACT, and Libraries ACT just to name a few.
Collectively, Noted has presented work by more than 235 local, national and international artists across over 150 free events, attended by more than 5000 people. We are really proud of this achievement.
However, at the end of three years of relying on one-off funding contributions, we are also exhausted.
Running an annual festival with no ongoing financial security is difficult. Funding announcements may not be made until after you have to meet deadlines, making risk and uncertainty an unavoidable part of the job. For example, the very late announcement of 2017 artsACT project funding meant we had to hire a production team and book artists without knowing if we could actually run the festival. Cash flow becomes an issue too. We have personally loaned thousands of dollars to ensure things were paid on time, and donated hundreds more to get the extra bits and pieces the festival couldn’t afford.
Noted is run by volunteers. During the process of succession planning, we have decided that we cannot ethically continue to ask a volunteer team to take on the burden of working in this way. We need to take some time out to find more sustainable ways to operate.
Ideally, one part of a solution would be access to multi-year government funding. However, the scale Noted operates at means this is not currently a pathway open to us. Without the possibility to apply for comparatively small amounts of multi-year organisational funding, it is hard to for ongoing artist-run organisations like Noted to stabilise themselves or develop. We want to encourage the ACT Government and the Minister for the Arts to consider ways in which artist-run organisations can be supported to maintain the vital contributions that they make to our city’s arts ecology.
We also acknowledge that reliance on government funding is not known for its sustainability. We will also be looking at alternative revenue sources and collaborative, cost-sharing programming models too. If you’ve got ideas for us, please let us know. We will be hosting a community forum early next year for you to share your thoughts with us in person.
So, we’re off to get stuck in. Please stay in touch and keep an eye out for our future events. This isn’t good bye, it’s see you in 2019.
The Noted Festival Team