In the culture pages of the Guardian, Charles Firth recounts a tale of exasperation, injustice and heroic suffering. Specifically, his struggle to find funding for an artistic work space:
In 2007, four idiots who thought of themselves as writers scammed an awkwardly inaccessible office in a beautiful old building that had very few tenants… The enlightened trustees were happy to let a group of earnest young writers use the space until a “proper” tenant came along, charging us something like $230 per month.
$230 a month for a large office in the heart of Sydney. A bargain by any measure. One that attracted other Creatives In Need Of Comfort™.
Slowly, other writers came to hear about the space. A well-respected essayist, a proper novelist and a budding popular historian moved in, and the room acquired a certificate of incorporation as a non-profit arts organisation, a set of stern rules (don’t be loud, don’t be messy, don’t interrupt)...
Stern rules regarding mess and noise. I suppose selling out was inevitable. Almost as inevitable as the end of that temporary peppercorn rent.
Meanwhile, the rest of the building had filled to capacity, and the 17 writer-members now had to find $2,300 plus GST per month to cover rent. As I spent increasing amounts of time on administration, my attention turned to arts grants.
But of course.
My understanding of the system was that it was there to support those producing cultural works: artists and writers. This proved naïve. The true purpose of arts grants is for one set of arts bureaucrats to provide funding to create a new generation of arts bureaucrats. The qualities most highly valued by funding bodies are the ability to reproduce accurately the funding body’s logo, and to file a report that can be included in their annual report alongside words like “new,” “innovative” and, above all, “successful.”
Mr Firth, it turns out, isn’t too impressed by socialised arts funding and its box-ticking apparatus - sentiments with which some readers may feel empathy. But those feeling empathetic may want to avoid applauding just yet.
Unfortunately, the Sydney Writers’ Room was none of these things.
Being artistically innovative and successful is something rarely said of office space. Even office space with rules regarding mess.
Its mission was to provide a space that placed no expectation on success or failure. You just had to be quiet and write.
Office space, in short, for those who consider themselves deserving of special favours and perpetual indulgence. Those “legitimately worthy,” as Mr Firth puts it. Not worthy because of what they have produced, but worthy because of what they may produce, possibly, at some point in the future, should muse and ability permit. And so taxpayers must be given the old shakedown, not just for written works they didn’t ask for, but for the potential for works they didn’t ask for, and to ensure the further inflation of Mr Firth’s self-regard. You see, it’s simply impossible to write anything at all unless one has a large office sited in a beautiful old building in the heart of Sydney, all bankrolled indefinitely by the taxpayers of Australia. Bloggers of the world, please take note.