Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Snakes and ladders at the Arts Council

Five Leaves currently receives a modest sum from the Arts Council's Grants for the Arts Scheme and is not in the big league of those fighting over the reduced spoils available through the national portfolio scheme whose winners and losers have just been announced. Comments on them in a minute but at all times remember that the sums available are reduced entirely because the Government prefers to stuff money into the orifices of greedy bankers and tax avoiders. That's our colours nailed to the mast then. So, good news for our friends at Peepal Tree (the main publishers of Caribbean work), the distributor Inpress, the short story specialist Comma, Writing East Midlands and Writing on the Wall book festival in Liverpool. We are pleased that Liverpool Arabic Festival is in there, which group has been very supportive of our two Arabic projects with Peter Mortimer. There's quite a bit of new money going into children's literature, which seems to have been overlooked by the commentators, with a major uplift for Seven Stories and others but little surprise attached to Nick Hornby's Ministry of Stories getting support. I'm not the only one shocked, however, to see Faber supported to the tune of £40k a year, not least as they are so mean in charging high reprint fees to small presses wishing to publish their poems in anthologies. Couldn't they, y'know, put on another performance of Cats or something?

But what of the losers? Our regional manager from the Arts Council said in his circular that it would not be right to list those whose applications failed. Perhaps he has not come across that internet thingy yet as the list takes about three seconds to find on a google search and it was on twitter and the BBC website this morning. I wonder whether the need to apply for a minimum of £50k per annum saw off some of the small publishers that applied which might have been able to put in strong applications for half that, but friends at Flambard and Arc lost out. There does seem to be some confused thinking as the Poetry Translation Centre did well, and the British Centre for Literary Translation yet Arc is a major publisher of poetry in translation as is Anvil who were not thrown overboard but will be on half-rations, and the fiction in translation specialist Arcadia did not do well either. Poetry actually did badly - Enitharmon lost out as did the Poetry Trust and above all, the Poetry Book Society. Like many small indies we have issues with PBS related to the lead time for submissions making it hard for people our size to get our collections selected. But there is no doubt that PBS shifts poetry books, in quantity, and the reduction in poetry being stocked by bookshops made its existence all the more important. It seems strange to strangle the PBS but to continue to fund, say, Poetry London, or Survivors' Poetry and to add Poet in the City. No wonder Carol Ann Duffy is spitting nails. The poetry and short story publisher Salt was also unsuccessful, but those of us of a long memory wonder whether their earlier statement about it being a bad thing to be dependent on ACE funding worked against them, as could their recent article in Poetry Review revealing a massive slump in sales. I was also sorry to see the Windows Project in Liverpool lose out as they have done some excellent work. Losing all the funding for the Writing in Prison Network will hit hard as well given how much work they have done to address literacy in prisons. Maybe - and I did not see their bid - that was their problem. Good work but not necessarily "good art"?

It does look as if those who actually publish work did not do well (never mind the huge loss to sales represented by the PBS losing out). Save for Peepal Tree a first look through the scores on the doors indicates around standstill for Bloodaxe and Carcanet, with Tindall Street choosing to move in due course from Arts Council funding (the official report looks as if they are chopped at year three but chose to end their funding then themselves). Yet the Arvon Foundation, which provides residential courses to aspiring writers, has had a major uplift. Arvon runs great courses in great venues with great tutors but with the book trade in freefall and little money here going to publishers who is going to publish all the newbies? Faber?

What of the agencies? New Writing North (whose work I respect) has had a large increase, Writers' Centre in Norwich (whose work I don't know) a whopping increase and Writing West Midlands added to the portfolio with a very large budget. I hope they all spend it wisely.

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