I just got informed that my novel “Here Come the Dogs” is not eligible for nomination in the artsACT’s ACT Book of the Year, because I have not adequately displayed “an ACT-based arts practice.” I found this interesting, because it opens up a very particular can of worms.
A couple of thoughts.
OK, let’s get it out of the way quickly — yes, I am from (and live in) Queanbeyan, NSW, and I rep it very hard. I’m not trying to be labelled “a Canberra writer” (although I’ve noticed that Canberra often seems keen to claim me as one) or even be shortlisted for this prize, though hey, let’s not lie, it’s always nice. The point is that we all know that Queanbeyan is part of the Canberra region, and that our arts’ practices have been inextricably linked for time immemorial. We have a very particular history and the reality of a region where there is a major city/territory surrounded by smaller towns is that there will be constant back and forth and exchange. The point is that so-called “regional” artists like myself or Jackie French, can contribute to the development of writerly culture in Canberra, but not be awarded for it.
It’s pretty ridiculous that I even have to do this, but let me describe my connection to the Canberra/ACT arts scene. In the past ten years, I have performed countless poetry and hip hop shows in Canberra (whattup Transit Bar/La Di Da/Front Gallery/Phoenix Bar/National Library/National Gallery/ANU Bar/UC Refectory?), I won the Australian Poetry Slam representing the ACT, I have run workshops at numerous high schools and colleges. I launched “Here Come the Dogs” TWICE in Canberra because the city has been focal to my arts’ practice. Hell, a couple of years ago, I even advocated for the creation of a territory-wide ACT slam poetry competition for high school kids, which was subsequently funded by the ACT government (of which artsACT is an arm)! The Canberra arts scene, poetry scene, hip hop scene KNOW me, because I am a PART OF THEM.
This year alone, I was included in Geoff Page and Kit Kelen’s anthology of “Poetry from Canberra” and asked to launch the “Urban Suburban” exhibition of photography of Canberra and Queanbeyan. A few months ago, I worked with bullied youth at the Messenger’s Arts Program (run by Queanbeyan artist Mariana del Castillo) at Tuggeranong Arts Centre, and it was because I was a local artist that it was believed I would resonate with the kids. I also noticed that I was recently described on Tourism ACT’s website (Tourism ACT being another arm of the ACT government) as a “local artist.”
Yet all of these things combined, some of which have been quite public, do not “an ACT-based arts practice” make. It’s all very, very strange and narrow, and also hypocritical, since artsACT actually gives funding to artists from the “region”. How do I know this? Because they gave me some a few years ago.