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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33, No. 6 6 May 1970

Arts Conference 70

Arts Conference 70


I have just finished reading Alan Brunton's report on Arts Conference 70 and would like, as President of Pen (NZ Centre), to correct a point in relation to the remit advocating the elimination of the State Literary Fund in favour of an advisory panel of the Arts Council.

Mr Brunton says, inter alia, "As it happens, the only defence for retention of the Fund is made by its present Secretary (a civil servant) and by delegates from Pen (which has, supposedly, the independent say in the Fund's deliberations)."

In January of this year I put before Pen Executive a lengthy note headed "Arts Conference" in which I quoted Arts Council grants from Government and Lottery sources, and to which I attached pages from the latest Q.E. II Arts Council Annual Report giving general expenditure figures for drama, music and visual arts. My aim was to draw attention to the unfavourable treatment of writers under the State Literary Fund with whose grants we were of course familiar. Paragraph 4 of my note read: "If the Arts Council does not consider us because the Literary Fund does, would writers not be treated more comparably with the other arts if the Literary Fund were incorporated within the Council and we were represented by our own Panel therein? Drama has a panel of 10, Music 17 and Visual Arts 15." I mentioned that Pen's function has never been to ask for more grants for writers. It is unfortunate that New Zealand has no organisation whose sole job is to be a voice for writers, and because this is so, another of my Presidential platforms has been to recommend that members join the Australian Society of Authors which hopes to form a New Zealand branch. This Society acts with tremendous energy and aggression for more fellowships, higher rates of pay, better contracts, copywright fees for xeroxing, and of course, for the Public Lending Right. New Zealand desperately needs such a body.

Further, in my note I asserted that writers are of greater value to the culture and life of a society than executants of any of the other arts, firstly because in our literate land we all read whereas comparatively few attend ballet, opera and so on; and secondly because some of the arts are interpretive while writing is indigenous.

I'm sure you will see that I would be anxious to support the remit in question. I did in fact do so. If John Lee, our only official delegate, did not do so, I'm sure it was because his deafness prevented his knowing what was being considered. Two other Pen members were present. One if not both voted for the remit. Alan Brunton's assumption that Pen has the independent say in the State Literary Fund's deliberations is incorrect, by the way. The names of the recipients of the Scholarship in Letters and the Award for Achievement are as much news to us as they are to you. Pen does have two awards of its own for which we receive assistance from the State Literary Fund. These are the Hubert Church Award for prose and the Jessie Mackay Award for poetry, for which we arrange our own outside judges.

Many young people have plenty to say worth listening to (some University students, some not) and are articulate, very often over poweringly. I would like to see some of this wisdom/anger/energy used creatively, preferably in writing. There's every chance that an important novel might result.

Neva Clarke