Queensland Literary Awards

Last night I attended the Queensland Literary Awards, and it was lovely. It was everything an awards night should be - celebratory, congratulatory, short and sweet.

April 2012: the Queensland writing community rallies behind Brisbane authors Matthew Condon and Krissy Kneen to create the Queensland Literary Awards in response to the incoming LNP government cancelling the Queensland Premier's Literary Awards. Last night bore the fruit of their labours. And bore them well.
Authors, publishers, agents, and supporters of writing and literature from across Australia filled Auditorium 1 of State Library of Queensland and it was kinda heart warming.

For a minute there, I was genuinely concerned it would be a night of LNP bashing, but the night reflected the overall mood regarding the awards - joy. Yeah, there was the occassional dig at the new government, and one outright 'up yours', but MC Richard Fidler, kept the night en pointe focussing on the artists, the books, and the community.

I have no earth-shattering observations from the night - as an event, it was a great night. Congratulations to all the winners, particularly The Courier-Mail People's Choice Queensland Book of the Year winner Simon Cleary and Children's Book Award winner Briony Stewart for one of the best acceptance videos I have ever seen.

So props to Krissy Kneen, all the volunteers, and the committee of Queensland Literary Awards for a successful awards, both in execution of the awards and the response, and a really enjoyable night.

Regarding the reason for the night, well, that's another story.

The axing of the QPLA was shocking to say the least. No-one predicated the clean strike LNP would make against the Queensland writing community, and the arts in general - and in the first week of office, no less.
It seemed like a rash move from a new government whose Arts Minister had not yet taken office. Correction: it was a rash move. And quite simply, it was an easy kill. It was the only awards in the DPC portfolio that had yet to begin - all others had already commenced or were in the midst of judging. I am particularly interested to see if the remaining Premier's Awards (particularly Drama) remain into 2013.

What it really questions is the value of the arts. As an active arts worker, and an occasional practitioner, I admit a clear bias. But as an educator, former IT student, and general cynic, there's more to the arts than the book, the film, the song, the show. Beyond the actual object of the art itself, the value of the arts is wide-spread and far-reaching (and here's where I get all philosophical). Art is the response to our time - it speaks to who we are and what we value. Art questions, researchs, articulates, and communicates and it does so through the most unlikely of mediums. There's a great scene in The Devil Wears Prada (the movie, not the book) where the protagonist gets a dressing down from the antagonist when she scoffs at a question over belts -
   'you think that you've made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you're wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.'
It's a great line that I come back to time and again whenever people make some snide remark over the cost of a book or film ticket, or arts funding comes up in conversation.

Not only does art provide value to the artist (in what I hope is an income) and the participant (delight, terror, enjoyment, fatigue), but it supports so many other practictioners and professionals along the way. There's the editor, the proofreader, the cover designer, the printer, the sound technician, the papermaker, the website developer, the accountant, the caterer, the retailer, the shipping company, and a myriad of other roles in some way rely on a portion of the RRP.

Beyond the 'Arts', artists and the act of creating art are integral to so many discourses and professions. Architecture, technology, botany, carpentary, history, news - all are informed by the arts*. Yes, they have direct practical implications, and in some cases functional demands, but they are also heavily influenced by the arts. Architects are compelled not only by four walls and a roof, but by aesthetics. Technology - Apple's success lies not only in their 'usability', but in their branding and aesthetic (in fact, they just won a lawsuit against Samsung for copying the 'look' of their phone). Early botanists drew all their subjects, and were fantastic painters and sketchers. Furniture is not only refined based on its use, but its look. History is informed by the writing and artwork of the period. And the news, well, it is its own special fiction.
There's more, of course - the artwork, music, and stories of a society or culture form the groundwork for sociological and anthropological, hell, even linguistical and religious, studies. The fucking English language uses the writing of one populist playwright as the epitome of the language - not an academic or scientist, a bloody playwright who wrote soap operas for the poor (that's William Shakespeare, btw).

Even at the most basic of levels - children are taught to read and write, not only in the classroom, but by beautifully illustrated books, through tactile learning, through play, through the creation of ART. But at about eight or nine, we're told no. No, playtime has passed. Art is no longer a reasonable form of communication or expression. And yet we interact with it every day - relaying something funny from work, writing a job proposal, interpreting advertisements, reading a magazine. This is interacting with Art. To then say Art has no value, not to be overly dramatic, is to say literacy, identity, history lack worth. And frankly, what the fuck is that about?

To dismiss the arts so readily, this government lacks the foresight to see the bigger picture. To deny value to the arts, to any artform, not just literature, is to devalue those skills and tools that are valuable to any society - literacy, trades, vision, empathy. Arts gives us access to experiences and lives that we may never live, and furthermore, gives us the ability to empathise with them. It provides the tools of expression and communication necessary to engage with the world around us. And the arts is fun, it's enjoyable, it's a bright colour in a drab day. And frankly, that's worth mountains.

**If you want to learn more about the correlation between science and the arts, check out The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes. My first foray into the 'arts in sciences' debate, and a bloody good read.


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