Kill Your Darlings has been following the alarming cuts to the Australia Council for the Arts and the political erosion of arms-length funding with a great deal of concern these past weeks.
As proud recipients of Australia Council funding, we are naturally dismayed at any cuts to this already lean sector. We are of the view that a healthy, wealthy democracy such as ours must support the arts community through apolitical funding bodies. Politics always has a place in the arts and artistic expression, but political mandates should never have a place in arts administration.
As we’ve voiced our anxiety about this issue, we’ve been struck by how little is known outside of the hot-house of our own arts community about the Australia Council’s role in the seed-funding, development and preservation of so many artistic organisations in this country.
There is a perception, far wider than some might imagine, that Kill Your Darlings and organisations like it, by virtue of their continued operation, are fully sustainable, commercially viable, moneymaking machines.
This is not the case.
While KYD’s long-term aspiration is not to be wholly dependent on government funding, as a young organisation (we have been established for less than six years), grant money from the Literature Board (one of several components that make up the Australia Council) has been a crucial part of our development as an Australian publication. It has legitimised our cultural output, given us both professional and financial confidence – and, most importantly, has enabled us to support more than 650 artists through paid publication.
In a commercial world, where success is largely measured in financial profit, there is an understandable reluctance on the part of arts organisations to reveal just how slim their margins are, or how poorly their staff are paid.
However, in order to make the wider public truly aware of how vital the Australia Council is, we believe it is necessary for companies such as Kill Your Darlings to be as transparent as possible about our operations and the role government funding plays in them.
KYD came into the world in late 2009 with the single goal of creating a publication that celebrated quality Australian writing and writers. We did not begin life with any government funding. We co-founders used our own modest savings to establish the business. The small amount of money left over from this went into a small pool for printing and contributor costs. Our inaugural issue, which was published in March 2010, was the effort of personal financial sacrifice and the generosity of our start-up team of other editors and designers who donated their time, work and expertise without pay.
Following the publication of this inaugural issue, it was necessary to fundraise to earn the money needed to continue printing and paying our writers. Funds made from our small, initial subscriber base and bookstore sales went directly into the next issue. Over the next twelve months there were many times when we had to resort to using our own savings.
We were broke, but we didn’t mind. We were passionate about KYD, we were proud of our writers and, by maintaining high editorial and production standards, were working towards a goal commonly held by almost every start-up literary publication: funding from the Literature Board. This is awarded each year in recognition of an organisation’s literary excellence as well as their endeavours to promote their local writers.
In 2011, KYD was awarded funding from the Australia Council’s Literature Board. This was a great honour for us, not least because all applications to the Australia Council are peer-assessed. Receiving this funding meant that we had formal recognition and support. It gave us a vote of confidence, and meant that we could pay our writers a consistent (and higher) rate. It also meant that we could free up our tiny profit to expand our readership through the establishment of a proper website, and that we no longer had to use our savings to keep everything going. KYD could now – just – pay for itself.
Since then, all of our Australia Council funding has been used to pay our writers. In 2012, when KYD began its digitisation of print issues, as well as the expansion of print content, the Australia Council supported our transition and permitted us to apply for funding to pay our online contributors too. Without this guidance and encouragement, we would have struggled to initiate this new direction in our publishing – and the business may not have survived.
KYD remains a modest operation. In 2015, we can now afford to pay our senior editorial staff very small amounts (less than $130 per week) for their extraordinary work, and every year we endeavour to ensure their time and skill is rewarded more equably. All profit from sales and subscriptions goes directly into the production of the magazine, web development, our events calendar, or additional contributor payments. Neither of us receives a payment in our capacities as publishing directors.
But we have big ambitions for KYD – from little things big things grow. We have, thanks to the many talented writers we publish, seen consistent growth in our subscriber base as well as our print and online readerships. We hope to expand this further, as subscription sales comprise 40 to 50 per cent of our income. We are publishing more content than ever before. We host trivia nights and book clubs and run writers’ workshops, which we plan to tour around Australia from 2016 onwards.
We want to continue KYD’s contribution to Australia’s literary community, support our established writers, and help new voices find their readers. We want to do our bit to ensure Australia has a vibrant, healthy arts culture that not only looks after its artists but sustains the wider public too.
Any cut to Australia Council funding, however, will damage Kill Your Darlings and will have a direct effect on the 120+ writers we pay each year. Our annual funding from the Literature Board comprises 30 per cent of our annual budget – and this money is used (as it always has been) to pay our writers. Funding cuts means underpaid writers (when opportunities in mainstream media are already diminishing), and impossibility for growth.
But we are remaining positive – and proactive! We have a fantastic team behind us, and an exceptionally talented pool of contributors. In the coming weeks and months, KYD will be organising a range of fundraising activities in order to celebrate our wonderful readers and writers, and to safeguard the organisation’s future.
If you love writing and ideas, and believe Australian writers deserve fair pay for their contributions to our cultural life, we ask that you please support us through attending a fundraiser, subscribing, and by spreading the word to your friends and family about the repercussions of cuts to the Australia Council. Every contribution will be meaningful, and truly appreciated.
Thank you for reading Kill Your Darlings. Your support makes all the difference.
Hannah Kent and Rebecca Starford
Co-founders and Publishing Directors
Kill Your Darlings