The Kindness of Strangers: On New Zealand’s Literary Journals

1 November 2018

As I outlined earlier, setting up Starling was a bit like being a duck on water – there were things going on under the surface that I didn’t want anyone to see. However, in terms of honest conversation around our creative infrastructures, hiding these experiences is not helpful. My hope is that this piece will generate discussion. If our arts organisations don’t know what we need, then how can they provide it?

At one point in my continued enquiries around entity structure, the New Zealand Book Council suggested trying to partner Starling with another organisation that might share similar goals. In that way we could use another organisation’s pre-existing structure to meet our own practical needs. I did look into it and met with a few potential parties, but I was hesitant about the potential sacrifice of our autonomy in settling in under someone else’s wing. However, in talking to editors about literary journals in general, the idea of forging partnerships keeps coming up as a potential for keeping us all afloat. If properly managed, this could be an excellent solution. Hunter suggests a mentorship program ‘where publishers or more established organisations could support and foster new journals in their early lives.’ This is an idea that Creative New Zealand has also raised and, of course, such a mentorship program could apply to more than just literary journals. However, rather than individuals having to create these relationships themselves, if there was an established program where new initiatives could be matched with more senior ones – with a clear understanding of what the relationship should provide – it would alleviate some of the demands on founders who are just starting out.

The advantage of structure is that it opens up opportunities for further growth. Voiceworks is an Australian print journal and the model we essentially based Starling on. Not only do they publish work by Australian writers under twenty-five, but their editorial and production committee consists solely of practitioners under twenty-five. I would love to be able to transition Starling into such an arrangement one day and hand the reins over completely to our young and talented people, but the resources for us to make this transition are not currently there. Voiceworks operates under the umbrella organisation Express Media, a not-for-profit arts organisation, which appears able to provide the ongoing facilitation necessary for the journal’s innovative framework.

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Last year, I met with an Inland Revenue Community Liaison Officer regarding the various tax obligations for Starling if we were to receive funding, and how we could deal with that when paying contributors. The power of being able to meet with someone in person, who was able to guide me through the various scenarios, was immense. It would be fantastic if a position or hub could be created at one of our main arts organisations, holding the basic knowledge to navigate projects through entity establishment, and specialising in community arts. They would be able to guide founders through the initial channels. They could help establish consultation services with necessary professionals, such as lawyers and accountants, offer workshops and build our professional networks and capabilities. Creative New Zealand does currently offer workshops on topics such as audience development and digital marketing, which could certainly feed into such a hub, but these themes seem targeted at organisations a few steps further along in the development process.

For those setting out to start a creative community initiative, the idea of having one central contact point for this advice is extremely appealing. Kathryn Carmody, Programmes Manager at the New Zealand Book Council comments that ‘while it would be wonderful to have this within the Book Council, it probably also applies to other art forms too and so having someone within Creative New Zealand with that knowledge would be really interesting.’ Malcolm Burgess, Arts Practice Director for Literature at Creative New Zealand, points in the return direction, advising that ‘artform service organisations’ or bodies that provide services of various kinds to specific artforms – for example, in the case of literature, the New Zealand Book Council or the New Zealand Society of Authors – ‘are better placed to provide support or advice to individual artists, or the communities they serve.’ I would love to see what could come of a conversation between Creative New Zealand and arts service organisations (literary or otherwise) on this topic. Which arts bodies might be able to establish and provide the types of assistance suggested here, and how could other services support that body in order to achieve such a resource?

It would be of benefit to our national arts funding bodies to assist new creative endeavours through the process of becoming official entities. If a venture can achieve this, a whole new set of funding opportunities opens up, decreasing their reliance on governments arts funding alone. They would be equipped to deal with the organisational, accounting and tax obligations that come with financial support from alternative sources such as crowd-funding, independent patrons or donors, grants from community funding bodies or financial partnerships with larger organisations. When you are able to consider these as possible avenues for financial backing, the future starts to look a whole lot more sustainable.

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