Wheeler Centre’s Next Chapter program in doubt after Aesop sponsorship ends

“And of course from there some of those early poems went on to form what eventually was fall bearwho won the Stella award [this year].”

Ennis Ćehić, another inaugural recipient of Next Chapter who is currently working on a subsequent book, specifically credits the program for its current success. ”It validated everything for me [and] gave me a starting point for my career,” he says.

The $15,000 prize allowed Ćehić to stop working full-time at a brewery — only being able to write in the evenings and on weekends — and pay his rent while working hard on the stories that would eventually become Sad advertisement with his mentor Nam Le. It also provided him with crucial opportunities to connect with publishers in a meaningful way.

Three Next Chapter winners (Adam Thompson, Evelyn Araluen and Ennis Cehic) have published books.

Rarely offered at other literary awards, this element of mentorship is particularly important, Llewellyn says, as publishing houses under increasing commercial pressures have less time to guide new writers through editions and show books a “real care”.

“The whole way the industry works has changed. And that makes it harder for an editor to stand up for a writer and stick with them through the process.

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Law enjoyed a similar kind of mentorship when he was younger, through a state-run program at Youth Arts Queensland which appears to no longer exist.

“I think it’s telling [of the state of Australian arts funding] that something that was such a big plus for me no longer exists,” he says.

This long-documented decimation of arts funding may also have an effect on corporate interests, says Llewellyn. “If you have a government that says ‘we don’t care about this, it’s worthless, we’re going to dump it because it doesn’t make sense and it’s useless’, that message inevitably seeps through. “

Although she “hopes” the Wheeler Center will find a new sponsor for the program (and hopes the new federal government will reinvest in the arts in general), she says it would be a “miracle” to find someone to match. to the current financial commitment. – “especially in the current climate”.

With live events at a standstill during the pandemic, organizations like the Wheeler Center have had little opportunity to woo corporate sponsors. And, amid growing financial pressures, sponsors have had less incentive to open their wallets.

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The Aesop Foundation has been a real exception in its support of literacy and storytelling, committing $7 million to local organizations since 2017, but support for Next Chapter was only meant to be a four-year commitment. .

“Generally, the Aesop Foundation will partner with a particular organization or program for a maximum of five years before a fallow period is required,” an Aesop spokesperson said.

The Melbourne-born company is also moving more towards global philanthropy, as it expands its international business. The foundation’s Australian charitable registration was voluntarily revoked in December 2021, and Aesop, a self-proclaimed ‘global growing organisation’, has now transitioned to a ‘global social impact model’. Aesop says it is not moving away from Australia entirely, but will now make global grants under four pillars: education, employment, environment and emergency response.

It could also leave other local literary initiatives in the lurch. Notably, the Horne Prize, an annual $15,000 award for long-running nonfiction directed by The Saturday newspaper and Aesop, did not race in 2021 and made no announcements for 2022 or beyond.

Rebecca Costello, managing director of Schwartz Media, which publishes The Saturday newspapersays the award may return in the future but would not comment publicly on whether Aesop would be involved.

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Ryan H. Bowman