Festival fights 'rub out' plans

THE Byron Bay Writers Festival is in jeopardy because of controversial plans by the State Government to cut funding to regional writers' centres.

Arts NSW has announced that funds of $55,000 per year to the Northern Rivers Writers Centre is under review and may cease.

Festival director Jeni Caffin said Northern Rivers Writers Centre members were alarmed by the news, which would not only affect programs run by the centre, but could result in the 2009 Byron Bay Writers Festival being savagely scaled back.

"It means fewer writers, substantially fewer writers and higher costs to audience members," Ms Caffin said.

The festival, which has grown to become one of the highlights of the Northern Rivers cultural calendar, will this year bring a cast of national and international writers to the region including Lonely Planet founders Maureen and Tony Wheeler and comedian Judith Lucy.

But next year it could be another story.

In September 2007 NSW Minister for the Arts Frank Sartor commissioned an independent review of the Arts NSW Cultural Grants Program.

The findings of the review have recently been made public and include a package of recommendations, including a suggestion that regional writers' centres could be replaced with online services.

Ms Caffin said it was sad people sitting in their offices in Sydney could so easily take money away from the regions.

"It shows they have no idea what we do to say they can replace us with a computer," she said.

Another point of controversy surrounding the review has been the exclusion of Blue Mountains Writers House Varuna from the funding cuts.

Ms Caffin said one of the people commissioned to perform the review was also on the board of Varuna.

"We are preparing a submission to the implementation group in light of the recommendations," Ms Caffin said.

"What I am asking is that the community raises their voice."

Ms Caffin said a final decision on funding for 2009 would be made by the government next month.

She said people could express their opinions by writing to the Director General of the Department of Arts, Sport and Recreation, Carol Mills on email at mail@arts.nsw.gov.au and putting Ms Mills' name in the subject line.

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