Two emerging book critics chosen by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age as part of an arts criticism initiative have stepped down from their appointments.
Bec Kavanagh and Jack Callil, two of the five emerging critics hired by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age earlier this year thanks to a grant from The Copyright Agency and the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas, have resigned from their roles, citing the lack of diversity in hiring as the reason for their departure.
‘This selection fails to reflect Australia’s diverse literary community, and is a missed opportunity to support non-white voices in art criticism in Australia. We want our work to be part of a landscape that recognises the nuances in understanding and experience needed to engage with works of art on multiple levels: we all miss out if there’s only one voice in the room. While we are incredibly grateful to have been given this opportunity in the first place, we both feel that the best way we can advocate for necessary change is to step aside and ask (as we have, in a letter to our editors) for the funds allocated to us to be re-distributed to nonwhite writers,’ the pair said in a statement posted to social media on 22 June.
Announcing the recruitment of the emerging critics in May, James Chessell, the Herald and The Age‘s group executive editor, said: ‘It’s important for any serious newsroom to cover the arts properly and this includes criticism.’
Alongside Callil and Kavanagh, who were appointed to write book reviews for the two newspapers, were Chloe Wolifson and Tiarney Miekus, covering the visual arts, and theatre critic Cassie Tongue.
Kavanagh posted a detailed statement online, co-authored with Callil:
Hi friends. I am resigning, with @Jack_Callil, as an emerging book critic for @theage/@smh, an initiative generously funded by @CopyrightAgency and @JN_Institute. The selection of all-white critics fails to reflect Australia’s cultural diversity. Full statement below. (1/3) pic.twitter.com/XoPxAD7tKp
— bec kavanagh (@beckavanagh) June 22, 2020
The Australian writing community came out in support for the critics on Twitter:
Thank you Bec and Jack for stepping away to make room for talented BIPOC critics who often get overlooked. Here is a spreadsheet with names of diverse critics from the Diversity in Australian Media FB group. Please add others. https://t.co/43torUcZeL
— Diversity in Australian Media (@_DiversityMedia) June 22, 2020
Fiona Tuomy, an award winning screenwriter, director, producer and developer, thanked the writers for their actions.
— Fiona Tuomy (@FlindersLane) June 22, 2020
Author Kate Mildenhall also praised the writers and acknowledged the monetary sacrifice the writers have made.
Thank you both for sharing resources, for taking action, for showing what it is to do something. I understand that as chronically underpaid and underfunded creatives and artists this would have been a difficult decision and it speaks volumes that you’ve both made it.
— kate mildenhall (@katemildenhall) June 22, 2020
Disclaimer: ArtsHub is the recipient of a grant from the the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas, which has supported our Wellness and Recovery Resource during the COVID-19 pandemic.