Literature peers

Deb Fitzpatrick, WA- Literature Peer

"It’s enlightening and genuinely inspiring."

If you were to encourage a colleague to become a peer of the Australia Council – what wisdom would you share?

The time commitment is significant. Don’t underestimate it! It takes several weeks out of my normal life. I tend to read a handful of applications every day in the lead-up to the meeting, and break it down that way. I can’t seem to do more than about 10 in a day, and I’m not sure that I’d want to, since the applicants put so much effort and care into their applications and you want to give them the time they deserve. I also take copious notes so I can remember the individual applications. 

What I’ve learned about the sector is also significant. I’ve come across many writers whose work I wouldn’t have otherwise and, as such, have been exposed to many different creative approaches, interests and drives. It’s enlightening and genuinely inspiring.

Does everyone agree in the assessment meetings? What should you be prepared to do?

No, not everyone agrees in the meetings, and to an extent that’s the point! You have to go into the room prepared to change your mind. You must be open-minded. There are some very convincing arguments put forth and I’m always grateful for these, especially in an area outside my expertise. You also have to be able to articulate why you believe a certain application should be funded in what might be a highly competitive field. Encouragingly, the really strong applications are almost always identified as such by all the panellists… of course, the problem then is that there are always far more of these than the panel can fund, so the next step is to select the most deserving of those excellent applications.

What have you enjoyed most about being a peer?

Being exposed to the sheer range of creative work being done out there; it’s truly wondrous. And meeting the other panellists and learning from them! I love every minute of my time as a panellist and will always be keen to be part of the process.

Gayle Kennedy

Gayle Kennedy, NSW - Literature Peer

If you were to encourage a colleague to become a Peer – what would you tell them…

About the time commitment required? 

The time commitment is great.  You have to spend a lot of time reading the applications and considering each one carefully.  As artists, we understand just how important a grant is to many of us to continue our careers, so we owe each applicant a thorough and thoughtful assessment. You must also spend time reading the Peer Assessment Handbook in order to thoroughly understand the criteria for scoring. 

The assessment meetings are usually a day and a half and are intense, so be prepared for that as well.

  You have learned about your sector?

Being a Peer has taught me a great deal about what is required in putting together an application.  It has shown me the difference between a good application and a great one.  It has also allowed me to meet other artists in different fields and get an idea about what is happening in the overall arts sector.

Does everyone agree in the assessment meetings? What should you be prepared to do?  

Interestingly enough, there always seems to be an initial consensus on what applications are eligible for funding.  It is in the final decision making that Peers must be prepared to fight for an application they truly believe in.  All peers, I have found, are willing to listen to your argument and sometimes, they can be swayed if that argument is strong enough. If you are unsuccessful you must accept that but it’s important that you make sure that the unsuccessful applicant gets some good feedback and encouragement to try again the following year.

What have you enjoyed most about being a peer?

Apart from meeting fellow artists, one of the things I have enjoyed most is being able to educate and inform my non-Indigenous peers about cultural issues they may not have previously been aware of.  It is also extremely rewarding knowing that you have played a part in the ongoing careers of other artists.

Andrea Hanke

Andrea Hanke, VIC – Literature Peer

If you were to encourage a colleague to become a Peer – what would you tell them…

About the time commitment required?

It’s no small commitment. Be prepared to spend many hours reading over and scoring the applications ahead of the peer assessment meetings. Most of the applications also have detailed supporting material to review.

What you may have learnt about your sector?

While many of the organisations applying for arts funding were known to me, there were some that were less familiar—so it was interesting to learn about their work. I was genuinely inspired by the range of projects and activities being undertaken in the literature sector and the talented and hardworking people behind them. I also learned more about the costs involved in running various organisations and projects.

Does everyone agree in the assessment meetings? What should you be prepared to do? 

There was a lot of agreement between the assessors in my meetings. However, there was a small number of applications where our opinions diverged. Be prepared to argue your case but also be open to others’ perspectives. Eventually, the assessment panel must come to a joint decision. 

What have you enjoyed most about being a peer?

Many things. It was a privilege to get an insight into the different projects being put forward for funding, and then to be able to discuss the merits of these projects with like-minded peers. I also enjoyed meeting the other peers, learning from their experiences and being able to share my knowledge of the sector.

Chris Flynn

Chris Flynn, VIC – Literature Peer

If you were to encourage a colleague to become a Peer – what would you tell them:

About the time commitment required?

There is a certain time commitment in being a peer, but I didn’t find it outlandish. Reading through grant applications was always edifying to me, and I often enjoyed it. If there were a large number to get through, I would simply split them up over the space of a few weeks and read ten a day, in the afternoons after I’d finished my personal work. I think it’s better not to read too many in a session anyway, so you don’t become tired or jaded, and thus unfairly harsh. People have put a lot of time and energy into their applications, so it’s only right to give them some clear-headed and careful consideration. The peer assessment meetings in Sydney are only one or two days out of your schedule. I treated them as a kind of working mini-break away from home, and always caught up with Sydney friends in the evenings.

What you may have learnt about your sector?

One of the main reasons I wanted to become a peer was in order to learn more about not only how the application process worked, but what’s happening in the wider sector. I learned an enormous amount about what kinds of projects are in the zeitgeist, what my fellow artists are interested in and what challenges arts organisations are facing. Being a peer is a great way to contemporize your personal practice. As an artist, it’s all too easy to become distanced from reality and, to a degree, relevance. Witnessing the range of grant applications helps with an artist’s focus. I certainly felt differently about some of my pending projects after three years as a peer, and being involved in the process has helped me hone and finesse my art practice.

Does everyone agree in the assessment meetings? What should you be prepared to do?  

It would be strange if everyone agreed all the time, but it happens more often than you might think. Great projects stand on their own merits, and it is easy to recognize that. It’s a pleasure when you really want to support a certain project that you find exciting, and discover in the meeting that everyone else feels the same. Of course there will be disagreement, but it is always useful and constructive hearing someone else’s point of view. I learned early on to rely on the specialist knowledge of my fellow peers if I wasn’t sure about something. Advocating for specific projects is a distinct possibility too. Even if no one else seems to like what you like at first, peers are open to persuasion, so don’t be afraid to speak up on a project’s behalf. There is always mutual respect in the room, and the stringent conflict of interest protocols mean that no one has a horse in the race, so can speak freely. Be prepared for a thorough, exacting and friendly atmosphere that will leave you pretty satisfied at the end of the day.

What have you enjoyed most about being a peer?

Witnessing projects that I loved find success was always pleasing. Getting a glimpse into the minds of my fellow artists was also fascinating—to witness their obsessions, their originality and their ambition was inspiring. Meeting peers from the sector whom I might never have otherwise encountered was a joy. And finally, the feeling that you are making a difference to your art form, helping to influence it in a creative way—that’s hard to beat.

Jessie Blackadder

Jessie Blackadder, VIC – Literature Peer

If you were to encourage a colleague to become a Peer – what would you tell them…

It’s a great opportunity understand more about how the sector works and the parts the different organisations and individuals play. It helps anyone who has to write grant applications as you can learn a lot about what makes a great application - and the underlying strengths needed in a project and a practitioner/organisation.

About the time commitment required?

The time commitment prior to the assessment meeting is quite considerable and this part of the role is not paid. 

What you may have learnt about your sector?

I understood in a new way how the sector works as an ecosystem, with a range of people and organisations carrying out complementary (and sometimes overlapping) roles. That was helpful and interesting for me, particularly in my industry role as a board member of Byron Writers Festival. I felt it deepened my understanding and improved my capacity in that role.

Does everyone agree in the assessment meetings? What should you be prepared to do?

I enjoyed how peers had the freedom to champion applications they believed in strongly - and several times I changed my view about an application after a peer had spoken up for it. And similarly, the depth of industry knowledge in the room meant a good understanding of important factors that may not necessarily be written in an application - and the ability to discuss and deliberate on broader issues that impacted on the decisions.

What have you enjoyed most about being a peer?

I enjoyed all of it. 

Juliet Rogers

Juliet Rogers, NSW – Literature Peer

If you were to encourage a colleague to become a Peer – what would you tell them?

About the time commitment required?The time commitment was substantial and more than I had anticipated, not only because of the number of applications but also because of the overall high standard, which meant that almost every submission merited close attention. Trusting your instincts and your initial impressions can be helpful.

What you may have learnt about your sector?As I am in the Literature sector I already knew that the environment was tough and getting hard by the day, but to see this played out over and over again, often by very well established writers, was salutary.  Nonetheless, despite the overall quality of the submissions, a startlingly original proposal was still relatively rare.

Does everyone agree in the assessment meetings? What should you be prepared to do?  

There is certainly not unilateral agreement in the meetings. In fact there is a surprisingly wide divergence of opinion for some proposals. This can be both stimulating and challenging but if I were to peer assess again, I would decide my 4-6 “must have” picks before I attended the meeting. I might not win them all but it would help focus on the right battles.

What have you enjoyed most about being a peer?
While I found it considerably harder than I had initially thought, that correspondingly made the experience much more interesting and worthwhile. It is encouraging to see the level of talent in the sector through the proposals, but the greatest enjoyment is the discussion at the table, with the other peers. I didn’t agree with every position being put forward, but those opinions were well argued and based in a wealth of experience and knowledge, which helped me challenge my own thinking. I feel much better equipped to understand our member’s perspective and am in fact planning to dedicate the entire issue of our next magazine to one of the more contentious issues that featured strongly in our peer discussions.

Lisa Fuller

Lisa Fuller, ACT - Literature Peer

What is the best and worst thing about being an assessor?

The best thing about being a peer assessor was how much I learned from the other peers and their approaches to all of the diverse submissions. I also feel I benefited a great deal from learning how the Australia Council assessment processes work.

The worst thing was when I felt a project was culturally inappropriate, at times I felt very much alone in the room, but I don't regret speaking up and my opinion was treated respectfully. I also had to deal with second guessing my own feelings and judgments, and doubting my contribution to the group, but ultimately I'm really glad that I did it.

What should peers know before assessing?

You don't have to be an expert in all things; expertise in your area is the whole point, and you'll be adding to a broad range of skills, knowledge and experience. You'll gain invaluable insight into the process and at the same time be offering essential information to your peers, and supporting applicants in their pursuit of a more artistically diverse Australia. 
Jane Harrison Jane Harrison, VIC - Literature Peer

Video: Peer Assessors Talk about their recent Experience 2016

Philip Hammial

Philip Hammial, NSW - Literature Peer
Video: Peer Assessors Talk about their recent Experience 2016
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