At the end of September every year, Newcastle is besieged by writers and artists flocking to the city for four days of workshops, performances, panel discussions and the sort of drinking that usually happens when young creative types gather.

This is Not Art is a national independent arts festival for emerging and experimental writers, performers and researchers, playing host to a number of festivals under the TiNA umbrella: Critical Animals, National Young Writers’ Festival and Crack Theatre.

Last year, the iconic arts festival almost didn’t occur. TiNA 2011 was under threat when it lost a funding application to Newcastle council for a mere $18,000 (even though the event brings in a reported 1.5 million to the city in tourism dollars, and is listed as Lonely Planet’s no. 1 attraction in Newcastle.)

Thankfully, due to a crowdfunding effort and some generous sponsorship (both financial and in-kind technical support), TiNA was able to survive. The crowdfunding effort – organised through Australian site Pozible – raised $9,250, which speaks to the immense popularity of the event and the community of supporters built up around the festival. Indeed, it was the amount of money raised through crowdfunding, according to the TiNA statement, that was the catalyst for additional financial support from organisations such as CAL and RPM last year.

One of the great attractions of TiNA is that the entire program is free. This is only possible due to the fact that artists, organisers and most staff are voluntary and unpaid. The free program is appealing, as audiences can flit freely all day from one event to the next and also has the important function of making every event less of a ‘risk’ for the artists and audience.

In a panel on Saving Australian TV at last year’s TiNA festival, Lawrence Leung made the point that it’s important for television hosts and comedians to work in smaller venues as a sort of ‘apprenticeship’ – in order to build up their skills before being thrust into prime time. This, to me, is exactly why TiNA is important. It’s a safe place for writers and artists to perform, experiment, to try new things in front of their peers and to learn about their craft.

There also isn’t the separation of some writers festivals between the person on stage and those in the audience – indeed the same person you saw on stage earlier in the day will usually be an audience member at your own event, or you’ll see wandering down Hunter Street mall (or sitting beside you in the Penny Black coffee shop that appeared to be the second festival hub last year).

The festival launches in two weeks, running from September 27th-30th. I’m very excited to be heading up to Newcastle again this year to be part of the National Young Writers’ Festival, and will be covering events throughout the four days on the blog.

You can view the full NYWF program here but I thought I’d share a few of my festival highlights:

This year NYWF has an international guest, Christian Lander of the popular satirical blog Stuff White People Like. He’ll be appearing across several events.

Literary podcast The Rereaders will be doing a live wrap every morning of the festival.

The Younger Young Writers program is a great initiative run every year at NYWF, a series of events for writers aged 14-17 at the very beginning of their career paths. This year they’ll be creating a chapbook of YYWP participants’ work over the course of the festival.

One of my favourite things, Women of Letters, will be happening on Sunday 30th.

There is a series of technical workshops on writing and publishing – today is actually the last day to sign up.

I’ll be appearing at the festival too: I’ll be on a panel discussing Freelancing Nuts and Bolts on Sunday 30th at 1pm.

Disclosure: I’m one of the official bloggers for NYWF this year. 

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