Money shortfall closes MU Center for the Literary Arts

Thursday, April 2, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — MU's Center for the Literary Arts, which for nine years has supported the university's creative writing program, is being closed because of budget cutbacks.

This year, the center's budget was between $70,000 and $75,000, director Scott Cairns said. A little more than half will instead go to the creative writing program. 

"I'm shifting that money into the English department's Creative Writing Program to help make it one of the best in the nation," said Michael O'Brien, dean of the College of Arts and Science.

But the rest of the center's budget won't exist after the end of the fiscal year, June 31. The effect of the closing will be felt most starting in 2011.

"If we didn’t have a budget crisis, the dean probably would’ve left it alone,” said Cairns, who also leads the creative writing program. The Center for the Literary Arts — a center in concept, not as a building — has been based in the creative writing program office in Tate Hall.

The center was started to assist the creative writing program by bringing in writers for readings, O'Brien said.

Cairns said the center's community programs have included the VSA Arts (Vision, Strength, Artistic Expression), which promotes the arts for people with disabilities, and the Young Writers Workshop for students in the Columbia community.

The center's closing will also mean no more funding for visiting writers on behalf of interdepartmental programming, which affects several departments: German and Russian studies; romance languages and literatures; classical studies; and theatre. The same is true for readings downtown at places such as Cherry Street Artisan and the Ragtag Cinema.

David Crespy, artistic director of the Missouri Playwrights Workshop, which is part of the theatre department, said he is sad to see the center close because it has helped bring Pulitzer Prize-winning playwrights.

“We are very grateful to have that support from Scott and the center,” Crespy said. “This reallocation of funds will help out during these tough recession times.”

Crespy, however, says he is not worried that the closing signals worse times.

“The dean will help to bring in more playwrights and artists,” Crespy said. “Dean O’Brien is behind the arts one hundred percent and is a strong force behind renovations in the Fine Art Building and plans for the new music building.”

Adding and fixing buildings is important to O'Brien, which is why it makes the center easier to close.

"The center, of course, is a paper organization, meaning that there is no suite of offices or a building that will 'close,'" O'Brien said.

Although the largest loss from the center's closing will be interdepartmental funding and visiting writers, Crespy is keeping a bright outlook.

“In the end, we always excel regardless of what we get monetarily, and we’ll continue to do so,” he said. “We’re ready to go, and next year is going to be busier than ever.” Crespy was referring to an artist coming next year, Caridad Svich; the playwright's visit in fall 2009 will be the last of the center's funding for the theatre department.

Readings booked for MU next year will be kept.

“The dean will allow us to honor contracts which we’ve made with visiting writers for next year,” Cairns said. “2011 will be the first year we see fewer on-campus events sponsored by the creative writing program.”

Closing the center will mean cutting the assistant director position, which has often gone to graduate students working on their dissertations.

“I’m disappointed,” Cairns said. “We had a lot of plans for internationalizing our creative writing program assisted by the center.”

These plans included sending students to international literary programs and workshops, such as the summer seminars in Greece. Now, such opportunities will be available only if the students can shoulder much more of the costs. Other plans the center had were bringing more international writers to campus, establishing a literary translation center in Tate Hall and a modern Greek class in the classical studies department.

“While we still plan to internationalize our program," Cairns said, "it’ll be more difficult without the CLA helping to fund these elements.”

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