Cultural and creative life

How our grant helped Sydney Story Week’s next chapter

Take a leaf out of the program’s book and make the most of arts funding while innovating through the pandemic.


Sydney Story Week strives to provide Sydneysiders with bespoke cultural experiences they won’t forget. It’s the only major cultural program for performing writers in Australia and enhances Sydney's reputation as a welcoming, multilingual and diverse community.

Word Travels powers the jam-packed annual celebration that showcases poetry, spoken word and storytelling.

“It’s all about the places around Sydney that you have meaningful life changing experiences in. These places continue to make me want to share them with other people and inspire others to have these kinds of experiences too,” said founder and producer, Miles Merill.

Word Travels presented Sydney Story Week in innovate ways during the Covid-19 pandemic
Word Travels presented Sydney Story Week in innovate ways during the Covid-19 pandemic

We spoke to Miles about using a City of Sydney grant to help make the event happen. He also shared his advice for small businesses planning live events through the uncertainty of a pandemic.

How an artform and festival grant brought the program to life

“The grant means we can pay artists without fear, particularly through Covid. We don’t have to work overtime to be able to pay Sydney artists a decent fee.”

Before receiving funding, Sydney Story Week relied completely on box office revenue to fund its work. The grant has allowed them to take risks and produce new material.

“Our ideas might be successful, they might not – but we’ll never know unless we have a little bit of investment from something like this grant to just take some chances,” said Miles.

“We started talking with a grants team member and realised that the people at the City of Sydney are creatives as well. They’re right there with you in the brainstorming of how to pull your project off.”

Word Travels is the recipient of our artform festivals and events grant that aims to improve the sustainability of Sydney’s cultural sector. The grant supports festivals and events that celebrate, develop and engage the city’s communities.

Interested? We would love to hear from you. Applications are open until 23 August.

Tips for turning the challenges of Covid-19 into opportunity

Despite running Sydney Story Week 2020 through the chaos of Covid-19, Miles said Word Travels found ways to innovate and ran a successful, unique version of the program.

“If you’re a live events company trying to reach audiences at their home then you’re literally competing with television production companies like Netflix. To try and contain everything you normally produce into a little Zoom experience simply won’t cut through.”

Like many businesses around the world, digital experiences were a key focus of the 2020 event.

“Every time there’s a hurdle we just think of it as a great opportunity to innovate. We realised right away that going digital meant suddenly we could have 50 international artists at our festival,” said Miles.

For the 2020 program, Word Travels partnered with a poetry festival taking place in Canada at the same time, which gave Australian viewers access to unique performers they don’t see every day, like Inuit throat singers.

A City of Sydney grant helped make Sydney Story Week 2020 happen
A City of Sydney grant helped make Sydney Story Week 2020 happen

“Use something better than Zoom,” Miles suggested.

“There’s a really good, really cheap platform called Streamyard. You can broadcast to multiple channels at once and customise what comes on the screen.”

Miles also recommended looking at the existing channels you have, rather than trying to get audiences onto something new. Facebook Live was a great tool for the program that already had a large following.

Main image: Ren Alessandra is the current Australian Poetry Slam Champion, winning the National Final on the virtual stage on 14 November 2020.

Sydney Story Week 2021 will take place from 1 to 7 November. Be the first to hear about the program on Facebook.

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Published 2 August 2021, updated 4 August 2021