Funding Stability Doesn't Mean Status Quo for Canada Council

June 14, 2012 - Canada Council for the Arts' Director and CEO, Robert Sirman, met with leaders of the presenting and touring sector to share the Council's vision for the upcoming years, now that its parliamentary appropriation has been safeguarded in the last federal budget.

Canada Council for the Arts' Director and CEO, Robert Sirman, met with leaders of the presenting and touring sector to share the Council's vision for the upcoming years, now that its parliamentary appropriation has been safeguarded in the last federal budget.

Mr. Sirman intimated to participants at the National Network meeting that we are entering a new era: economic growth has stalled, demographics are changing, the arts field is growing, and public funding is not increasing. This results in tensions that have reached a critical point. "We tie this to a belief that the paradigm we have been using for 55 years at the Canada Council (and elsewhere in North America) is coming to an end," said Mr. Sirman.

The Canada Council wants to be proactive in its response to these changes, starting with a review of operating grants. The current system assumes that getting into an operating grant relationship with funders is the goal of all arts organizations, and that “operating status” assures stability. As a consequence, the number of organizations in the operating stream continues to grow over time, and operating grants now represent over 60% of all program spending at the Canada Council. Following a review that brought staff together in workshops and retreats beginning last fall, the Canada Council concluded that this modus operandi is not sustainable if we wish to bring equity to overlooked groups and sustain art-making. Greater clarity is needed in communicating expectations and results to both the sector and the public at large.

The Canada Council is also undertaking a review of the Flying Squad program. While the objectives of the program are still relevant, the way it is structured raises serious questions. Announcing the fall deadline suspension signaled that the Canada Council is putting an end to a certain way of practice. "The transition we need is one that signals a discontinuity with past practice, a break – a critical dimension of innovation," said Mr. Sirman.

The third area of change mentioned by Mr. Sirman concerned market access. The Canada Council has heard the need expressed by the arts community for more effective exploitation of work through touring and trade, in Canada and abroad. It therefore intends to bring more focus on the value of artists and organizations exploiting market opportunities and bringing their works to the world, including increased investment in this activity.

Mr. Sirman tied all of these changes to the theme of the Council's strategic plan: Strengthening Connections. He signaled a shift in focus away from one-on-one transactions to more relationship-based interchanges, collaborations, and network-based approaches.

Mr. Sirman finally spoke of the broadening of the language surrounding advocacy: less about serving the needs of artists, more about serving the needs of Canadians; and a focus on public interest, not special interest.

These changing priorities were received very favorably by participants at the National Network Meeting, as they are aligned with values important to the presenting sector: collaboration and serving Canadians.

 

Revised June 15, 2012


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