By Joel Secter
In an era of spending cuts, federal support for the Canada Council for the Arts has remained steadfast. In fact, in our Budget 2014 Update, we reported that the Government of Canada had made permanent the $25 million supplements to the Parliamentary appropriation, which in recent years has been $181 million1 (previously, it had been renewed from year to year.) So it is with some interest that we note changes are afoot at Canada’s national arts funder.
At the Canada Council’s 2015 Annual Public Meeting, available for viewing online,2 newly appointed Director and CEO Simon Brault announced plans to reconfigure the Council’s grants programs. At present, there are 142 grant programs and nearly as many policies to mange them. While the aim is to establish an entirely new funding model by the time the Canada Council celebrates its 60th Anniversary in 2017, Brault reassured that “nobody will lose any funding because of this new model. The intention is not to modify the actual allocations of funding or to destabilize arts organizations.”
The adjectives that seem to best describe the changes Canadian artists can anticipate are simplicity and flexibility. Though scant details have been provided, Brault did say “we will take up the rallying cry of our colleagues at the Australia Council for the Arts: ‘More sweat and tears in the art forms than in the application form.’” This clearly alludes to a criticism oft-made in this country that the grant application process rewards professional grant writers over those who are not as skilled at navigating the bureaucracy.
What we do know is that the Canada Council aims to have fewer than 10 major national, non-disciplinary programs that cover all fields of artistic practice and outreach. Accordingly, artists from all the disciplines, such as dance, theatre, music, visual arts, writing and publishing, will compete for the same grants. A visit to the Australian Arts Council website shows how their 10 programs fit neatly into two broad categories.3 For example, the Grant Programs are listed as follows:
- Fellowships – $100,000
- Development Grants for Individuals and Groups – $5,000 – $25,000
- Arts Projects for Individuals and Groups – $10,000 – $50,000
- Arts Projects – Organizations – $10,000 to $150,000
- Six Year Funding – Organizations
If the Australian model is any indication of what we can expect to see here in Canada, it is safe to say that the process of seeking and awarding funding will be very different in the not-so-distant future.
One aspect of the Canada Council’s granting programs that will remain the same is the role of peer assessment. Anyone familiar with the Canada Council knows that peer assessment is the basis for the majority of its decisions as to which artists, artistic projects and arts organizations receive support. That being said, the category of persons eligible to sit on a peer assessment committee will be expanded. For example, instead of applications to do an international book tour being evaluated by writers only, experts in international markets will be able to sit as committee members as well.
It is also important to note that the planned changes Brault announced include the creation of a special national aboriginal arts program, which apparently will be assessed and managed by aboriginal artists and staff respectively.
In a follow up interview with The Province, Brault assured the publication’s readers that these changes are coming from the Council and not being made due to funding cuts or political pressures as in other countries.4 Presumably he would know as well as anyone having served two five-year terms as Vice-Chair of the Board before becoming Director and CEO. One can only hope that what emerges in the next eighteen months is a Canada Council for the Arts that truly supports and celebrates Canada’s artists and arts organizations.
1 See “Canada Council for the Arts Funding to artists and arts organization 2012-13 National Overview”: http://canadacouncil.ca/~/media/files/research%20-%20en/2012-13%20provincial%20profiles/national%20overview-en.pdf; and “Supplementary Estimates (A), 2012-13 For the Fiscal year ending March 31, 2013”: https://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/est-pre/20122013/sups/a/docs/index-eng.pdf.