The Canada Council for the Arts released its new strategic plan today.
While such plans are most often internal documents, this one is of strong public interest—the priorities it outlines will likely guide the new hundreds of millions of dollars that the government has promised the council over the next five years.
“Today we spend $150 million in terms of grants and contributions and prizes, and in 2021 we will be spending $310 million,” says Simon Brault, CEO of the Canada Council, tells Canadian Art.
So what is the upshot for artists and art organizations in Canada? How will the new Canada Council money be prioritized? And how might it be affected by the huge overhaul to Canadian Heritage that’s just been announced by Minister Mélanie Joly?
Here are eight key points to ponder related to the new strategic plan:
1) Funding that goes directly to artists will increase.
In terms of spending, Brault hopes to emphasize a continuing focus on art and artists.
“You need time for the artist, you need fair compensation for artists, you need peer assessment, you need to constantly raise the bar with the quality of the work as opposed to the quantity of work, and you need to be able to support artists to create a decent scale of work as opposed to it being fragmented over and over,” says Brault.
To that end—especially with a note about quality over quantity of production—the new plan clearly states that funding to artists will increase.
“Just like other sectors, the arts need sound investment to be able to experiment, take risks and attain the highest level of artistic achievement, while also adapting to periodic economic downturns and challenges,” the plan says.
In January 2016, the Canada Council surveyed 4,220 stakeholders about how the organization’s next five years should look.
They found that respondents were most concerned with issues of funding (calling for both direct funding and improved access to funding opportunities). This priority also seems to be a response to that concern.
2) At the same time, the council is placing an emphasis on generating revenue.
“Economic resilience for the arts sector isn’t just a question of public funding,” says the plan. “It’s also about new strategies to generate revenue.”
To this end, the new plan emphasizes engaging with art audiences, and recognizing the diversity of these audiences. It says that artists should be aware of the audiences they are trying to reach, and consider their expectations and “strengthen ties with their audiences and reach out to new ones.”
The new plan will also “support the development and implementation of new business models for the arts” by “encouraging ideas and activities that generate new revenue, engage new audiences, and make greater use of digital technologies.”
3) 150th anniversary projects will get a special $33.4 million fund launching May 9.
The council has revealed plans to launch a special one-time $33.4 million creation fund by May 9 called New Chapter.
Open to artists and arts organizations on the occasion of Canada’s 150th anniversary, this one-year funding program will support major creation projects to be presented across Canada and internationally through 2019 and beyond.
“These projects do not really need to be about celebrating Canada, but really about interrogating, challenging, criticizing and dreaming about the future,” says Brault. “We hope this fund will give the possibility of creating some kind of artistic legacy.”
4) The Canada Council’s first digital strategy is coming—along with a related summit in 2017.
“Canadian art and artists are not as visible in the online world as they could be,” says the Canada Council’s new strategic plan.
As a result, the new plan says special funding priority will be given to digital projects that create new art forms, enhance artistic experiences and reach new audiences through digital means.
“We know that this sector, in terms of adapting to the digital shift, is lagging behind,” says Brault, noting that the changing of the guard in many top positions at arts organizations across the country might make this a particularly ripe time to take up the shift again.
To that end, the council will be doing research this year to determine the best way to support digital for Canada’s art scene.
“What we are doing is not so much a survey around the future of cultural policy, but more trying to understand where the arts sector perceives its most urgent needs, because we want to start investing in projects in 2017–18,” says Brault.
“Artists need more resources and support to thrive in this radically changing environment. The support can help them to optimize technology to create new artistic visions and arts experiences. Or, it can ensure that their work is more easily discovered and experienced online. Audiences are increasingly turning to the Internet to seek out digital and traditional works, and artists and organizations need to use every means possible to connect with them.”
More details on the digital initiatives are coming later this spring.
5) Funding that goes to Indigenous creation will increase, and this year an extra $1.8 million will go to projects on reconciliation and conciliation between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission report called for the Canada Council “to establish, as a funding priority, a strategy for Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists to undertake collaborative projects and produce works that contribute to the reconciliation process.”
(Re)conciliation was one such initiative launched last year, and an additional $1.8 million is going to (Re)conciliation and Indigenous arts initiatives this year.
Beginning in 2017, the Creating, Knowing and Sharing: The Arts and Cultures of First Nations, Inuit and Metis Peoples program will support a broad range of arts initiatives, travel, projects and organizations.
The council will also look to build support for Indigenous arts particularly in under-served areas, such as the North.
6) The international profile of Canadian artists will be boosted—not necessarily through new money, but through collaboration with other departments and agencies.
“The artistic and financial success of a growing number of Canadian artists and arts organization depends on a solid presence on the international scene,” the new report observes.
The new plan says the council wants to boost international profile for Canadian artists through “coordinated, long-term strategies with government departments and other agencies.”
“The Council will look for synergies with their respective approaches to international cultural exports, trade promotion and diplomacy. It will build its capacity to make a greater contribution to strengthening the international presence and image of Canadian artists and their works while supporting the development of Canada’s professional arts sector.”
7) Children and youth, as well as emerging artists, are a focus.
“Emerging artists and new audiences are the future of our sector and our society,” says the plan.
As a result, the new plan says that it will emphasize opportunities for emerging artists, who often have trouble accessing funding.
“The Council is determined to be a public arts funder that is truly focused on the future. This means it must create more opportunities for the next generation—including for emerging artists, who often face barriers to accessing funding. It must engage young audiences, children and youth in particular, with art and literature.”
8) With this strategic plan, the Canada Council is, in part, carving out a space that distinguishes it from Canadian Heritage department in general.
Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly announced a sweeping overhaul of Canadian Heritage funding and systems on the weekend.
How will that overhaul affect the Canada Council’s new strategies?
It’s difficult to say for certain at this point.
But Brault notes that the organization’s new strategic plan emphasizes its distinct role as a supporter of art and artists—rather than of the wider cultural scene addressed by the Canadian Heritage mandate.
“The Canada Council really wants to target its support to the core of artistic creation and presentation, while Canadian Heritage has responsibilities that are much more related to the general economy of culture in Canada—in terms of the publishing industry, the media and all of that,” Brault says.
“Obviously there is a continuum between those interventions,” Brault continues, “but we wanted in this strategic plan to be clear that we support the arts and literature, and we support them for many different reasons.”