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News / April 16, 2020

65 Arts Organizations Call on Government to Better Support Sector During COVID-19 Crisis

Vancouver Art Gallery, Contemporary Calgary and Beaverbrook Art Gallery sign new open letter saying arts organizations are “facing a threat to their existence”
An entrance to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Toronto. Photo: Leah Sandals. An entrance to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Toronto. Photo: Leah Sandals.
An entrance to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Toronto. Photo: Leah Sandals. An entrance to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Toronto. Photo: Leah Sandals.

Sixty-five arts organizations and culture institutions have signed a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, asking that “emergency stabilization funding” be created for groups in jeopardy in the sector.

The letter was organized by the new initiative One Voice for Arts and Culture (OVAC). Signatories include directors and CEOs from the Vancouver Art Gallery, Contemporary Calgary, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Urban Shaman, the Yukon Arts Centre and the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal.

“It is imperative that we now act to help our struggling arts and culture sector where many organizations are facing a threat to their existence today, and all are contending with unprecedented challenges,” says the April 14 letter. “There is no doubt that in the coming weeks many of the members of our group will face a severe crisis regarding funding. Some may not be able to survive even a short period without emergency relief.”

Signatories want the federal government to consider creating equitable emergency stabilization funding for culture; amending tax rules for charitable donations to incentivize giving; finding better ways to provide financing to not-for-profits; and helping figure out ways to reduce facilities costs.

The group that organized the letter, OVAC, was started in March by a team at the Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto (MOCA), with “a goal of ensuring the sustainability of Canadian arts and culture organizations and institutions,” says a release.

“A few weeks ago, when we were closing and our peer institutions were closing, we started calling around and seeing how everyone else was feeling,” says Brad Keast, co-founder and interim chair of OVAC and chair of MOCA Toronto. “Everyone was concerned in that moment about what it meant for members and staff and visitors and donors…. And when you looked forward a few months and everyone started to recast their cash flows, there was concern there, too.”

“We thought, this is a time when we absolutely need to work together,” says Keast. “There was consensus from everyone we spoke with that we should work together.”

“There is no doubt that in the coming weeks many of the members of our group will face a severe crisis regarding funding,” the organizations say. “Some may not be able to survive even a short period without emergency relief.”

The new missive from OVAC follows public letters that existing national arts service organizations (ASOs) have already sent to federal officials.

On March 16, the Canadian Museums Association (CMA) sent a public letter to Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault and Infrastructure and Communities Minister Catherine McKenna alerting that many museums in Canada were “at risk of not being able to fulfill their much-needed role in our communities” due to COVID-19 crises. CMA called on the federal government to create “a dedicated museum relief fund to support lost revenues” and an “emergency development fund for museum digital activities.” The CMA is also, today, streaming a virtual conference with the heritage minister on “key issues facing Canada’s museums.”

On April 4, Canadian Artists’ Representation (CARFAC) released a public letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calling “upon the Federal Government to review and remove barriers to artists who require access to key Emergency Relief programs that have recently been created during this unprecedented time of need.” In that letter, CARFAC declared their “support for the recommendations of Arts Service Organizations representing museums, art galleries, and craft councils, regarding the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS).”

Some of the other arts groups already working nationally for some years include the Canadian Arts Coalition, which organizes an annual Arts Day on the Hill advocating directly to MPs; the Canadian Art Museum Directors’ Organization, founded in 1964; and the Artist-Run Centres and Collectives Conference, which represents more than 180 artist-run organizations.

In future, Keast hopes for collaboration.

“We see it as, very much, we all want to work in unison,” says Keast. “The [art service organizations] are generally a little more scoped within the subsector…. And from conversations we’ve had, we’ve sensed there’s a role to play helping to coordinate amongst the ASOs and coordinating with the government and ensuring that everyone is aligned.”

In its letter, OVAC asked to “work directly with the federal government…to ensure the survival and sustainability of our sector.” On this point, Keast says, OVAC had a call with Heritage Ministry officials on Tuesday and received a commitment to “ongoing dialogue.”

Leah Sandals

Leah Sandals is a writer and editor of white settler Canadian (Irish and Ashkenazi) descent. She is also content editor at Canadian Art and has written for the Toronto Star, National Post and Globe and Mail, among other publications. Sandals welcomes tips, corrections and comments anytime at leah@canadianart.ca.