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Features / March 23, 2017

8 Things Artists and Art Orgs Need to Know About the 2017 Federal Budget

The new federal budget includes changes that Canada’s artists and art organizations need to be aware of—here are eight issues to know about.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau likes to be visible in supporting the arts—like greeting the cast members of the Canadian musical <em>Come from Away</em> in New York. But what does his  goverment's latest budget really offer to artists and arts organizations? Photo: via Justin Trudeau Facebook page. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau likes to be visible in supporting the arts—like greeting the cast members of the Canadian musical Come from Away in New York. But what does his goverment's latest budget really offer to artists and arts organizations? Photo: via Justin Trudeau Facebook page.

The 2017 federal budget was released yesterday to much fanfare—but in general, there were fewer big surprises this year in comparison with the 2016 budget, which was received with adulation in many arts circles, given the vast increase last year to Canada Council for the Arts funding.

“This is a stay-the-course kind of budget,” noted Kate Cornell of the Canadian Arts Coalition in post-budget conversation with Canadian Art.

However, there are still important things related to the new budget that Canada’s artists and art organizations need to know about. Here are some of the top items.

1. There’s the promise of a large boost for young arts workers and, by extension, the cultural industries that depend on them.

One of the biggest boosts within the cultural realm this year comes from a large increase to the Young Canada Works program, which helps to subsidize summer jobs and internships for students.

The program, which is in the heritage sector, will see an increase of 1,600 new jobs between 2016 and 2019—especially positive news for arts and culture, as museums and art galleries already get the lion’s share of the funding allocation, noted John McAvity, executive director of the Canadian Museums Association.

“We get about 80% of that funding, and we’re going to see an increase,” said McAvity. “They didn’t put a dollar level, but the target is to create 1,600 new summer jobs and internships, so we’re very pleased with that.”

What does that translate to in terms of funding?

“Probably $2 million or more, but I even hesitate to put a dollar figure on it,” said McAvity, who noted that the CMA has been advocating for improvement in three primary areas: youth employment; donation matching to help encourage private donors; and increases to some of Canadian Heritage’s programs.

And, in addition to the increase of positions to YCW, $395.5 million will be added to the Youth Employment Strategy over the next three years, with $150 million earmarked for 2017–18.

But it’s not all good news—while support for youth employment has been bolstered in this budget, the CMA’s latter two concerns regarding donation matching and Canadian Heritage program funding have not been addressed.

2. With the government focused on innovation, artists may find funding beyond the culture sector.

While the positive news for culture was largely located in the bolstering of the Young Canada Works program and the Cultural Spaces Fund, there is potential for artists to be affected by other areas of the budget.

Kate Cornell, a spokesperson for the Canadian Arts Coalition, noted that one example of this is the emphasis throughout the 2017 budget on innovation.

“I would like Canadian artists to consider themselves innovators and to look at the language in budget around innovation, because government talks about accelerating innovation through superclusters and although they don’t say the word ‘artist’ or ‘culture,’ I think that artists could see themselves in the innovation agenda,” Cornell says. “So I would like to champion artists and make sure that they recognize their place in society as innovators.”

Relatedly, there’s encouraging implications within a portion of the budget promising “an open, transparent and innovative Internet.”

“The CAC has been heavily involved in Minister Joly’s digital culture consultations, and although the budget isn’t specifically about digital culture, certainly this is an indication from the government that they are interested in moving forward with digital culture,” says Cornell. “The government is looking at growing the creative sector and they want to have net neutrality, which means no taxes on Internet service providers, and still leaves the door open for the possibility of spectrum auction revenue, which is something that the CAC has talked to the Minister about.”

3. However, it’s worth remembering that more money for the arts doesn’t necessarily mean more stable jobs, or sustained innovation, in the arts.

At first, Anne Bertrand of the Artist-Run Centres and Collectives Conference voiced relief that the funding increases that Trudeau promised to the Canada Council last year still seem to be on track. (That is, a boost of $75 million is expected as promised this year.)

However, Bertrand also said that the Canada Council’s new focus on project funding, rather than core funding, has her concerned about job stability in Canada’s arts sector.

“There will be more money to artist-run centres” than prior to 2016, Bertrand admitted. “But it won’t necessarily stabilize the overall network. It will be hard to shore up the wages and work conditions based on project funding alone.”

That lack of stability also translates, she thinks, into less energy available for innovation—innovation being a phenomenon the Trudeau government has said that it prizes.

“We haven’t seen that project funding longer term will make for a better and more innovative arts sector,” Bertrand says. “A lot of emphasis is being put on skill development for the jobs of tomorrow with a lot so emphasis on innovation—but very little support and maintenance for what is there already.”

4. Budget 2017 failed—like so many others before it—to include an Artists’ Resale Right.

Since 2011, the national artist organization CARFAC has been campaigning for Canada to adopt Artists’ Resale Right legislation—a rule that would allow artists to recoup a percentage of any secondary-market sales of their work.

And, in recent months, there had actually been some positive indications that there could be an Artists’ Resale Right in Budget 2017. In December, for one, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance recommended that the Income Tax Act and the Copyright Act be amended to include it.

That leaves CARFAC national executive director April Britski “really disappointed” about the lack of an Artists’ Resale Right in Budget 2017. She points out “it would improve artists’ economics, but it wouldn’t involve any ongoing cost to the federal government, so it was a big missed opportunity.”

Though disappointed, however, Britski is not daunted: “We will be continuing to work with the government to see how we can make that [Artists’ Resale Right] happen.”

She also encourages those who want the right implemented to contact their MP and ask that it be done, at last. For its part, CARFAC will be presenting at a UNESCO conference in April that is exclusively about Artists Resale Rights—and Britski hopes the rise of the right as an international standard will help Canada’s case for one, too.

“The ARR [Artists’ Resale Right] exists in more than 93 other countries in the world including all countries in the European Union,” CARFAC elucidated in a press release following the budget presentation. “The fact that Canada does not recognize the ARR is considered a trade barrier for Canada on the international art market. The EU has asked Canada to implement an ARR in our trade discussions, and world-wide implementation is also currently being pushed as a priority by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).”

5. Infrastructure support will be addressed for some traditional, and some less traditional, arts spaces.

There were rumours that funding boosts to infrastructure were on the books, and the predictions turned out to be correct.

The Canada Cultural Spaces Fund, which is geared towards the construction, renovation and equipment needs of organizations, will see a $300 million increase in funding over the next 10 years.

“Budget 2016 saw investment in Canada Council, which really means investment in individual artists, and the next logical step is that you’ve given money to the artist so that they can do their work, but they need a space to do their work,” said Kate Cornell of the Canadian Arts Coalition. “So galleries and theatres and really community hubs are what we’re looking at here.”

Funding for infrastructure was also one of the main arguments that the CAC made at Arts Day on the Hill in October 2016.

Also worth noting: the budget includes $1.3 billion for cultural and recreational infrastructure within the social infrastructure portion, and this could likely also affect cultural and recreational spaces across the country.

6. But don’t hold your breath for a new national museum or gallery.

Before the budget was released today, there were rumours that it might include plans for a new national museum or gallery.

Certainly, some contingents have been pushing over the years for a revival of a National Portrait Gallery—earlier this week, the pollsters at Ipsos released the results of a survey commissioned by the Friends of the National Portrait Gallery, finding that just over half (51 per cent) of Canadians surveyed said they liked the idea of a National Portrait Gallery.

This gallery idea appealed even more to 30 per cent of respondents when they learned that $11 million has already been spent converting the old U.S. embassy at 100 Wellington Street in Ottawa into such a gallery. Some 48 per cent of respondents also responded more positively when informed that a National Portrait Gallery–quality collection already exists in the holdings of Library and Archives Canada. (For Ipsos’ complete findings, read their report.)

So some momentum is moving for such a project, but many millions in federal money would be needed on a founding and annual basis to make it happen.

In September, the non-profit organization Heritage Ottawa got behind the National Portrait Gallery project for 100 Wellington. Other prominent supporters include former senator Jerry Grafstein and Toronto Star columnist Heather Mallick, who argued last year that “the gallery would be a fitting gift to the people of Canada in honour of the country’s 150th birthday in 2017.”

Ipsos also surveyed Canadians about a couple of other options for 100 Wellington that were first floated by the government’s Public Services and Procurement division last summer. These options included the idea of a Canada House—“a venue to bring all of Canada to the nation’s capital, giving a taste of the country’s diversity and achievements and showcasing the best of the provinces and territories from coast to coast to coast”—and an Indigenous Cultural Centre.

7. And be aware that much of the money promised in this year’s budget—whether for culture or otherwise—isn’t actually going to be spent for a few years yet.

Veteran political commentator Chantal Hébert has pointed out that several promises in Budget 2017 actually don’t have money scheduled to flow until the last fiscal year before the next federal election.

“Ditto for culture,” Hébert writes in her latest column. “The Liberals would spend an extra two billion dollars over 10 years to support the culture industry…with the first instalment scheduled for 2018–19.”

Fellow political commentator Paul Wells observed that this is a budget of delayed decision-making, too. Wells writes: “Not even in the last days of the Harper Conservatives did a budget provide for so little new spending — $1.3 billion in the current budget year, total, in all fields of government. That’s a little less than half of one per cent of all federal program spending for this year. But times are tight. The future is a place where we can dream. So the dollars flow more freely in later years.”

8. Last but not least, many non-arts line items in Budget 2017 are still due to impact the lives of artists and arts workers, and the cultural sphere, from coast to coast.

The Liberal budget was advertised as being the first to be evaluated through a gender-based prism. As evidence of this, the budget document put forward $7 billion over the next decade to increase access to affordable child care and extend parental leave to 18 months. But will that money flow in a way that will allow more women and caregivers to be more engaged in the arts and creative production? It remains to be seen.

Affordable housing is also a place where big (and much-needed) promises have been made—namely $11.2 billion over 11 years, says Metro. But “the money won’t start flowing until after the 2019 election.”

Many artists and arts workers who live in urban areas may also be affected by a couple of changes to transportation in this budget—namely, the elimination of a tax credit on transit passes, and the introduction of GST and HST on Uber rides.

And although the budget makes some moves on supporting Indigenous heritage—like offering $14.9 million for Library and Archives Canada to digitize and document Indigenous heritage—there are still grave concerns about the lack of funding for Indigenous children.

As Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada told the CBC, there is “nothing in there” for Indigenous children in care “despite three legal orders for the Government of Canada to comply and make sure that this generation of First Nations children isn’t unnecessarily removed from their families because of Canada’s inequitable funding. That discrimination continues today.”

This article was updated on March 23, 2017 to clarify that the proposal of a Canada House or an Indigenous Cultural Centre as options for 100 Wellington Street in Ottawa were in first floated last summer during a public information session held by Public Services and Procurement Canada.