The Canada Council for the Arts new funding model
I finally had a chance to read the new funding model for the Canada Council for the Arts. Oddly, I have it bookmarked along side articles about the 800 year anniversary of the Magna Carta. An FB friend’s post regarding this event pointed out that where it mentions the City of London, it does not mean the people of London but the corporation of London. So, this idea of corporations having rights and freedoms just like people has been with us a long, long time.
As for the Canada Council for the Arts, it is a very young organization. It was created in 1957 back in a Canada that no longer exists; frontier-esque, provincial, white and very conservative. By the 1970s we became a greater multicultural nation with two languages, used metric, known throughout the world as peace keepers and polite and usually described as a progressive politically. At least that is the Canada I grew up in.
Today, post Rob Ford and now known throughout the world as that place with the tar sands, we are sadly no longer the goovy place with the best Pride Parade on the planet. We might still have the best parade but our image is tarnished; we are not aging well. Most people blame our current Conservative government and its complete lack of interest in anything other than oil. This might be true. I can only speak of my experience growing up in the arts here but I think what also might be wrong is the fact that we drank the kool aid given to us in the form of thinking that corporations would pick up the slack when the government began the death to the arts by a thousand cuts.
I remember that moment when the Ontario Arts Council in the 1990s cut back operating funding as it will again next year, and suddenly every theatre company began running a bingo. Charitable status allowed non-profits to get into the gaming world. There was no discussion in the arts community about whether this was a good idea or not. Survival was at stake, so who could blame us. I believe it was the beginning of a kind of devolution in the arts, where money in any form was better than nothing. The private sector with its tech giants, banks, champagne and limos seemed way sexier than filling out a fifteen page grant application. Sadly however this dream never materialized. You could argue this but I bet you are thinking about things like Culture Days, Nuit Blanche and Luminato, events that have no sustained impact on the arts. In fact what they actually do is advertise banks and corporations in the guise of helping.
The arts have trundled on with very little or no new money in a sector that is growing exponentially. In fact the Canada Council for the Arts hasn’t seen a new dime in five years. They should be getting increases annually because the arts are generating new money every year. But they don’t. I have asked them why and my question remains unanswered. I would think this would be the most important issue to address as opposed to stream lining their funding model which is what they have chosen to do. As anyone who has ever filled out a Canada Council arts grant will tell you, the process makes you want to quit. It discourages you. I guess though when you get one, you forget all that. Having never received one of those juicy $20,000 project grants I would have no idea.
A mid career artist like myself knows my way around the applications that are there now. Changing all this will mean I will have to relearn how to do this. In fact I’ve had to adapt to numerous tweaking over the years which has caused havoc in an already stressed out life. Most artists, like myself are just not looking forward to this change because we know that arts councils are masters at obfuscation and shit’s gonna’ get confusing.
And then there is what they are planning to do. This new funding model is a curiosity for sure. The two pager they sent out is written in that feel good, up-with-community-engagement lingo. “This program supports arts organizations in the production and presentation of ongoing, sustainable, high-quality artistic activities that engage the diversity of citizens within their communities and beyond.” is one of the points in something called Engage and Sustain. The description doesn’t actually explain what engage and sustain means. In fact the descriptions are so vague even the Globe and Mail ran an article about the Council’s cryptic language.
On top of all this, they have cloaked themselves in a totally non-transparent process. They were created to do one thing, dole out money from the government to the arts community. In this 21st century all tech, all video, all start ups, all private wealth world we now live in perhaps doing this seems shabby. Now that the head of the council is a CEO and no longer a director anyway, the majority of artists like myself who have never felt particularly helped by them will once again bear the burden of making this redo work just as the minimum wage earner with no rights or protection helps a corporation maximize their profits. It’s a top down philosophy which is why for 800 years we have had revolution after revolution after revolution…