Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ten cultural policy developments and initiatives worth noting from 2009!

With 2010 almost upon us, The Arts Advocate Report would like to acknowledge and celebrate the many accomplishments in cultural policy and politics in Ontario, and nationally, over the past year. We reached out to leaders of the cultural sector for their thoughts on this. Thank you to all who shared your insights with us.

The ten cultural policy developments, initiatives and directions that we feel merit attention are:

* At the federal level, Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore delivered on five-year renewals of significant programs for broad segments of the cultural sector. From the revamped Canada Cultural Investment Fund and the Canada Book Fund to the Canada Magazine Fund and Canada Music Fund, cultural enterprise and organizations are on more solid and predictable ground going forward.

* Love it or leave it, Minister Moore has also articulated clear policy directions for culture in Canada. Focused on modernizing, digitizing and responding to the need of the consumer, Minister Moore has brought clarity to the directions cultural policy is going in Canada.

* The recently established national Arts Caucus in the House of Commons holds promise for raising the level of dialogue around culture in Ottawa.

* The arts hold a soft spot for Prime Minister Stephen Harper: Be it a cameo performance at the National Arts Centre gala or joining in a televised Bollywood dance show on his recent trade mission to India, the PM knows that Canadians delight in his artistic pursuits.

* In Ontario, Culture Minister Aileen Carroll convinced the Finance Minister and her colleagues to increase the Culture Ministry’s budget by $92.2 million in the March 2009 budget, an impressive 51% increase over 2008-09. This, despite a soaring provincial deficit. Some of the new money is one-time and the dust still needs to settle as to what will be sustained over the long term, but the result is noteworthy regardless. Two initiatives from this new funding deserving mention are the increase in operating funds to cultural attraction agencies and delivery of the promised $5 million increase to the Ontario Arts Council.

* The Intellectual Property Fund, one of the initiatives of the Ontario government’s increased cultural spending, signals interest in developing alternative programs to tax credits for the cultural industries. The IP Fund is designed to support upfront creative and development costs, a notoriously difficult area to finance and one ignored by government for at least a decade.

* Tax credits have a place in cultural policy though, and the Ontario government saw fit to continue enhancing or enlarging their scope.

* The growing momentum of Culture Days, the collaborative, Canada-wide volunteer movement to raise the awareness, accessibility, participation and engagement by all Canadians in the arts and cultural life of their communities, is exciting and an initiative to be watched going forward.

* While museums generally did not have a lot to celebrate this past year, it’s noteworthy that both the Canadian Museums Association and the Ontario Museum Association have ramped up advocacy and policy dialogue with decision makers in Ottawa and at Queen’s Park with Museum Advocacy Days.

* In Toronto, arts advocacy and mobilization happened in ways never before seen. The successful campaign of the Beautiful City Billboard Fee Alliance, an initiative of young artists designed to introduce a billboard fee that would ultimately go towards arts funding and public arts, created a new model of mobilizing artists and arts supporters through a sophisticated social networking campaign. It bodes well for the impact of such initiatives as ArtsVote2010, also launched late this year.

No doubt, we could add a list of cultural policy bloopers or misses. In fact, many were suggested to us. We’ll leave those for the moment, preferring to look forward to 2010 in an optimistic and constructive fashion. It’s clear we have lots to build on from 2009.

Happy New Year to everyone!

Monday, December 14, 2009

MPs pre-budget recommendations provide little to compel a forward-looking national cultural vision

As Parliament wrapped up last week, the Standing Committee on Finance released A prosperous and sustainable future for Canada:  Needed federal actions, its report on the Canada-wide pre-budget consultations. A significant number of arts and cultural organizations participated in the Committee’s deliberations this year, looking to ensure that the momentum garnered from last year’s attention on arts policy (during the election) is not lost.

After the Committee navigated its way through a huge array of policy proposals and funding requests from the cultural sector, they concluded simply that ‘artistic and cultural undertakings enrich people’s lives and communities.’ They recommend that

The federal government make a significant investment in culture, for example by enhancing the Canada Feature Fund and the feature-length documentary fund, eliminating the Goods and Services Tax on books, providing a tax exemption for copyright royalties and increasing the budget for the Canada Council for the Arts.

This provides quite a shopping list for the government to choose from, with no compelling argument in place for any one significant and impactful measure. While there is no question that governments often ignore the recommendations of parliamentary pre-budget consultations, this report is so scattered and general, that it is little more than a compendium of requests. The federal government would be correct in replying that the report does not provide a clear vision, and in fact they’ve already announced measures that do provide a significant investment in culture.

Museums fared a little better in the Standing Committee’s Report, with the concluding and final recommendation stating that

Moreover, the government should work with non-national museums with a view to developing a funding strategy for their long-term sustainability.

The absence of a clear national museums policy and funding infrastructure is a longstanding issue for this part of the cultural sector.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Modernizing cultural policy in Ottawa -- make it digital!

Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore was in his element this morning, addressing delegates to the NextMedia conference in Toronto and re-iterating the themes we’ve now heard a few times in the past month. Clearly happy to be with a ‘forward looking’ audience ‘who gets it’, Minister Moore pledged to continue modernizing the legislation, regulations and investments the Government of Canada is making in the creative economy, one three times the size of the insurance industry in Canada, and twice the size of either forestry or agriculture, according to him.

Stating that we ‘can’t let the forces of negativity prevail’, that is those ‘concerned about the status quo’, Minister Moore reinforced his point that government must adapt to the changing times to support the creative sector, so creators can work on multiple platforms. This is to provide consumers with the opportunity to choose how they get their content.

The Minister stated that the old way of developing cultural policy in silos, like television, radio, broadband etc, is now irrelevant. In his view, too many people are developing public policy ‘who don’t get it’. 'It’s all the same thing' now, he suggested. He talked about the various Funds in place now at the Department of Canadian Heritage, pointing to the changes the government is making to ensure the digital platform is now considered in all policy decisions. The federal government is making arts and culture investments so we can ‘compete to win’.

Minister Moore concluded by calling on the delegates at NextMedia, most of whom he concluded were relatively young, to ‘stay engaged; The average age of an MP is 57 he said; senior public servants are in that same age range. These people don’t get it he concluded, suggesting that many are digitally illiterate. It’s up to the likes of people at NextMedia to be ‘agents of change’ in his view.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Lessons learned from Culture Montréal’s Colloquium on The Arts in a time of Economic Crisis

…enroute back to Ontario from Culture Montréal’s Colloquium on The Arts in a time of Economic Crisis: A joint initiative with HEC Montreal, this was an impressive gathering that drew together people like Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore, the Toronto Arts Council’s Claire Hopkinson, Antoni Cimolino from the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, UK based John Nicholls and a host of Quebec’s cultural leadership including Francois Colbert and Laurent Lapierre, all discussing the health of the cultural sector in today’s economy, and the implications for the future.

Centered around a study by HEC’s André Courchesne and Johanne Turbide
about the effects of the economic crisis on earned income of cultural organizations in Quebec, the findings provide sector-wide validation of what most arts organizations have been observing for the past year: “a sizeable drop in private-sector revenues”, most pronounced for the largest organizations who count on larger corporate and foundation contributions.

Claire Hopkinson brought the Ontario perspective to the table. Based largely on anecdotal evidence, she spoke to the reality that earned and contributed revenues are fragile, particularly in the area of corporate and foundation giving and the box office. Most notable from the Ontario perspective was the nimbleness of cultural organizations to respond and adapt quickly, adjusting cost structures to avoid the prospect of difficult financial situations in the future. Much of this she attributed to the resilience developed in the difficult years of the late 1990s. Equally important, she noted, is the healthy balance of public, contributed and earned revenue -- in essence a call to maintain arts and culture funding at all levels of government.

It was heartening to see the level of Ontario engagement in the conversation at the Colloquium. Recognizing Ontario Culture Minister Aileen Carroll’s interest in the bilateral relationship with Quebec, The Arts Advocate Report, and others, mused about the possibility of seeing an Ontario-Quebec (perhaps multi-provincial) Colloquium next year, exploring how the cultural sector is faring one year hence . Perhaps more importantly though, the question might be focused on how the cultural sector is contributing to the economic recovery economists predict for late next year, and into 2011.

…more on this and HEC’s study in the next issue of The Arts Advocate Report.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The key themes of Canada's cultural policy agenda

On Friday last week, Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore spoke to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce about our country’s creative economy and where the Government of Canada “intends to go” with it. The speech didn’t garner much media attention, but a close look at it provides a succinct picture of the key themes being pursued by this federal government in the area of culture, and their goal to recalibrate the tenor of the dialogue with Canadians on the arts.

An economic contributor and driver
In a marked shift from the tone of a year ago, arts and culture are seen as economic drivers. “Arts and culture has a tremendous impact on our economy” Moore says. Further on, he states that “Our support is not a handout. It is a wise investment in Canada economic and cultural future.”

A focus on the digital revolution, with choice for consumers
To thrive, Moore suggests that ‘creators need the right environment … conditions that support their work in building new, innovative products and services on all platforms.” It’s from here that the ipod minister, talks at length about the digital revolution and the opportunities that this holds for Canadians. Throughout, it’s clear that the focus of the government’s cultural policy is to provide consumers with the choices they want. Traditional business models will be supported “when it makes sense”.

Long-term commitment
Minister Moore speaks to the five, and now six, year renewals of many of the major programs offered by the Department of Canadian Heritage as testament to the federal government’s commitment to culture. (Yesterday, Minister Moore announced that a program for aboriginal youth, Cultural Connections for Aboriginal Youth, has been renewed through until 2016, an unprecedented renewal period for this government.) How all these renewals will fare subject to the federal program review is of course unknown. Some hints might be provided by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty this Friday, when he addresses Toronto’s Canadian Club.

Multiple pillars of support
Government can’t go it alone, says Minister Moore. To thrive, arts and culture need private and public sector support. Many of the renewed programs at Canadian Heritage have built in requirements for private sector contributions, a trend that is expected to continue.

For cultural policy watchers in Canada, this speech provides a worthwhile read. It can be found at

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ontario business leaders explore the place of creative industries in fostering economic growth

This week, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce is hosting the Ontario Economic Summit, a gathering of high-powered business leaders, ministers and deputy ministers discussing the ways that Ontario can be ‘readied for stronger economic recovery’. The Arts Advocate Report was intrigued by the Summit’s focus on the ‘creative disciplines’ and a morning devoted to exploring how the creative industries are a source of innovation and wealth generation for Ontario. Thanks to Sara Diamond, President of OCAD, and Moderator at the Summit, for drawing our attention to it.

Lyn Heward, Creative Consultant and Executive Producer of Cirque du Soleil was charged with getting the participants’ brain juices flowing in a presentation on the creative process behind the Cirque’s incredible success. Lyn’s keynote address (the same one as delivered at last week’s Creative Places and Spaces Conference in Toronto) focused on nurturing and developing the creative process in a way that can lead to transformative ideas, and potentially, change. The place of collaboration and teamwork is central at the Cirque according to Lyn.

(The contrast in audience response between the Creative Places and Spaces gathering and the Ontario Economic Summit was in itself a fascinating observation, with the business reaction decidedly more tepid than that at the conference last week.)

Sarah Diamond had the daunting task of bridging the take-aways from Lyn Heward’s presentation to addressing economic growth for Ontario. The panelists helping her do this were Diana Pliura, Entrepreneur-in-Residence at The Health Exchange, Paul Rowan, Co-founder and VP of Design at Umbra and Ian Wilson, Strategic Advisor to the The Stratford Institute for Digital Media and Culture (former Ontario and national Archivist). In the view of The Arts Advocate Report, it was Ian Wilson who grasped the enormity of the task, arguing that business, government, universities and the NGO sector needed to embark on some ‘rapid, unprecedented collaboration’ that would turn existing business and government processes and models on their heads. Our diversity and background provide fertile ground for doing this, in his view.

Ian also drew parallels that could foresee the creative industries work much more directly with technology companies and the like. For others, it seemed more of a stretch, preferring to draw on the lessons of collaboration for their own industries, but failing to make the leap to new business models: the prospect of cross-sectoral partnerships and working together was welcomed, but seen as somehow more distant, almost a happy adjunct.

The notion that fostering creativity begins in the early years of education and then must be fostered throughout, was left to Sara to conclude. Calling for a redesign of arts education and a focus on creative thinking throughout education and the economy (with reference to Sir Ken Robinson’s work on being in ‘the element’) Sara left the Ontario Economic Summit with food for thought on the place of creativity in our economy.

Whether the business community is ready to drink the juice is another question, but bravo to the Ontario Economic Summit for at least sampling.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Arts Council England CEO offers arguments to sustain public arts funding that resonate in Ontario as well

As Ontario’s cultural sector girds itself to demonstrate the public benefit of sustained government investment in arts, heritage and the cultural industries in the face of expenditure program reviews at all levels of government, we might look to the arguments being put forward on the other side of the pond by Alan Davey, CEO of Arts Council England.

Last week, Mr. Davey put forward a powerful and cogent set of arguments to sustain public arts funding under any government, Conservative or Labour. Speaking to a Conservative arts conference, Culture is Right, he steered clear of any suggestion of entitlement to argue that the ‘complex mixed economy model’ of public and private investment in the arts sector in England is indeed the ‘model of the future, not of the past’.

I want to straight away get away from any idea of the Arts as a monolithic public service ripe to be cut, and instead assert the truth: that the arts live in a complex mixed economy which could provide a model for how public investment could work elsewhere. The model is a model of the future, not one of the past, it’s one that works with public money levering private money, with the arms’ length method of making decisions putting it outside the vagaries of short term political whim….So my message is this: strengthen and celebrate the model, don’t weaken it.

The notion that public investment in the arts levers private investment is not new. Rarely though, has such a clear and powerfully-demonstrated argument been put forward in a such a positive, compelling manner. Moving away from the ‘woe is me’ argument, Mr. Davey holds up the complex ecology of arts funding, one similar to the system in Canada and Ontario, as a model to be emulated in other sectors. “The mixed economy means money works hard, and hardworking money is especially missed.” He goes on, “We’ll need to help you encourage the Treasury to be an intelligent funder and to convince them that not all public spending is bad, that ours works hard, and because of this, there is a disproportionate effect when it is cut.”

With pre-budget hearings underway federally and now in Ontario, and as cultural organizations muster arguments at the municipal level, Alan Davey’s speech may resonate well beyond the borders of England.

For more information go to:

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ontario's Fall Economic Outlook -- Measures to address the bleak forecast will wait for the spring Budget

There are no surprises in Finance Minister Dwight Duncan’s Fall Economic Outlook released this afternoon. As anticipated in the latest issue of The Arts Advocate Report, and clearly signaled by the Finance Minister for some time now, the Ontario deficit is much higher than predicted, expected to stand at $24.7 billion this year.

The government acknowledges that it’s facing expenditure pressures in many areas, not the least of which are job training and the auto sector. That said, the government appears to be withstanding pressure to make in-year expenditure adjustments. For the future though, the Ontario Treasury Board is launching a review of all spending to ensure that the key priorities of the McGuinty government – job creation, health care and education – remain sustainable. The outcome of that review will be part of next year's budget.

Notable for the cultural sector, this review includes a review of all boards, agencies and commissions “to ensure they are meeting Ontarians' needs and expectations.” Recognizing that the vast majority of Ministry of Culture expenditures are through agencies, this will be one initiative that arts, heritage and cultural industries will want to watch closely.

The province-wide pre-budget consultations get underway with the release of this document today. An online consultation is already open and community roundtables will be announced in November.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Finance Minister provides few hints to culture about Thursday's Fall Economic Statement

Today, Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan provided few hints as to what the cultural sector might expect in Thursday’s Fall Economic Statement. Indeed, it could well be the 2010 budget before any meaningful details are revealed, leaving the Ontario government and Culture Minister Aileen Carroll a few more months to focus on the enhanced cultural investments this year.

In a speech to a business audience at the Canadian Club and Empire Club in Toronto, Minister Duncan said that sustaining public services in the face of a persistent, and large, Ontario deficit will mean focusing on priorities. Those priorities are health and education. This could, of course, be code to suggest that serious cuts to other program areas are on the horizon: “We must focus our priorities and make strategic and sometimes difficult choices” he said.

That said, the Finance Minister also sent signals suggesting that investments in 21st century industries, including the Entertainment and Creative Cluster need to be sustained. It, along with industries like financial services and information technology, continue to create employment he says. Does this mean that culture will be spared the broad stroke cuts of a review of program service delivery?

Maybe Thursday’s Fall Economic Statement will provide the details. It’s more likely to happen in next year’s provincial budget though.

This gives the cultural sector a few months to ensure that its impact and challenges are heard in the coming months, as the pre-budget ramp-up gets underway.

Watch for details on pre-budget hearings at the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs. As well, the Finance Minister is expected to hold consultations in communities across the province.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cultural sector active at pre-budget consultations

Despite the lull of the current break at both the House of Commons and the Ontario Legislature, preparations for next year’s budget cycle are getting underway in full force.  In Ottawa, the Standing Committee on Finance is in the midst of its pre-budget hearings.  A number of cultural organizations, including Orchestras Canada, the Canadian Conference of the Arts, ACTRA, Directors’ Guild of Canada and the Association of Canadian Publishers have all appeared.  A number of the national performing arts organizations are expected to appear later this month when the Committee visits Toronto on October 21.  To stay on top of the hearings, go to and click on committees.

Next week, Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan will lay out the “challenges facing Ontario's economy and the tough choices Ontarians will have to make as the government focuses on its priorities” in a speech to the Toronto and Ontario Canadian clubs.  Likely setting the stage for a fall economic statement that will focus on harsh reality of the Ontario budget, policy watchers will looking for any clues about what to expect next year.  Provincial pre-budget consultations will likely follow shortly thereafter.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The impact of the HST on Ontario's cultural sector: is there time to influence its implementation?

Last week, The Arts Advocate Report hosted a Policy Dialogue for subscribers on Ontario’s proposed Harmonized Sales Tax.  The subject of much political debate both federally and provincially, the actual reality of what this will mean for Ontario’s cultural sector is just starting to dawn.  It’s clear that there will be significant revenue implications, at least for the medium term.  The impact of these on Ontario’s cultural sector is not widely understood in many circles including government.  Adding to this is the complexity of Ontario’s cultural sector, making it difficult to generalize, or fit in a specific box.

The evidence presented by Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan’s staff makes it clear that the new tax regime will benefit lower and middle class Ontarians, while resulting in a small increase for higher income earners.  Recognizing the relatively low incomes of Ontario’s artists and cultural workers, the proposed HST should be welcome. 

For producers, institutions and the many small businesses and self-employed individuals though, the implementation and roll out of the HST poses challenges.  There is real concern that there will be revenue erosion (or financial cost) as many fear that consumers will not accept an 8% increase in ticket prices, gallery admissions or subscriptions, at least in the medium term.  For a sector that operates on the edge of financial solvency, with little price elasticity in this current economic environment, this signals problems. 

It could also mean that much of the recent Ontario government investment in cultural agencies like the Ontario Arts Council and the Ontario Media Development Corporation could be negated as cultural organizations grapple with how to deal with anticipated revenue loss,   a reality that has not been considered.

The window for the cultural sector to have any influence on the implementation of the HST is small.  While the introduction of the new harmonized tax regime is largely a foregone conclusion, there is still time for the cultural sector to put forward recommendations to ease any potentially difficult impacts of its implementation.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

First Post

Welcome to The Arts Advocate Report’s new ‘blog’. The blog is intended to encourage informed dialogue and debate among cultural policy makers and watchers, with a focus on Ontario. Like the Report, it will provide timely, balanced commentary on the policies and politics affecting arts and culture. It will also allow The Arts Advocate to point to other important research and initiatives that the Report can not cover.

The blog will complement, not replace, the Report, Updates and Policy Dialogues that subscribers have come to count on over the past 15 years.

The fall of 2009 is shaping up to be a heated and volatile environment for all policy watchers, including those of us focused on arts and culture. We look forward to an interesting dialogue, now and into the future. We hope you join in.

Looking forward

Both the House of Commons and the Ontario Legislative Assembly have resumed. The events of the past few weeks suggest that it will be anything but sleepy sessions in both houses. Heightened expectations about a federal election call later this month, or early October, and media-fuelled perception of flagrant misspending across Ontario agencies are serving to derail substantive progress on a number of files.

In Ottawa, this means that substantial cultural files, like amendments to the Copyright Act, are unlikely to go anywhere. The subject of yet more consultations over the past summer, it’s clear the likelihood of any substantial progress on the outdated copyright legislation is virtually impossible, despite promises from the Government.

In Ontario

Ontario cultural agencies have been spared inclusion in the list of agencies which will now have their expenses overseen by the Integrity Commissioner; equally important, none have been identified as flagrant spenders. That said, one can count on increased vigilance and a whole new level of scrutiny on every dollar spent. The ramifications of this will ripple throughout the cultural sector.

The new Intellectual Property Fund, given life in the March 2009 budget, could be unveiled in the context of the Toronto International Film Festival currently underway. Add to that the welcome Ontario investment of $10 million in TIFF’s new Bell Lightbox, and it’s already been a good year for the Film Festival.

Ontario’s Tory Culture Critic – Passing the torch from Julia Munro to Ted Arnott

This session of the Legislature sees longtime PC culture critic Julia Munro pass the torch on to Ted Arnott, MPP from Wellington-Halton Hills. Munro was respected as a credible, sensitive and approachable critic for the cultural sector, one who was open to listening to the concerns of the sector from a truly interested perspective.

Long time MPP Ted Arnott is not totally new to the Culture portfolio, having already served as Culture Critic for one year, from 1994 to 1995.