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.