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.