Friday, December 31, 2010

Second annual recognition of significant cultural policy landmarks in Ontario

With 2010 drawing to a close, we reached out to cultural leaders to help us establish this year’s significant developments in cultural policy and politics in Ontario. Some are decided accomplishments, while others are initiatives, the implications of which are yet to be fully understood. They are presented more or less in chronological order.

(Much happened municipally across Ontario, but we’ve focused this on the provincial and national level.)

* After 8 years as a stand-alone ministry, Culture is now reconnected to Tourism under the leadership of Minister Michael Chan. Opinions are mixed on the merits of the restructuring, but one clear upside is the stronger connection the joint ministry makes to the economic development envelope in government.

* The introduction of Bill C-32, (Copyright Modernization Act), the third attempt at updating Canada’s copyright legislation: Parliamentary hearings on the proposed legislation will continue when the House of Commons reconvenes at the end of January, with intentions that the legislation will pass this spring.

* Permanent funding for the Ontario Media Development Corporation at a level of $15 million this year, 2010/11: Long the subject annual ups and downs, the long term commitment to the agency will add a measure of stability to Ontario’s cultural industries.

* The introduction of the Harmonized Sales Tax, a measure that many in the cultural sector fear are hampering sales and earned revenue.

* The Digital Economy Consultation, a key federal government priority with substantial implications and opportunities for Canada’s arts and cultural sector. Look to Budget 2011 to provide clarity on the specifics of the new Digital Economy Strategy.

* The Arts Investment Fund, a $27 million, three year funding envelope to provide additional support to operating clients of the Ontario Arts Council.

* The ‘partnership project’, an initiative to strengthen the relationship between the Ontario government and the not-for-profit sector: It is expected to result in practical recommendations to the Premier, right about now.

* Culture Days, the nationwide program to raise awareness and increase the engagement of Canadians in the arts: With one-third of Canadians reporting that they were aware of it in its first year, there is no question that it succeeded in capturing attention.

* Unprecedented advocacy and lobbying activity at Queen’s Park (Museums Days) and on Parliament Hill (Canadian Arts Coalition, Canadian Museums Association, Creators’ Copyright Coalition, among the key umbrella groups), a clear recognition that the cultural sector needs to make sure its voice is heard on the cluttered pubic policy agenda federally and provincially.

In our first blog next, we will look ahead to what 2011 might hold for Ontario’s cultural sector.

Happy new year!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Canadians need to know that arts and culture charities make a difference

Getting a true picture of the contribution that arts, heritage and culture make to the lives of Canadians is always a daunting challenge. This is particularly so in the charitable and not-for-profit sector, where numbers, and the interpretation of them are always nuanced.

What is clear though is that arts and culture are making a difference in communities across Ontario and Canada. That is why it’s so troubling to see the apparent decline in donations from Canadians. Figures released today by Statistics Canada indicate that donations to the country’s not-for-profit and charitable organizations declined 2.6% in 2008. Any number of factors can be attributed to this, but none take away the reality that this is a troubling trend.

Political leaders continue to call for Canadians to dig deeper to support arts and cultural organizations, and other not-for-profit organizations – particularly as the prospect of more limited public sector support is on the horizon. To achieve this though will require a demonstrated leadership on the part of politicians and other leaders in society. Here are some ideas:

- Support the proposed charitable donations stretch tax credit, a measure advanced by Imagine Canada and supported by others to encourage Canadians increased donations;

- Challenge the media to report responsibly and accurately on the contribution and impact of Canada’s 160,000 charities and not-for-profits. No doubt there are bad apples out there, but the vast majority of charities, including those in arts and culture, make meaningful and important contributions to Canadians and our communities. The recent media attention on sleazy charities and questionable practice is misleading and incomplete. Look at the good, which will take a lot more ink, rather than just make headlines out of the few that are out of line.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Policy trends to watch in Ontario

While federal files such as the Copyright Modernization Act dominate the cultural policy agenda, Ontario trends and developments warrant attention.

The Ontario government has worked hard to demonstrate its support of the cultural sector. As the Province no doubt readies itself for some fiscal belt-tightening, Tourism and Culture Minister Michael Chan appears to have wrung out a series of three-year funding enhancements for cultural initiatives.

The most recent announcement was the three-year, $10 million renewal of funding to the Ontario Cultural Attraction Fund (OCAF), announced 25 November. In September, the Province introduced the Arts Investment Fund, another three-year program. There is still more buried in the Spending Estimates, the details of which remain hard to come by.

The latest OCAF news didn’t attract much attention beyond the client base most interested in its sustainability; that is likely the way the Ontario government preferred to see it played, if the buried news release is any indication. The government is looking to portray itself as fiscally prudent to the greater numbers of the unconverted and any cultural spending is risky business.

So, as Minister Chan told The Arts Advocate Report last month, ‘in the immediate term, we’re covered.’

What the future holds though is unclear: Finance Minister Dwight Duncan’s Fall Economic Statement this month received short shrift in the media, with energy prices dominating any and all coverage. Policy watchers could be well advised to look beyond the headlines though, and consider the reality of what the $18.7 billion deficit will mean for all Ontario government spending, particularly after the October 2011 provincial election.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Arts leaders connect with Ottawa decision makers

Arts leaders and artists were in Ottawa last week putting forward the message about the value of the arts to Canadians and making the case for public support. At three separate gatherings (the Canadian Conference of the Arts policy conference, a joint board meeting of the Performing Arts Alliance and the Canadian Arts Coalition's Arts Day on the Hill), politicians and policy makers were engaged in conversations exploring the place of arts in Canadian communities and for Canadians.

It is clear that the focus of this conversation has shifted from earlier times. Today, the relevance and connection to audiences has become the paramount issue. This is something that the sector had somehow become disconnected to, according to Paul Gross the keynote speaker at the CCA conference. “We’ve lost touch with our neighbours” he suggests. In his view, we need to focus on the things that matter in our communities and country, and be part of the discussion about what’s happening around us. From there, we will be able connect to support for the sector.

Across the Rideau Canal, Performing Arts Alliance keynote speaker Ben Cameron put a different spin on the same challenge. Noting that resources always rise to the top of the issue list for artists and arts organizations, his view is that funding is the manifestation of problems, not the cause of the problem. In today’s vastly different world though, arts organizations and artists need to look at their reality through a whole new lens to connect with the audiences of today. This new world though is daunting, one few are equipped or prepared to address.

Against this backdrop of seismic change facing Canada’s arts sector, the Canadian Arts Coalition made the case for more dollars for the Canada Council for the Arts and international touring. It convened over 100 meetings with MPs from all parties, including Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore. Accounts points to a successful day.

Whether in fear of what happened in 2008 or truly seeking to better engage with the Canadian arts sector, the attention and interest of the country’s political leaders is a welcome and good thing!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Where some of Ontario's new mayors stack up on arts and culture

Last week, The Arts Advocate Report provided subscribers with a round up where arts policy fit into Ontario municipal mayoralty elections in major regional cities. To keep you up to date, here are the mayors elected in cities looked at last week, and whether their public position speaks to arts and culture.

On face value, it looks like Windsor will be out ahead.

Kitchener Carl Zehr: No specific platform, but does speak to importance of arts and culture

London Joe Fontana: No reference to arts and culture

Ottawa Jim Watson: No specific platform, but covers culture in tourism policy

Sudbury Marianne Matichuk: No specifics, but believes private money should pay for new performing arts centre

Toronto Rob Ford: No specific platform on arts and culture

Windsor Eddie Francis: Speaks specifically to role of arts and culture in Windsor, and the place of the cultural plan.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Connecting the dots of government investment and public support for the arts

At last week’s open board meeting of the Canada Council for the Arts, Chair Joseph Rotman, Vice Chair Simon Brault and Director Robert Sirman reinforced two key points to the overflow crowd in Toronto:

* The board of the Council enjoys the confidence of the Government of Canada, a result, in its view, of the alignment of Council’s activities and priorities of the Government.

* The current $182 million allocation to Canada’s arts sector, through the Council, is significant and very much appreciated, especially in this time of fiscal restraint.

The Council acknowledges that, on a constant dollar per capita basis, its funding is smaller than in 1990; but it does not see itself in a growth phase at this time. Pointing to the realities of the competing spending priorities faced by Ottawa (and evidenced by the sheer number of witnesses participating at the House of Commons Finance Committee pre-budget hearings underway), the Canada Council board is carefully acknowledging the ‘potential for growth’ without making the ask at this time.

When queried as to why the board of the Canada Council for the Arts was not more aggressively championing a funding increase for the arts, Chair Joseph Rotman delivered a spirited response that pointed to reality of governing at this time. He reinforced again the confidence of government enjoyed by the Council, and stressed the need for everyone to be sensitive to the tenor of our times. (Not sure everyone agreed with him!)

The link to the recent Environics survey on the attitudes of Ontarians to arts and the quality of life (completed for the Ontario Arts Council) becomes salient here: 81% of Ontarians agree that government should spend dollars to support the arts. Dig a little deeper though, and the numbers show that 38% of respondents ‘strongly agree’ with this statement, while 43% are in the ‘somewhat agree’ category.

In this period of shrinking dollars and belt tightening, it’s going to be important for all of us to move people from the ‘somewhat agree’ group to the ‘strongly agree’ group.

From that observation, it’s back to the Canada Council’s new strategic plan and their enhanced focus on ‘public engagement’. I’ll connect those dots another time!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Cultural issues on the municipal election agenda -- it's happening

With Thanksgiving behind us, Ontarians will now turn their attention to the municipal elections in earnest. This year, the cultural sector is a force that candidates are paying heed to, like never before. The politicization of arts issues in the last federal election is ricocheting across the political landscape, and candidates and parties recognize the risk, media wise at least, of being seen as offside.

In Toronto, the largest cultural centre in the country, ArtsVote and the film industry both elevated the importance of cultural contributions. At the Toronto Mayoralty Arts Debate held late September, the crowd was beyond capacity with people even turned away at the overflow spaces. Film Ontario, centred in Toronto, hosted a debate earlier in the month where the leading mayoralty candidates demonstrated their understanding of this rapidly evolving industry, looking to demonstrate how they see it fitting into Toronto.

Outside Toronto, arts issues are also on the agenda. Last night, there was an arts debate in Kingston, also reportedly with overflow crowds. Similarly in Windsor and Ottawa, the arts sector has come together to canvas candidates on their positions about the arts. Information on candidates’ views about the arts is readily available.

Individually, each of these initiatives may not command much attention beyond their immediate target audience. Together, they demonstrate that the cultural sector is taking arts advocacy more seriously, and having more impact than perhaps thought possible in the past. Aided by initiatives like Culture Days, it’s clear that Ontario citizens do embrace, participate in and value arts and cultural opportunities.

Arts and cultural issues don’t dominate the municipal election agenda this fall. But candidates also know that to ignore them, or attack them, is folly.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Brault's No Culture No Future -- Taking up the invitation to discuss how we put culture on the public policy agenda

Happily, this summer I completed Simon Brault’s No Culture, No Future.

An enjoyable read, it reinforced, once again, the challenge of putting culture on the mainstream public policy agenda. For those of us engaged in the cultural sector, the arguments and imperatives of robust cultural policies and programs at every level of government are clear and obvious. We forget though that in many ways, we are speaking only to ourselves with little regard to the importance that others attribute to cultural activity. The realization that the participation rate of Canadians in cultural activities is remaining stable at less than 5% is a sobering figure indeed. (Canadian Index of Wellbeing, Report Highlights, Leisure and Culture, June 2010).

If Canadians don’t see themselves engaging in cultural activity, which many don’t, it’s hard for policy makers to make arts and culture policy a priority.

Brault makes clear that “we must address without delay the issue of attendance at arts events and participation in the arts” if we want arts and culture to move to the forefront of policy discussion. With attendance remaining, at best, stable, we have a distance to go.

More and more money is invested in culture from all sectors, including government, a point acknowledged by Brault in his book. As we look towards an increasingly challenging fiscal environment in the years ahead, it will be imperative to demonstrate to government that Canadians are engaged in the rich array of arts and cultural opportunities and activities offered across the province and country. Culture Days, happening next month, is a great step in the right direction.

Simon Brault is clear that he would like his book to enrich public discussion on cultural policy. He has already gone some distance to achieving that, recognizing that most cultural policy watchers I know have the book on their ‘must read’ summer list. The impending municipal election season in Ontario, together with the reality that Ontario and federal elections will soon follow, provide us all with a great opportunity to sustain the conversation.

Note: The Toronto Mayoral Arts Debate happens Wednesday 29 September, 7 pm at the AGO. Watch for more news on this, and other major arts related municipal election events, in the blog and on our twitter feed.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Fostering creativity: arts education is a better place to start than Play-Doh for adults

Today’s Globe and Mail features an article on fostering creativity for business and government types. ( Citing a new book by author Alexander Hiam, Business Innovation for Dummies, it suggests you exercise your creative muscles though tactile activities like Play-Doh or building blocks, obviously the mainstay of the pre-school set.

An alternative option, with far-lasting impact and benefits, would be for the key leaders in our society to ensure arts education has a meaningful place in our educations system. Often seen as a frill, experience and study demonstrate that effective and sustained arts education programs throughout a student’s career lead to enhanced creativity, imagination and effectiveness.

So rather than investing in Play-Doh for execs, perhaps we should consider the policies and actions necessary to put in place some meaningful arts education for all students.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Creating a marketplace framework for Canada’s digital content advantage

The Government of Canada is asking Canadians our views on how to improve our country’s digital advantage. Arguing that Canada is only in the ‘middle of the pack’ in terms of adopting and exploiting the value of digital technology, the federal government states that “we need to do better”; hence, the launch of the digital economy strategy, first announced in the March 2010 Throne Speech and Budget. At the Canada 3.0 conference in Stratford Ontario earlier this week, Canadian Industry Minister Tony Clement released a consultation paper to solicit Canadians’ views. He also promised key stakeholder roundtables, though details aren’t yet available.

Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore is playing a key part in the development of this strategy from the perspective of digital content and creation. Acknowledging the innovation of Canadian creators, the consultation paper states that “With the right framework, digital media entrepreneurs have the ability to create Canada’s digital content advantage with vision and boldness to unleash the potential of content to capitalize on our investments … and drive more innovation”.

For Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore, the framework focuses on the marketplace. The chapter on Canada’s Digital Content Advantage emphasizes the responsibility of the government to ensure the right polices and measures are in place for digital entrepreneurs to succeed: “The Government of Canada’s role is to put in place a marketplace framework in which our creators, inventors and entrepreneurs have the incentives to innovate, the confidence to take risks and the tools to succeed.”

The paper does not discuss the role of digital media of sharing Canada’s diverse cultural voices with each other, or bringing the Canadian cultural perspective to the world, although Minister Clement’s speech did make reference to this.

The consultation is open until 9 July 2010. For more information, go to

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Canada Prize in Arts and Creativity -- now it's time to contribute to good public policy

In the January issue of The Arts Advocate Report, MP Gary Schellenberger, Chair of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, noted how slowly the wheels of government turn. This became readily apparent this week with news from Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore that the Canada Prize for Arts and Creativity will be administered by the Canada Council for the Arts, its parameters yet to be worked out though. Regardless, the Minister was emphatic in stating that he expects the first prizes to be awarded next year, 2011.

Originally announced in the 2009 federal budget, it became evident that the Government did not have clear plans and objectives for the Canada Prize. Moreover, the rumoured roll out of it, centred in Toronto, became divisive within the cultural community. This presented the feds with significant problems particularly in Quebec. With speculation running rampant as to the genesis of the prize, the Canada Prize was a good example of how public policy should not be developed.

Recognizing the firestorm that developed around the Canada Prize, it makes sense to go back to first principles to see that the new prize becomes sought out by all artists, and is respected throughout Canada and around the world. With this week’s announcement, Minister Moore re-asserted ownership of the Prize. The appointment of an advisory panel to “generate a series of recommendations and options regarding the parameters of the Canada Prizes” will provide everyone with an opportunity to have their views heard. Chaired by Canada Council Chair Joseph Rotman and including Vice Chair Simon Brault, the 5-member panel will make recommendations on how to “recognize outstanding Canadian artistic achievements and will help brand Canada as a centre of excellence”.

Notwithstanding the controversy that has dogged the Canada Prize for Arts and Creativity, its proponents should be credited for convincing the Government of Canada to recognize excellence in the arts, something this government, and minister in particular, have not been identified with: The ‘i-pod minister’s focus has seen to be on consumer demand and access -- important factors in artistic decisions, but not in isolation from excellence.

Now it behooves Canadians, particularly those in the cultural sector, to give the advisory panel good and creative ideas on how to make the Canada Prize for Arts and Creativity work for all Canadians.

To make your views known, go to You only have until 21 May 2010.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Looking ahead to next week's budget -- cultural loose ends

As the glow of the winter Olympics and the Cultural Olympiad begins to dissipate next week, attention will shift to the federal Throne Speech and budget. With policy watchers fully anticipating the governing Conservatives to stay the course, so to speak, there are few expectations in the cultural sector. It is clear that two-year economic stimulus funding will continue for one more year, with strong signals expected that restraint will kick in from 2011 onwards.

That said, based on previous commitments, there remain a few loose ends for the Government to address in the cultural sector:

- Since last fall, details around the $25 million Canada prize announced in the last federal budget have been promised soon. No word on when that might be though.

- The Conservative election platform pledged a refundable tax credit, up to $500, for children who participate in eligible arts and cultural activities.

Next week might tell the tale on where these initiatives stand.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ontario's report on the economy's long term prospects -- the place of the broader cultural sector

Ontario released its long term report on the economy last Friday, a report designed to highlight the challenges and opportunities facing the province over the next 20 years.

The report provides an extensive in-depth look at the many factors and influences expected to affect Ontario going forward. Chief among them of course are demographic shifts, the changing global economy and increased competition from rapidly emerging economies.

It’s nice to see that culture, more specifically the digital sector and parts of cultural industries, are expected to continue playing a key role in Ontario’s economic prospects. Acknowledging that Ontario’s economic success is “increasingly dependent on knowledge, creativity and innovation” the buzz words ‘du jour’, Ontario’s Long term report on the Economy notes that entertainment and creative services are expected to lead job creation and output growth over the long term. Pointing to digital media, and film and music production, the Report suggests these sectors will continue to be strong global competitors.

Where this leaves the rest of Ontario’s cultural sector is not addressed. The Report does make clear that the Ontario government sees cultural tourism as an area of significant potential, pointing to the Province’s cultural attraction agencies. The combined impact of smaller institutions, museums and arts organizations across the Province is not acknowledged in the Report.

The juxtaposition of creative industries and cultural tourism in this report is consistent with the outline of Culture Minister Michael Chan’s new responsibilities as outlined by the Premier. The resulting challenge for heritage, arts and smaller segments of the cultural industries, the part that provides texture, richness and colour to Ontario, will be to ensure that Minister Chan and the Ontario government continue to see and understand the full scope of cultural activity across the Province and the contribution it makes in every corner of Ontario.

It’s a tall order for the cultural sector in the current fiscal and policy environment in Ontario and Ottawa.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ontario’s cabinet shuffle: re-amalgamating Culture and Tourism

Ontario’s cultural sector will be looking hard at the meaning of the re-amalgamation of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture. Premier Dalton McGuinty's announcement did not provide any clues to his rationale for his decision: No link was made between culture and tourism, despite the potential to do so. His decision probably has as much to do with the current focus on cost-cutting and fiscal prudence as it does with policy alignment. After all, the position of Deputy Minister has been vacant since the summer, with the Acting DM, Tourism’s Drew Fagan, seen as doing a good job.

The long term implications of the re-amalgamation will be contemplated for months, even years, by the cultural sector. There was genuine happiness that Culture merited its own ministry. That said, many in the sector wondered if that decision actually side-lined the importance of the sector, despite the identification of the Entertainment and Creative cluster as one of the economic pillars to drive Ontario forward.

Aileen Carroll was well-liked by the cultural sector and seen to be a supportive proponent. There is no question that she was successful in delivering some significant increases in support to the cultural sector, particularly in the last Ontario budget. Going forward though, it’s a different scenario in a different time. Much of last year's funding is one-time, with some signficant programs up for renewal.

Minister Michael Chan will have his hands full. The Province hails tourism as a major economic driver, but has yet to deliver much in response to the major recommendations made by Greg Sorbara, former finance minister, in a far-reaching report early last year. The Premier’s statement on the cabinet shuffle could certainly lead one to surmise that Minister Chan’s focus will be on the tourism side, with cultural industries being the second thought. Where this leaves the other parts of the cultural sector is an equally open question.