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!