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.