Monday, December 12, 2011

MInister Michael Chan has opportunity to make his voice heard on importance of culture to Ontario

One can’t miss the fact that Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore is working hard to strengthen the relationship between the cultural sector and the federal government, one that has clearly had its rocky moments. Tonight’s launch of the Minister’s first Music Night on Parliament Hill is further evidence of his efforts to garner support for the sector.

It follows that Minister Moore is calling on all governments to come together to recognize the importance of the creative economy. Recently, at the International Institute of Communications Conference in Ottawa, he said

In challenging economic times, all governments have to come together to recognize the importance of the creative economy, … not for its own sake, not as a boutique element in government investment, but as a central pillar in maintaining our cultural communities, our quality of life, and supporting a central piece of Canada’s economic infrastructure.

With the prospect of difficult times ahead for Ontario (and many cities in the province) Ontario Tourism, Culture and Sport Minister Michael Chan has the opportunity to take up the federal minister’s suggestion and add heft and substance to what are now the Province’s well-worn statements on the importance of the creative economy.

With culture absent as an issue in the recent provincial election, and concern about the watering down of its importance the undercurrent of many conversations, the sector would welcome Minister Chan becoming a stronger advocate.

Later this week, he may have that opportunity when he joins Toronto’s Creative Trust and the Professional Arts Organizations Network for Education for the launch of the Performing Arts Education Overview.

Monday, November 14, 2011

MPs and Canada's Sesquicentennial: arts and culture key to the conversation

At a time when economic doom and gloom dominates much of Ottawa’s agenda, it’s refreshing to know that the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage is looking forward to 2017 and how to best celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial anniversary. Happily, arts, heritage and cultural institutions appear poised to be central players in making this happen.

Many, if not most, Canadians have a fond memory of either the reality, or recollections, of our country’s centennial in 1967. Its legacies and accomplishments have resonated ever since. Looking ahead, Canadians appear ready for another national celebration. According to an Environics poll commissioned earlier this year, 49% of us think it is very important to commemorate this event in a meaningful way.

This week, leaders of Luminato, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, The Banff Centre and the Coastal Jazz and Blues Society will be appearing before the Committee. They have a fabulous opportunity to speak with MPs about how arts and culture can deepen the conversation about what kind of Canada we want, and how we need to adapt to our rapidly changing country. Beyond that of course, we can probably expect that they will point to how arts and culture can tell our sesquicentennial story to the world!

The Arts Advocate will be watching.

You can too by going to a video link on the parliamentary webpage.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

From the Ground Up, a new report that reinforces the connection between jobs and culture

From the Ground Up: Growing Toronto’s Cultural Sector is a new report prepared for the City of Toronto by the Martin Prosperity Institute, and six other partners, that explores the link between culture, economy and place and its relationship to economic prosperity. It adds further evidence that culture, and the jobs it creates, are a fundamental part of an international economy. This comes at a time when the City of Toronto is wrestling with its 2012 budget, amid continued skepticism that arts and culture is a frill.

The Report reinforces that culture positively impacts:
- Jobs;
- Business growth;
- International attraction; and
- Quality of Life.

Not surprisingly, it argues for continued cultural investment, not less.

What is new about this report is that it provides new tools for identifying the geographic patterns of Toronto’s cultural resources. The project partners hope that this information can feed into more pro-active land-use strategies and planning, business development and preservation. All of this, they suggest, will lead to increased global competitiveness for the City of Toronto.

The model put forward in From the Ground Up speaks to a large urban centre. That said, it advances principles and a framework that other centres can apply to their cultural planning and economic development.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The longstanding transparent criteria-based processes of arts grant decisions a great example to be showcased

The process around the federal government’s decision to award $33 billion in shipbuilding contracts to Seaspan and Irving Shipbuilding has been widely applauded.

In Ottawa, according to some Parliament Hill journalists, “the debate is over why future procurement contracts – such as that multibillion-dollar, fifth-generation, fighter-jet deal – cannot be structured the same way as the shipbuilding contracts.” Removed from the political realm, the process used was a points-based evaluation on an established set of criteria. It is seen as transparent and fair.

All of this sounds remarkably like the longstanding, well-established process of determining grants at the country’s arts councils:

Important cultural agencies, like the Canada Council for the Arts, or the Ontario Arts Council’s have a strong track record in making funding and granting decisions that are, for the most part, seen as fair and objective. In fact, in a ‘special examination’ of the Canada Council in 2008, the Auditor General of Canada commended it and said that ‘the Canada Council’s systems and practices have contributed to success in several areas.’

So why the sudden revelation in Ottawa and public policy circles that an objective set of criteria, administered through a process removed from political realm, renders good decisions? We’ll leave our readers to ponder that question.

Maybe though, those of us in the cultural sector, should blow our horns just a little louder when it comes to demonstrating the transparent administrative effectiveness and sound policies of the organizations that invest in Canadian arts and culture.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Tourism and culture in the minority legislature: steady as she goes

Markham MPP Michael Chan will continue as Minister of Tourism and Culture in Premier Dalton McGuinty’s minority cabinet, unveiled 20 October 2011. He is one of just a few ministers remaining in their previous portfolio (despite no new faces being added to Cabinet).

Minister Chan’s reappointment will bring stability and predictability for the sector. It also suggests that the government will be staying the course on cultural files, holding steady to past accomplishments with little in the way of new initiatives. Any cultural announcements will almost certainly be filtered through the ‘jobs’ lens, the dominant priority of Premier McGuinty and his colleagues.

The stand pat position of the Ontario government was evident in this fall’s election, when, for the first time, the Liberal party did not issue a stand alone cultural platform, as it has done since 2003. Rather, the Liberals stood on their record. Citing a $4.1 billion investment in the cultural sector since 2003, the Liberal’s indicate that ‘creative-industry jobs have increased 15% - representing 39,000 jobs’.

Jobs results like this will be helpful to holding the sector in good stead as the Ontario government looks to contain its costs and address the fiscal deficit.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Ontario election: the implications of cultural policy silence

The way politics happens in Ontario has changed.

Gone are the days when sectors could engage political leaders and parties in meaningful dialogue and discussion to better understand their perspective on the issues affecting them. Nowhere was this more evident than in the decision of Ontario’s two leading political parties to decline participation in a roundtable dialogue with the Ontario NonProfit Network last week.

The same is true for the cultural sector. Barely a whisper has been heard on the contribution and potential of this sector, despite its impressive contribution to Ontario’s economy. (The cultural sector accounts for over 4% of Ontario’s total employment, or over 252,000 jobs for the province).

This means that going forward, the arts, heritage and cultural industries have little sense of what the future holds in the way of cultural policy, regardless of which party forms government.

There’s no question that broad policy initiatives, such as deficit reduction, will impact the sector; but the policy lens which will inform these decisions is unclear.
* Will audience access be the priority, or will it be opening up international markets?
* Will there be a download to municipalities, or will there be continued strong provincial investment?
* Whither the Entertainment and Creative Cluster?

These are just some points to ponder, with no compass to provide a guide.

As the cultural sector looks ahead to working with the next government, whatever stripe, it will want to consider how it engages with government on these broader cultural policy questions.

Leaving it only to happenstance is unlikely to yield the best possible results.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Ontario election: with jobs as a focus, why is there not more discussion of the cultural sector?

Jobs are a central theme of the Ontario election campaign: Ontario Liberals delivering 300 clean-energy jobs for Windsor is today’s headline for the governing party; yesterday, it was Creating jobs for Sudbury. And so it has gone since the start of the campaign. The jobs theme is a little less pronounced for the Progressive Conservatives (focusing of late on wasteful spending and sexual predators), but they also declare the Ontario PC Party has a real jobs plan that will give all workers an equal chance to succeed. The NDP pledges to create a post of Jobs Commissioner, a position they say will bring stakeholders together when lay-offs are announced to explore alternatives.

Recognizing the size of the cultural workforce in Ontario and the 252,300 jobs it represents according to Statistics Canada, it’s noteworthy that none of the parties in Ontario’s provincial election have yet put forward a cultural platform. This, despite the fact that the cultural sector is a major economic driver contributing almost $20 billion to Ontario’s GDP.

Save the Liberals’ attention brought to the Ontario-India Film partnership during TIFF and the importance of tax incentives to that industry, there has been no discussion of the place of arts and culture in this election campaign.

We’re not yet at the half-way point of this campaign, so there is still lots of time to hear what the parties might have in mind for arts and culture. Hopes are high in the cultural sector that we will.

If history serves as a guide, both the Liberals and the PCs issued stand alone cultural platforms in 2007. The NDP have always been more vague, making pledges to strengthen Status of the Artist.

We’ll keep you posted.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore an effective champion for culture in Conservative government

The shape of Canada’s new Conservative majority government will become clearer this week as Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to announce his next Cabinet. For the cultural sector, the question is obviously whether Minister James Moore will stay in Canadian Heritage or be moved to a more senior portfolio. Recognized as a strong performer in the last Cabinet, there is strong speculation that he will be rewarded with a bigger portfolio, while also becoming BC’s political minister.

That said, it’s not clear who could take on a portfolio as diverse and sensitive as Canadian Heritage and Official Languages. Minister Moore’s bilingual ability, appreciation of both the cultural and economic contribution of the cultural sector and a perspective that looks to embrace the new digital reality uniquely position him to champion the sector.

Clearly, not everyone, or every cultural organization, agrees with Minister Moore or the policy decisions of the federal government he has been part of. Bill C-32 is the obvious case in point.

That said, Minister Moore’s combination of attributes and understanding will be hard to replace if the Prime Minister decides to do so.

There are no doubt others in the Conservative caucus who would be effective advocates for the cultural sector, should Prime Minister Harper move Minister Moore to another portfolio. Whoever is appointed Minister of Canadian Heritage, we hope they bring the enthusiasm and sensitivity displayed by Minister James Moore.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Making arts and cultural champions of all Canadians, not just the party brass

In this election, precise arts and culture pledges and promises are advanced in all the parties’ campaign platforms. This is a success, one worthy of being celebrated!

In the not so distant past, Canada’s arts and cultural sector was acknowledged more in platitudes and generalities, than measurable specific policies and initiatives to strengthen the sector. Hard work has changed this.

Now it's time to move on to capture the hearts and attention of Canadians generally.

The past few years have seen Canada’s diverse cultural sector secure the attention of the political parties and policy makers. The Canadian Arts Coalition, ACTRA, the CCA, CAMDO and others have worked hard to make sure that the needs and interests of the sector are understood by the parties, and those developing the platforms. Their success can be seen in the consistent and recurring refrain of Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore, who, for the past number of months at least, has stressed the connection between cultural policy and economic policy. In February, at the Canadian Media Production Association’s Prime Time Conference he said

supporting Canadian culture means supporting the Canadian economy.

Arts and culture represents over 630,000 jobs in the Canadian economy.

Canada's cultural industries represent $46 billion in the Canadian economy.

A little further he said,

In our Economic Action Plan, we stood up for and stood with our cultural communities and increased our support to record levels.

We did so because we know how fragile arts organizations are. How quickly they can disappear if support isn't there.

And, also, we increased our support because we know how much Canadian artists do for Canada.

Canadians though, remain in the mushy middle when it comes to considering arts and cultural policy in making their voting decision: They don’t connect cultural policy to either the economy or their quality of life.

The recent Nanos poll commissioned by The Arts Advocate found that half of us aren’t really sure if cultural policy is important or not in determining our vote. Just one in ten of us said arts and cultural policy is an important factor in considering this question.

What this means is that, as Canadians, we have a hard time relating cultural policy to our daily experience -- we don’t connect the dots between the magazine or book we read, the show we watch, or the museum we visit to Canadian cultural policy or politics.

So what does it all mean?

Perhaps the information best gleaned from the polling data commissioned by The Arts Advocate is that Canadian artists and cultural organizations need to change the way we connect to Canadians.

The dialogue, perhaps, has to be about how artistic experience connects to the everyday lives of Canadians. It’s not about more funding for the CBC or Canada Council for the Arts, per se; rather, it’s about making sure that all Canadians have the experience of and access to high quality artistic opportunities.

How we tell this story is what needs to change.

No question, many people are putting their minds and attention to this, with Culture Days an obvious example.

Initiatives like this provide a jumpstart perhaps, but truly connecting Canadians to the richness of the arts and the importance of cultural policy is going to take the efforts of all of us, everyday, changing the way we communicate and interact with our neighbours and our friends. It’s not an ‘us and them’ conversation; it’s about ‘all of us together’.

Is this platitudes? Perhaps. At least I’ll start thinking about doing things differently though.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Federal arts and culture funding: 29% of Ontarians think it's inadequate, 18% feel it's adequate

It’s well established that Canadians value the place of arts and culture in their communities, and believe that governments should invest in it.*

What is less well established is whether Ontarians and Canadians think that arts and culture is adequately funded. A recent poll commissioned from Nanos Research for The Arts Advocate Report found that 29% of Ontarians think that federal funding for arts and culture is inadequate. The number is a little less nationally.

Only 18% of Ontarians think it’s adequate. This means that most people are somewhere in the middle.

The question becomes ‘what does this mean for Ontario and Canada’s cultural sector’. A few thoughts come to mind:

First, celebrate that 3 in 10 Ontarians really do pay attention to federal arts and culture support and figure out how to build on this foundation.

Second, and most important, the arts and cultural sector needs to significantly raise public awareness and understanding about the role of public funding in allowing artistic pursuit and activity to enrich individual lives and communities - - most Ontarians and Canadians really have no idea of either the importance or the limited extent of public cultural funding.

Third, those naysayers populating the media comment boards disparaging fat-cat artists paid through public sources are few and far between – less than 2 in 10 Ontarians! Don’t dwell on them.

*Last year, the Ontario Arts Council released an Environics poll showing 8 in 10 Ontarians feel that the arts are important to their own quality of life. 81% say they believe public investment in the arts is a good thing.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Ontario's nonprofit sector: forging a new relationship with government

This week, the Ontario NonProfit Network (ONN) brought together leaders from across the province to forge a plan for strengthening the sector in an environment of unprecedented demand, change and challenge. In the words of ONN co-chairs Tonya Surman and Peter Clutterbuck, “ The relationship between the government, for-profit and nonprofit sector is changing fundamentally. Donations are stagnant and as governments react to a changing economy, cuts are coming.”

Among the highlights of the two-day gathering was a presentation by Citizenship and Immigration Minister, Eric Hoskins. Born and bred in the nonprofit sector, Minister Hoskins pledged to change the relationship between the provincial government and the sector.

Key to achieving the change, in his view, will be fostering respect. Respect can be viewed in many ways, a point emphasized by Partnership Project Executive Lead, Helen Burstyn: ‘self-respect’ she said is as important to the sector as respect of the government to the sector.

Minister Hoskins and Helen Burstyn were well received by the ONN audience. Minister Hoskins’ emphasized that the recommendations of the Partnership Project Report had been accepted by Premier Dalton McGuinty.

Together with Civic Action’s Julia Deans and MASS LBPs Peter MacLeod, I had the privilege of following Minister Hoskins’ comments as a ‘provocateur’. Not a small task! I urged both the government and the sector to ensure that the recommendations of the Partnership Project do not end up creating additional processes and programs for the sector to contort themselves into: The recommendation that funding and regulatory processes need to be streamlined and aligned is welcome by all. It’s up to all of us, though, to ensure that the government involves the sector in doing that. Too often, best intentions have resulted in additional hurdles and hoops for nonprofit organizations, providing limited help to actually achieving core objectives.

The organizations on the ground, be they a large arts company or a social service agency, etc. know their business best. Moving forward, both the government and the sector need to focus on providing an adequate, appropriate core level of support that achieves the basic objectives of Ontario’s rich array of nonprofits. That way, everyone can do his or her job better.

Congratulations to the ONN for bringing the key players to the Unconference. It was an important step in what promises to be a productive period ahead for Ontario’s nonprofit organizations.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A question to ponder: the value of fitness vs the arts?

The proposed Conservative Budget, tabled March 22 in Ottawa, promised to introduce a $500 children’s artistic activity tax credit. (The pledge was originally made in the 2008 Conservative Platform). It parallels the children’s fitness tax credit, introduced in 2007.

The proposed new tax credit is welcomed by many in the cultural sector: It will demonstrate to Canadians that piano lessons are equally as legitimate a pursuit as soccer in the development of children.

What to make then of Sunday’s Conservative Party pledge to double the children’s fitness tax credit, with no mention of the artistic activity tax credit?

Both artistic and fitness activity are essential to a child’s development. Study after study finds positive correlation between arts education, academic success and all round health. The same is, of course, true of fitness activity.

So why promise to double the fitness tax credit, with no reference to the artistic activity tax credit?

One can’t help but ponder the question.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Election 2011: The emerging cultural policy platforms

It’s early days yet in the federal 2011 Election campaign, but already there are signals as to how the cultural policy platforms are shaping up for the three main national parties.

Conservative Party

In the weeks leading to the election, Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore and his colleagues were on whirlwind tour across the country making funding announcements to arts and cultural organizations. Much of this funding was from the suite of departmental programs renewed and modernized by Minister Moore, including the Canada Cultural Investment Fund, the Canada Arts Training Fund and so on.

Going forward, expect the Conservative Party to focus on their cultural spending record and their budget promises, including the plan to create a new Children’s Artistic Activity Tax Credit, an earlier promise of their 2008 cultural platform.
The key elements of the 2011 Budget for culture are:
* Children’s Arts Tax Credit, an initiative expected to cost the federal government $100 million in its first full year of operation;
* Ongoing funding of $100 million per year for the Canada Media Fund;
* Stabilized funding for the Canada Periodical Fund, which means adding $15 million to its ongoing base.

The Conservative’s are apt to remind people that these things will not come to be unless they are re-elected.

Liberal Party

The Liberals state that ‘for the Conservatives, cultural programs are either superfluous expenses or vehicles for them to advance their right-wing agenda.’

The promise to
* Double funding to the Canada Council for the Arts;
* Restore and increase funding to the Trade Routes and PromArt programs;
* Guarantee stable funding to the CBC.

For details go here


To date, the NDP have not released any platform specifics. If 2008 is any indication, expect them to also focus on increased funding to the Canada Council, the Canada Media Fund and support to ‘home-grown film and television production.’

C-32: The Copyright amendments

C-32, the proposed Copyright amendments can be expected to feature in the party platforms, though it is not there yet. Look to the Conservatives to pledge to stop the ‘iPod Tax’, while the Liberals, Bloc and NDP will be speaking to creating a balance between the creator and consumer.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Canada’s cultural sector responds to Budget 2011

The response of Canada’s cultural sector to yesterday’s federal Budget 2011 is mixed. There is elation on the part of some national associations like the Canadian Media Production Association and Magazines Canada; on the other hand, the Canadian Arts Coalition and La Fédération culturelle canadienne-française are disappointed. Some are in the middle, while other organizations chose not to weigh in.

Below is a snapshot of various public responses, presented in no other order than the alphabet!

Canadian Arts Coalition

…the Canadian Arts Coalition (CAC) expressed disappointment with the content of yesterday’s federal budget.

“Budget 2011 was clearly focused on strengthening the economy and re-building Canada’s international presence,” noted CAC spokesperson Shannon Litzenberger.  “Given these priorities, we believe that the Government of Canada missed the opportunity to build on the strengths of the arts sector to boost job creation, the vitality of communities across the country, and Canada’s international reputation through strategic arts investment.

Canadian Conference of the Arts

The budget is peppered with a series of tax credits for a number of Canadians, and there is one that concerns the arts. This is possibly the only new item for the arts in this 2011 budget, and is in fact the reintroduction of a promise made during the 2008 election. … The CCA originally asked for this tax credit in April 2006 and welcomes it as a recognition by the government that arts training is just as important as physical training for Canadian children.

Canadian Media Production Association

The Canadian Media Production Association (CMPA) applauds the Government of Canada and the Minister of Canadian Heritage, the Honourable James Moore, for committing an ongoing $100 million per year to the Canada Media Fund (CMF) in support of the creation of high-quality Canadian content across multiple platforms. The CMPA is also pleased the Government has announced a one-time $60 million in funding to CBC/Radio-Canada to be used in the production of Canadian programming.

“This brings much-needed stability to the financing of Canadian television and interactive content,” says Norm Bolen, the Association’s President and CEO.   “It removes uncertainty for independent producers and broadcasters and allows them to plan their activities with the knowledge that the CMF will be there to partner with them for years to come.”

Canadian Museum Association

“We are pleased that these (museum) programs were fully maintained at a time when fighting the deficit is the priority, and some programs have suffered real cuts,” observed John McAvity, CMA Executive Director. “This was not going to be a budget with significant new spending.”
“Still,” McAvity continued, “the CMA is disappointed that the government did not move on our recommendations to develop a matching donations program to encourage increased private sector investment in Canadian museums, and a much-needed increase to the Young Canada Works program, which provides valuable career-building opportunities for Canada’s youth.”

La Fédération culturelle canadienne-française (FCCF)

« Avec l’annonce des crédits d’impôt pour les cours d’arts, c’est un budget qui facilite timidement l’accès aux arts, mais qui ne reconnaît pas l’importance et la valeur des investissements dans les secteurs des arts et de la culture en ce qui a trait à la création d’emplois et la relance économique » déclare la présidente de la FCCF, Mme Boulay LeBlanc.

Magazines Canada

The Canadian magazine industry is delighted with the Federal budget commitment to the Canada Periodical Fund. This commitment confirms that $15 million annually is being added to the Canada Periodical Fund budget. The budget papers say the investment will be "$15 million in ongoing funding to the program to continue to support the distribution of publications to Canadians, while providing long-term stable program funding."

"This means that the CPF will remain strong and intact," said Mark Jamison, CEO of Magazines Canada.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Federal budget watch 2011

The Ottawa ‘circus’, as many media pundits are calling it will soon be underway, with Tuesday’s federal budget being the main act. This is what The Arts Advocate Report will be watching for from the perspective of the arts and cultural sector:

The details of a new tax credit for children’s artistic activity, a measure announced last week, by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. This initiative will fulfill a promise initially made in the Conservative Party’s 2008 campaign platform.

Whether or not the government responds to any of the pre-budget requests put forward by cultural organizations in the fall. Some of the needs advanced include:

* Extension of the $50 million/year Marquee Tourism Events Program, the marketing assistance program for the country’s largest festivals and events

* Maintenance of the Canada Periodical Fund at a level of $75 million (as contrasted to what the federal government indicates is the base level of about $60 million in the latest federal expenditure estimates)

* New investments in international cultural diplomacy and the Canada Council for the Arts, as requested by the Canadian Arts Coalition

* Continued public support for Canadian content creation, as made possible through programs like the Canada Media Fund, a priority for organizations like ACTRA

* A new initiative for museums, called the Canadians Supporting Their Museums Fund, as put forward at a level of $25 million a year by the Canadian Museum Association

Expectations that any of these funding investments will be addressed are relatively low among those in the cultural sector. The PM and Finance Minister have made it extremely clear that the Economic Action Plan, as announced two years ago, is over and that fiscal restraint will be the order of the day. That said, if the government is looking to curry the favour of artists and cultural enthusiasts in a potential election this spring, the budget may include a few goodies.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Changing the dial on the arts contribution

Last week, TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin asked the question ‘Who needs the arts? And “who should carry the can?”

The National Ballet School’s Jeff Melanson, Stratford Shakespeare Festival Antoni Cimolino, Toronto Arts Council’s Claire Hopkinson, Ryerson University’s Gerd Hauck and Artist Pandora Topp made a clear and compelling case for investing in Toronto and Ontario’s cultural sector. If you missed the show, it’s available as a podcast on iTunes – it’s worth watching.

Although a fan of Steve Paikin, it was disheartening to hear him allege that ‘the only argument I’ve ever heard from the arts is that they need the government to give them more money.” It reinforced the need for everyone in the cultural sector to change the channel on how Ontarian’s and Canadian’s perceive the arts in our country. I’ve been at one to many dinner parties where I hear friends argue that the arts need to be more ‘business-like’. Rather than being at the soul of our country, the sector is seen as continually looking for hand-outs, without entrepreneurial know-how or acumen.

Cold comfort though it is, the arts aren’t alone in battling this perception. Ontario’s Partnership Project led by Citizenship and Immigration Minister Eric Hoskins and Ontario Trillium Foundation Chair Helen Burstyn heard this from across Ontario’s 46,000 not-for-profit organizations. Their report states “there is a general perception among many that they are perceived as supplicant, coming to government only for the purpose of funding.”

So the question is, how do we change the channel on the broader public perception of the arts? A question many ponder these days.

Enhanced public engagement in the arts is a great start – gobbledeegook to many, this means encouraging friends and neighbours to get out and experience arts activity, be it amateur or professional, local or international. Chances are, most friends and neighbours are already engaged in a myriad of arts activity – they just don’t connect it to ‘the arts sector.’

Culture Days is making great strides in engaging even more Canadians. While the word is out, there is still a long way to go though.

Governments, too, are assisting: Ontario announced a tax credit to encourage children’s artistic activity last fall. Today (17 March), the federal government also announced that details of a similar credit will be contained in the 22 March budget.

… all steps in the right direction.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Budget watch: Ontario libraries look to make up ground on provincial funding

Budget season is upon us, with most of the attention focused on Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s budget and the speculation of whether it will trigger an election or not. The cultural sector has a wish-list for Ottawa, though expectations are low that any of it will be addressed on 22 March.

The Ontario budget, anticipated around the same time as the federal one, has had decidedly less attention from the cultural sector. In the two weeks of pre-budget hearings held across the Province, arts, heritage and cultural organizations were decidedly absent.

The single and noteworthy exception to this is the library sector. Several libraries appeared before the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs, rallying behind the Federation of Ontario Public Libraries. According to its spokesperson, Jim Bennett, provincial library funding was cut in 1996-97 by 40% and has remained at that level, of $18.7 M since that time. It is the lowest provincial per capita funding in the country. This, they say leads to an overreliance on municipal support for libraries.

To fix the problem, libraries across Ontario want the province’s contribution to grow to $43.9, an increase of over $25 M, over two years. This is to bring provincial library funding back to the equivalent of where it stood in 1995, and respond only to CPI and population growth.

The Federation of Ontario Public Libraries says that Culture Minister Michael Chan has acknowledged the need to fix library funding. Time will tell whether 2011 is the year where it will happen.