Thursday, November 15, 2012

TAPA Stats Report reinforces need for a rethink of cultural policy objectives

In our last issue of The Arts Advocate Report, we noted the shifting policy landscape for arts and culture in Canada.

This week, the release of the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts (TAPA) Stats Report reinforced why this is happening.  The way that Canadians engage in cultural activity, like theatre, opera and dance, is changing.  The TAPA Stats, presented by The Strategic Counsel, show a drop in audience attendance between 2004/05 and 2009/10, a trend that cultural organizations have been observing for a while.  What is not so evident are the implications.

The shifting audience patterns mean that cultural organizations, together with the governments that support them, need to evaluate the policies and programs in place to support the arts in Canada.  As the Canada Council for the Arts notes in its recently published discussion paper, there “is a shift from a focus on the art and the artist to the public as the central driver of cultural and arts policy and actions.”

In a related vein, the Ontario Arts Council specifically talks about “build(ing) actively engaged audiences who reflect the changing generational and cultural demographics of Ontario” in their current strategic plan.

What does all this mean?  Clearly, there are no easy answers.  It’s time for thoughtful analysis and reflection that goes beyond talking about the age-old ‘challenge’ of inadequate funds (not surprisingly among the top issues cited in the TAPA Stats Report).

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Canadian Conference of the Arts & Creative Trust: Lasting legacies

As October winds down, so do two of Canada’s leading cultural organizations.  The Canadian Conference of the Arts (CCA) and Toronto-based Creative Trust each had a profound and important impact on the strength and vitality of arts and culture in Ontario and Canada.

With a 67-year history, Canadian artists and cultural organizations owe a debt of gratitude to the leaders and volunteers of the CCA.  The Conference has been instrumental in the development and creation of important agencies like the Canada Council for the Arts and Status of the Artist legislation, measures which allow our artists to thrive today.

Without question, the CCA faced bumps as it worked to advance the place of artists and cultural workers in Canada.  It’s equally clear that we’d all be in a poorer position if their board members and staff hadn’t so passionately championed the sector over the years.

Creative Trust, the brainchild of a dedicated volunteer group of arts managers in Toronto, has had an impressive and positive impact on the financial and organizational health of 21 mid-sized Toronto organizations, and helped a host of others.  Focused on providing working capital, Creative Trust made important interventions that helped arts organizations put the structures in place to thrive.  While good things must often come to an end, Creative Trust’s support and expertise will be missed.

Both the Canadian Conference of the Arts and Creative Trust have left indelible marks on our country’s cultural landscape.

Thank you to all those who persevered in realizing the vision that each held.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Passion and perseverance: Rita Davies’ Cri de Couer

It’s nice to be catching up on The Arts Advocate (TAA) blog!

Perhaps because it was such a fantastic summer or maybe it was that there is so much to ignite the imagination, but fair to say the TAA blog was the victim of writer’s block! I certainly can’t blame it on lack of inspiration. As I took in a wide variety of plays, museums, art shows and other cultural offerings, I was struck by the richness of what Ontario has to offer. The creativity and originality evident in every corner of the province is remarkable.

 I was equally struck by the perseverance and commitment of the people who make this happen. No-one personifies this more than Rita Davies, who has worked tirelessly to galvanize a city around the power of the creative sector. In her capacity as both the Executive Director of the Toronto Arts Council and more recently as head of the City of Toronto’s Culture Division, Rita has been a driving force behind the rich cultural tapestry that is now Toronto. On leaving her post at the City, Rita’s cri de coeur resonated with those that gathered to say thank you and good-bye in August. More important though, it was a call for all of us committed to a rich cultural life to persevere.

 She said it best:

I started out by describing myself as an arts activist. Not an Executive Director, not a leader or even an advocate, though I have been all those things, but an activist. 

Because that was the other catalytic ingredient in the transformation of Toronto into a creative capital: through the eighties and nineties the arts community, under the umbrella of the Toronto Arts Council, learned that together their voices were strong. … 

We learned that when one voice was joined by hundreds, it was a force, a strong force that packed political clout. So our Mayors and politicians listened. Sure, they listened to the arguments – and they were and are good ones – about employment and economic impact – but they also noticed that this was a real constituency. And the dollars started to get invested. 

And when that happened, the growth became exponential… 

 Thank you Rita. Your perseverance and passion live on, in Toronto and beyond.

Friday, March 30, 2012

A quick round up of response to yesterday’s federal budget

Response and reaction to yesterday’s federal budget, and its implications for the cultural sector, have combined congratulations, appreciation, relief and regret. This post provides a quick round up.

Not surprisingly, the decision to sustain the investment in the Canada Council for the Arts is welcomed.

The Canada Council for the Arts

Canadian Arts Coalition

Magazines Canada

Fédération culturelle canadienne-française

Museums are pleased as well, particularly around the news that the budget strengthens the Canada Travelling Exhibitions Indemnification Program and maintains funding to national museums.

Canadian Museums Association

On the other hand, there is regret about reductions to agencies like Telefilm and the CBC.


Monday, March 5, 2012

Ottawa's 29 March Budget: What will austerity mean for the cultural sector?

Now that the federal government has announced 29 March as budget day, everyone can look forward to some indication of what austerity is going to mean for the cultural sector (and public services generally). The rampant speculation about the nature and extent of program funding cuts has everyone on edge so the announcement of the government’s decisions will be a relief.

The cultural sector has weathered funding restraint in the past, so no-one is expecting the sky to fall in. All the same, it’s clear that the models of public investment in the arts are likely to change. While the Harper government has expressed support for the funding mechanisms of agencies like the Canada Council for the Arts, there are indications that changes, including reductions, to other programs at the Department of Canadian Heritage, are in the air. There could be revised program criteria and program objectives designed to both tighten the availability of public support and foster more private investment.

There is no doubt that changes such as the ones anticipated hold the potential to strain the cultural sector.

Like everyone, we will be looking forward to Finance Minister James Flaherty budget speech on 29 March so we can move beyond guesswork to begin to fully understand what is in store for arts and culture in Canada, and how the sector will respond.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Drummond recommendations – pluses and minuses for Ontario’s cultural sector

With the release of the long awaited Drummond report, Ontarians can now see some options for how their provincial government might move from the generalities of fiscal restraint to the specifics of what it means for them and the services they count on. In its own words, the report paints a ‘profoundly gloomy’ future if Ontario preserves the status quo. It argues that thoughtful, fundamental reforms can change this.

The Report does not address the cultural sector specifically, but recommendations around overall spending, the relationship with the non-profit sector and the merit of refundable corporate income tax credits have direct and meaningful implications for Ontario’s arts, heritage and creative industries.

For the non-profit sector, including many arts and heritage organizations, the prospect of a re-defined relationship with government holds promise and opportunity. While resources can be expected to be reduced no matter which recommendations the Ontario government accepts from the Drummond Report, the recognition that more nimble, flexible non-profits can deliver service better and more efficiently is welcome news. There is the potential that administrative burdens will be lightened.

The biggest unknown for the cultural sector going forward is the Commission’s recommendation to sunset all refundable tax credits, including the array that supports the cultural and creative industries. Worth $268 million in 2009-10, these tax expenditures are central to the business model of the film, music and publishing industries in Ontario.

Stay tuned for interesting days ahead.