Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Taking a fresh look at arts support in Canada: Choreographing our Future is a new report with a view

Choreographing our Future, Strategies for supporting next generation arts practice is a welcome addition to Canada’s body of literature examining the public policy and funding framework that underpins Canada’s artistic sector.  In this report, Metcalf Innovation Fellow Shannon Litzenberger enriches the dialogue and discourse around support of the arts in Canada, a dialogue that is currently limited in its depth and reach.  This, despite attempts by some, particularly the Canada Council for the Arts, to engage the arts sector in the conversation.

In the report, the author intends to spark a “robust and informed debate about how we shape our collective future” as we contemplate a “transformation” of arts support in Canada.  A key objective is to ignite a conversation about addressing the existing logjam in arts funding in this country, one that makes it increasingly difficult for emerging artists and arts practice to secure public support.

In the report, Ms. Litzenberger challenges the validity of established funding practices, particularly around discipline-based assessment.  She calls for something she calls ‘industry-focussed” models; put another way, these would be programs that draw together the various disciplines and redefine the assessment criteria to be more based upon “sector-wide ecological conditions as they shift and evolve”.   She urges that greater emphasis be placed on the public value and engagement of Canadians in the arts, an area that is currently a major focus at the Canada Council, yet one the arts sector has not particularly embraced.  Not least, the author calls on public funders to consider mechanisms and programs that are more fluid, something Ms. Litzenberger believes is key to “next generation development”.

In making her case, the author draws on extensive research and literature from other jurisdictions.  Through travels in the US, UK and Australia, she sought out and learned about emerging and new policy practice to ground her recommendations.

Throughout the report, Ms. Litzenberger also integrates her own experience as a contemporary dancer.  The real-life realities that she brings to her analysis make her observations and recommendations all the more compelling.

Perhaps because of her perspective, the role and value of enduring “institutions”, or more established longstanding artistic enterprises, are given relatively scant attention in the report.  While the author is right in pointing out that artistic practice has evolved considerably over the last 50 years in which public funding has played a critical role in Canada, the report does not address how “institutions” often underpin much of the artistic activity that goes on in a community.  In many towns and cities across Canada, larger, typically older*, companies tend to provide assets and attributes like venues, relatively steady artist engagement, education programs, public profile and marketing heft which smaller or independent artistic enterprises leverage.  Without these institutions, the capacity of all artistic endeavour would be limited.

Choreographing our Future also calls for more fluid programs and mechanisms, including the recognition that a “defined organizational structure is not a pre-condition to successful growth and sustainability”.  True; however, the rigours of Canada’s legislative and regulatory regime, together with increased public expectations around accountability and governance, will limit how quickly organizational structures can be adapted and still receive public investment.  This is not to say that new models of operation should not be explored as is being done through another Metcalf initiative, Jane Marsland’s paper on Shared Platforms and Charitable Venture Organizations:  It is to say though, that it will take time and happen in small steps.

As Canada’s arts community contemplates the analysis and recommendations in Choreographing our Future, a lively debate is sure to ensue, one that holds the potential to make a significant contribution to the arts policy dialogue in Canada.  Shannon Litzenberger and the Metcalf Foundation are to be congratulated for sparking it.

*  Institutions do not always need to be older.  Soulpepper, a relative "youngster" among institutions, engages the largest number of artists in Toronto.  It underpins the activity of many other artistic endeavours.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The federal Throne Speech received muted support from cultural sector

For policy watchers, the Speech from the Throne normally provides substance on which to link their priorities and issues.  As the cultural sector has become more sophisticated over the past decade, national organizations have looked to it to provide the platform for connecting to the government’s agenda.

Perhaps uncharacteristically, the response of Canada’s cultural sector to this month’s “consumer-friendly” Throne Speech has been quiet, almost to the point of being non-existent.  The Arts Advocate surveyed news releases and statements of Canada’s leading national cultural organizations and found little.

What we did find though spoke of a sector looking to work with the federal government:

ACTRA is reaching out to the Canadian Government, calling on it to work closely with the creative sector in their consultation and implementation of plans to unbundle television channels.  Their news release stated,  “While we were disappointed to not hear a clear commitment to support the Canadian cultural industry, an important sector and job-creator, we were pleased to see that the government took this opportunity to specifically state they will protect Canadian jobs while implementing their plans for unbundling,” said Stephen Waddell, ACTRA’s National Executive Director. “We look forward to hearing more details of the Government’s plans to protect Canadians from unreasonable fees and we will be reaching out to offer advice and assistance on behalf of the creative community of performers in Canada.”

(On Friday, Canadian Heritage Minister Shelly Glover announced the launch of a CRTC dialogue, Let’s Talk TV: A Conversation with Canadians, to discuss the future of television.  In her words, it responds to Canadians’ desire for “choice and flexibility” in television services and directly flows from commitments announced in the Throne Speech.)

The Canadian Museums Association (CMA), published backgrounder stated:  “An encouraging statement in the speech is the government’s commitment to continue working with industry partners to promote Canada as a top tourism destination.  Given that a large number of tourists visit cultural and heritage sites during their stay, this should directly benefit our sector.”

The CMA also said that it will be monitoring the proposed legislation creating a criminal offence prohibiting the non-consensual distribution of ‘intimate images’, noting that in the past such legislation has put serious and legitimate artists at risk of violating the law, even if posing no realistic threat of harm to individuals.

Not least, the Canadian Museums Association expressed concerns that not-for-profit and cultural organizations may be excluded from measures to support youth employment.

The Arts Advocate continually monitors the cultural public policy landscape.  We will keep you posted.

Monday, October 21, 2013

What is the Children's Arts Tax Credit worth to Canadians?

Last week’s Throne Speech was virtually silent on the arts, save a brief mention of the Children’s Arts Tax Credit.  In the Speech, Governor General David Johnston cited the importance of the tax credit in helping Canadian families lower their tax burden.  

This piqued our interest in learning more about the importance of this tax credit to Canadians.

The Children’s Arts Tax Credit, a budget measure introduced in 2011, is estimated to be a tax expenditure of $35 million a year.  It allows parents to claim a 15% non-refundable tax credit, based on an amount of up to $500 in eligible expenses for children’s artistic activities, like music lessons. 

Put another way, the children’s arts tax credit provides a cumulative tax savings of $35 million for all Canadians.  It’s not clear how many Canadians claim the credit. 

What is particularly interesting is that the federal Department of Finance states that the uptake on the Children’s Arts Tax Credit is less than projected.  In the 2011 federal Budget, it was estimated the credit would cost the government up to $100 million, significantly more than the current projection of $35 million.

By contrast, the Children’s Fitness Tax Credit is currently projected to be worth $120 million.

This begs the question, why aren’t more Canadian kids engaged in arts activities?  And what does it mean for Canada’s arts and cultural sector?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Harnessing the full power of culture

At last month’s UNESCO gathering, the Hangzhou International Congress, delegates
called for a new approach to sustainable development in the world, one that places culture at the ‘heart of public policy.’  The “Hangzhou Declaration” urges governments, civil society and the private sector to harness the power of culture in addressing development challenges like environmental sustainability, poverty and social inclusion.

As Canada Council Director Robert Sirman addressed delegates at the Culture Days Congress in Toronto, he implicitly referenced  to the objectives of the Hangzhou Declartion, pointing to the growing call for better incorporating culture into public policy.  To achieve that in Canada though, we will need to enlarge our ‘civic footprint’, he suggested.  More Canadians need to live, breath and engage in artistic pursuit and activity to achieve this, the underlying premise of Culture Days.

When queried about the federal government’s perspective on the Hanghzou Declaration, a spokesperson for the Department of Canadian Heritage responded:   “The Government is aware that beyond its economic importance, the arts and the cultural industries are also an important tool to improve quality of life, human development, and create a national identity. This is why Canada was an active proponent to the adoption of the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (UNESCO 2005) and was the first country to ratify the convention.”  They referred specific questions about the Declaration to DFAIT.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Lurching towards a possible Ontario election: What the parties are saying about arts and culture

The prospect of an Ontario election continues to loom, the recent Throne Speech having failed to change the tone and tempo in the Legislature.  PC leader Tim Hudak has made it clear that, in his view, "we need to change the team that leads this province".  The NDP’s Andrea Horwarth argues the government’s Throne Speech was "vague and lacked details or concrete plans".

So where does arts and culture find itself within this environment?

The Liberals

Ontario’s recent Throne Speech positions arts and culture as part of the Province’s "bold vision" for a strengthened economy.  It talks about stimulating productivity across all sectors, including film, music and digital media.

Earlier this year, Ontario’s Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, the Honourable Michael Chan, also launched the Live Music Strategy.   At the same time though, programs at the ministry are being consolidated or wound down, part of the fiscal restraint package put forward in the last budget.

The Progressive Conservatives

Word is that the PCs are developing their own arts and culture platform for the anticipated election.

In a February speech to the Toronto Board of Trade, Leader Tim Hudak said, “When it comes to creative talent, Toronto is blessed with deep bench strength.  One in four Canadian arts and culture industry jobs are here in Toronto.”

Further on, he stated, “But over the years we have overburdened some of Toronto’s crucial economic and cultural industries to the point where businesses are starting to look to other jurisdictions …. too many of them are having to make tough business decisions.  To go where business costs are lower, approvals happen faster and government treats them with respect, not suspicion.”

Mr. Hudak didn’t make any specific promises, but in the policy documents being tabled by the party, they make it clear that they want to “get out of the business of corporate welfare.”  How this would affect cultural industry tax credits is not clear.


If the past election is any indication, it’s likely that some policy on the cultural industries will be forthcoming.  At this point though, there are no clear statements or positions available.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Canadians support the arts. Now let's ask how best to do this!

The public opinion research on attitudes towards arts and heritage released by the federal government last week reaffirms Canadians’ longstanding belief that culture is important to us:

  • 57% of Canadians say they were involved in at least one artistic activity in the last 12 months
  • 66% of Canadians feel that arts and culture are important to their quality of life, and that of their families.

It follows that most Canadians believe in strong government support for arts and culture.  Nine in ten of us feel that government should support the arts.  95% of Canadians agree that governments in Canada should help protect and preserve the country’s heritage.

Other similar reports, such as the Ontario Arts Council research commissioned from Environics on The Arts and Quality of Life, found similar trends.

With such strong support for the cultural sector, the conversation now needs to shift from ‘whether or not to support’ to ‘how best to support’ the sector.

The dialogue has started at the Canada Council for the Arts and other agencies.  Going forward, let’s hope that we all contribute to it in meaningful ways.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Looking forward: Stories to watch in cultural policy in 2013

A new year brings the opportunity to take the long view and see what’s ahead over the coming twelve months.  These are some the issues and developments The Arts Advocate will be watching:


The EU free trade negotiations and their implications for cultural industries and commerce:  If a trade deal is finally inked, it could set the tone for Canada’s negotiations in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade talks also underway.  Thoughts are that the TPP could be much tougher, as the US is not seen as likely to warm to any cultural exemptions.

Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore’s cross-country consultation on Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations, if this goes according to a plan laid out in a recent story in the Ottawa Citizen.

Developments in the Canadian publishing:  The industry was dealt some tough blows in 2012 with the downgrade of McClelland and Stewart to an imprint in January and then Douglas & McIntyre’s decision to file for bankruptcy protection in the fall.  We’ll be looking to see what the status of Canadian Heritage’s consultation into a revised foreign investment policy for publishing is.

The results of the Canada Council for the Art’s ‘change agenda’ and the potential it holds for a fundamental long-term rethinking of the programs and approach at the Council.

The 2013 budget, where we will be looking to see if the feds respond to the request for a stretch tax credit charitable donations, a long advocated measure that will help arts organizations with charitable status.


The political volatility in Ontario holds the potential for significant change, even upheaval:

-  Ontario will see a new cabinet following the Ontario Liberal Leadership this month.  That could mean a new Minister of Culture.  Minister Michael Chan has been in the post since 2010.

-  The prospect of a provincial election is all but certain.  With all three parties viable contenders, according to polls, we could be looking at an entirely different government within a few months.  Neither the NDP or the PCs have said much about their cultural policies, but we do know that work is underway on them.

The Ontario budget will essentially be a campaign platform.  We’ll be looking to see where culture fits in it.

So, all in all, it looks like there will be an interesting and full year ahead.

All the best for 2013.

Top cultural policy headlines from 2012

Here is The Arts Advocate’s list for the top cultural policy stories and trends of 2012:

-  Passage of a revised Copyright Act, without a doubt one of the most significant results of the year.

-  Sustained public funding to key cultural agencies, like national museums, the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, the Ontario Media Development Corporation and others, the result of effective advocacy throughout the cultural sector.

(We acknowledge that there were funding cuts to others, like the CBC, Telefilm, National Library and Ontario’s cultural attraction agencies.  In the scheme of things, the overall view is that the cultural sector weathered relatively well in 2012, though there remains well-grounded fear for the future.)

-  The establishment of the Canadian Museum of History.

-  The demise of the Canadian Conference of the Arts, Canada’s longest-standing arts advocacy organization.

-  The drive to make fundamental changes to the way cultural agencies support their clients.  At its AGM, Telefilm Canada announced that it had completed a complete redesign of its entire range programs.  The Canada Council for the Arts has made it clear that fundamental change to its programs is on the way, with a shift in focus from ‘supply’ to ‘demand’.

-  The EU free trade agreement, something that has flown under the radar screen for the most part.  In November, Canadian Heritage James Moore told a parliamentary committee that the deal would “genuinely protect our cultural communities and their needs.”

-  An unstated but creeping sense that arm’s-length agencies are feeling the arm becoming shorter and shorter, something being talked about at the water cooler in all jurisdictions.

No doubt there are headlines we’ve missed.  We look forward to your comments on what’s not here.

Onwards to 2013.