Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Canada Council for the Arts:  Martin Lipman

As Robert Sirman, Director of the Canada Council for the Arts, prepared to bring his eight-year term at the helm of the agency to conclusion, The Arts Advocate Report sat down with him to reflect on his accomplishments and challenges, as well as the current cultural policy context in Canada.  He discussed the mandate of the Council, as he saw it, and the impact it makes.

What follows is an excerpt of the conversation, the full version of which will be published in The Arts Advocate Report later this week.  We sincerely thank Mr. Sirman for his generosity and insight in granting this interview.

The Canada Council also shared this video, where Mr. Sirman shares his perspective on the mandate of the Council. 

TAA:  You came to the Canada Council for the Arts directly from National Ballet School.  Before that you’d been at the Ontario Arts Council and the Ministry of Culture.  You also came at an interesting time in Ottawa.  What surprised you the most? 

The question is so big, I’ll just be literal.  When I first came here, what surprised me first was where we worked …. the total anonymity, compartmentalization, distancing and isolation of the Canada Council’s physical form. 

Another thing (was that) I couldn’t get my hands on the (new Canada Council) money (first announced in 2006-07) because that is not how it works in Ottawa. It doesn’t matter what is announced -- freeing that money up is another process all together and it’s very rigorous.  In my first year, that was the most important process I was engaged in. We succeeded in not only freeing the money up, but getting it made permanent.  

The third (discovery was around) how we were going to spend the one time money. My third day on the job was the board meeting where the members approved how (the Council) was going to spend the one-time money… I believed that if there was something taken by senior management to the board, it had buy-in from all parts of the organization. … Then, when we started rolling the program out, all kinds of voices surfaced asking “what is this?” and how (are we) to we explain it to the community? …  At the time that I arrived, there was a management culture in the organization, which was not a collaborative model.  That’s why I focus so much on building collaborative participatory, shared responsibilities. There is nothing easier to deliver than something where people have had a voice in generating it. There is nothing harder to deliver than giving someone direction to do something that they haven’t been party to. 

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