Towards a Bright Future for the Arts

Speech by Simon Brault
2016 Annual Public Meeting
January 19, 2016


Towards a Bright Future for the Arts


The Council’s transformation

Thank you, Dwayne. Your performance speaks powerfully to why we do what we do here at the Council. And I love the spirit it injects into our Annual Public Meeting!

Good afternoon everyone.

Pierre, to your kind words, I would like to add a warm welcome to everyone who has been following each phase of the Canada Council’s major transformation. We see this transformation as promising. Both for the professional arts community that relies on our support – and for all our fellow citizens, who ultimately benefit from the excellent work created, produced and shared by the artists and arts organizations we fund.

As we continue to transform, we will continue our commitment to transparency – and this will come through in all of our activities and communications. Pierre mentioned two significant anniversaries that are coming up – Canada’s 150th, and the Council’s 60th. As he said, we will be celebrating these milestones while staying focused on the future. We are looking to the future, with the sensibility and responsibility of pioneers.

I’m not saying that we’ve discovered a new world. But we have looked closely at the demographic, economic and technological changes that are reshaping our society. These same changes are redefining the arts in terms of issues around creation, as well as influence, recognition and promotion. For example: we’re following the way that young people are interacting with each other and the arts… the way they are expressing themselves and redefining social connections. We believe we have a responsibility to open up to a new generation of creators – a generation that doesn’t necessarily relate to our system or want to conform to models of the past. I can assure you that we’re looking at these kinds of systemic sociological changes with a keen awareness of their potential impact. And we’re doing so with the hindsight of a wealth of expertise and experience that has, over the decades, established the Council’s credibility. We want to scale up our impact by strategically investing our current resources, and planning for future investments.

Our own transformation, at Council, reconnects us with our original mandate. At the same time, it contextualizes it and updates it. Over the past year, I’ve said often, in many forums here at home and on the international scene, that this was an unavoidable responsibility for a public arts funding organization. Our transformation is based on responsible engagement – our own, and that of the arts community.

Opportunities for investing in our future

Ultimately, we want to arrive at a place where the arts truly matter. A place where the arts are understood as a condition and vector of true personal and social development.

Here’s what we need to do to get there:

  • We need to value and strengthen the main role of artistic creation. To do this, we want to show that the quality and originality of artistic and literary creation are of critical importance for our economy and for the positioning and outreach of our communities and our country. We want artists to have the time and the resources they need to pursue their goals and attain new heights that make Canadian creation unique. We want their work to be even more valued and valuable, and to offer meaningful experiences to the audiences they want to reach. We want the focus to be quality rather than quantity and production at any price.
  • The transformation we’re proposing is results-oriented. We want to be able to show the outcome of our investments and their impact on the intelligent, sustainable development that we seek. We want the community to take part in showing the benefits of our investments. And we want the population to benefit more fully from this artistic vitality we’re encouraging, and appreciate its advantages to the fullest.
  • We see artistic life as a factor in the well-being of each individual and of our communities. The arts organizations and institutions we support play a leading role in their communities and in the development of their art forms. Our new funding model recognizes that public engagement in the arts must be at the heart of all their work.
  • We envision a stronger presence and role for the arts at every table where discussions about our future take place. Whenever I share information on the progress on the new funding model, I emphasize that it’s just one step in our larger transformation. The ultimate goal is for the arts to become a crucial dimension in major decisions on public policy, governance and human and sustainable development. The arts are increasingly seen as a driver of innovation in many sectors that up to now had not considered them. For example: Research on the effects of dance is already informing the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. To bringing the arts into the heart of our development, we need new ways of acting, new ways of thinking. We can’t simply repeat the same old ways. We need to be open and flexible. To imagine a brighter future for the arts, we need to listen actively. We need to be ready to look beyond our usual partnerships and exchanges.

We need to leverage our investments in creation and the development of arts organizations. We want to coordinate our efforts with our regional and provincial colleagues. The Council’s perspective is pan-Canadian, and our impact felt throughout the entire country. Our values, our responsibilities and choices with respect to official languages, Indigenous peoples, cultural diversity, inclusion and equity (including deaf and disability communities.) are more important than ever if we are to assume the leadership role expected of us in the public funding of the arts in Canada.

Inspire through leadership

Over the past year, we’ve clearly shown our commitment – more, our capacity – to be a leader in arts funding.

For example, we launched, in partnership with the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and the Circle, the {Re}conciliation program. This partnership invests in the power of art and imagination to inspire dialogue, understanding and change. The Council is determined to reaffirm and update its relationship with First Nations, Inuit and Métis artists. And the Creating, Knowing and Sharing program in the new funding model is based on an self-determined approach that recognizes the diverse artistic expressions and customs of these communities.

As a Crown Corporation, the Council is built upon a historical and legal framework that gives us great responsibilities and great advantages. Our unique attributes have, at many times throughout our history, allowed us to be a beacon, a pioneer, a leader.

The arm’s-length relationship we enjoy has allowed us to engineer our own transformation so that we can move forward on a new approach to funding the arts.

We want Canadians to recognize the relevance of funding the arts and to benefit from it. The arts inspire and have the power to bring people together.

One example that comes to mind is the tour of the Rizwaan-Muazzam Qawalli group, whose concerts give audiences the chance to discover the Sufi music of Islam and its message of harmony and understanding. Another timely example is the $200,000 initiative we recently announced with Sun Life Financial allowing arts organizations funded by the Council to give Syrian refugees free admission to some of their events and activities.

We also want to open up the world to Canadian creators. Last year, internationally, 1.1 million people saw more than 45,000 performances, exhibitions and screenings presented on tour by organizations funded by the Council. We can do even better, and we intend to.

Strategic planning: the future for today and tomorrow

Over the past year, we’ve talked a lot about our new funding model. And rightly so. Our new funding model gives us a privileged position to be a leader in public funding of the arts into the future.

I mentioned transparency at the beginning of our presentation. An excellent example of this is our commitment to provide open data on our activities in the coming weeks. This will be a practical tool for the arts community, and for our partners and anyone interested in the arts to better understand the sector. Any new research we undertake will be carried out with the same concern for the practical sharing of knowledge.

We are transparent: we will continue to be so. This means including you in our plans for the future. We invite you to take part in our strategic planning by participating in a survey. This consultation will give you the chance to tell us what we can do to achieve our strategic directions for the next five years. In the coming week, we will be inviting all those who follow us on social media or who are on our distribution list to take part in the survey. You’ll also be able to find out how to participate in the survey via our web site on January 28. The themes it covers will be familiar to you. They, after all, have been informing the vision behind our transformation for the past year. Themes like:

  • Artists and audiences in the economy of the future;
  • A digital strategy for the arts;
  • Canadian art and the world; and
  • Indigenous arts: A new relationship for a shared future.

Naturally, the Council’s commitment to equity, youth and young artists will be enshrined in our strategic orientations as well.

The survey is not a consultation that merely leads to a report. The results will inform our ongoing work. We want to maximize our impact and demonstrate the results of all our activities and all our investments.

The Council will continue to forge collaborations and build meaningful partnerships for the future. We’ve already established several, with tangible results. I’m thinking here of examples of national and international partnerships that you will see when we publish our annual report after it has been officially tabled – a bit later this year due to the federal election. International partnerships maximize our investments. For example: the Canada Council joined forces with the Canadian Music Centre and Vancouver’s Music on Main to present Canadian artists in Rotterdam at the Classical:NEXT Forum. We also sent a delegation of agents of Canadian artists and orchestras to this event, which draws more than 1000 professionals from 45 countries. This was an incredible opportunity to show the world the fresh perspective that Canadian artists are bringing to classical music.

Cultural diplomacy and exports – key elements in our support of Canada’s international outreach.

Last year, we doubled our international investments from 5 to 10 million dollars.

The Canadian Commission for UNESCO, which is housed in the Council, organizes many initiatives and leverages its strong networks, chairs, sectorial commissions and partnerships. All to invite active and participatory engagement at the local, national and international levels. During the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, municipalities in the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination, created by the CCUNESCO, mobilized their communities. For example, the community of Kings County, Nova Scotia came together to create a work of public art symbolizing the fight against racism.

In our new funding model, there will be one program for national outreach; one for international outreach.

Of course, we will continue to be present at many forums, as I was last year, throughout Canada and internationally.

This spring I’ll be taking part in an international summit on the arts in Hong Kong. Also, Tammy Scott will be in Taiwan to discuss the Canada Council’s Art Bank and its new business model, and to share expertise with our international counterparts who are setting up their own art bank.

We will continue to contribute to cultural diplomacy.

Art for the betterment of everyone

This powerful affirmation cannot become a reality on its own. Investing in our future is a group effort: a call to citizens, to artists and to all governments. A call to all those who want to be the pioneers of a bright future for the arts. Because art is all of us – it’s our endless ability to create, to dream and to bring the future to life.

Thank you.