The Fund for the Arts in a Digital World
By Sylvie Gilbert
The Arts in a Digital World Summit
March 2017, Montreal
Before I start, let me say that my presentation isn’t a technical information session about deadlines. I won’t be getting into specific details about project eligibility either. This information will come later, probably this summer.
What I will do today is present a general overview and the key elements of this major strategic fund – major both in terms of its intentions and the resources it will make available to the arts sector in Canada.
Work completed to date
Our exploratory work in this fund focused mainly on the literature review prepared by Nordicity that was posted on the Council website a few weeks ago. It revealed that the greatest overall barrier to digital transformation in recent years has been the lack of digital literacy, or the very unbalanced distribution of the knowledge and skills needed to master digital thinking and tools.
The study also showed that digital strategies around the world have focused primarily on business, trade, and the cultural and creative industries. Only a few truly ambitious digital strategies have focused on challenges and opportunities in the arts sector.
Nordicity also conducted a survey of Canada’s arts sector. In the end, over 900 organizations and about 2,700 artists participated, a sample that truly represents the sector’s diversity.
This survey of digital uses in the arts confirmed that many artists have adopted digital to explore, create and experiment. And many are now fully engaged in the use of new technologies.
At the same time, the use of digital in the Canadian arts sector is often limited to basic use of social media and websites. And in a way that is still based on traditional models of one-way communications and marketing. Without targeted support, the arts sector has been unable to make the most of digital’s potential.
In a recent public poll, we learned that Canadians, especially those between the ages of 18 and 44, want better access to the arts through a stronger quantitative and qualitative online presence of the arts sector. From a practical perspective, this means acknowledging the changes in expectations and behaviours brought on by digital.
The big question at the heart of our work was: how can we help the arts sector benefit from digital and stay relevant?
The Strategic Fund
We decided at the outset to create a strategic fund rather than a granting program. The Fund identifies action priorities, and we wanted to ensure it was flexible enough to anticipate and respond to applications that we have not yet thought of. We wanted it to stay adaptable throughout the process and foster cooperation and adaptability to changing needs, particularly to opportunities of interest identified by the sector.
The summit itself is the perfect example of this approach. By learning together, sharing expertise and skills, and having discussions based on shared values to discover new points in common, we can address the disruptions of the digital age and take advantage of the new opportunities it brings.
The Fund will run for four years, from fall 2017 to April 2021. By then, we will have invested $88.5 million in project grants, thus providing the powerful and lasting push towards the digital transition that the arts sector and our fellow citizens are looking for.
The Fund’s agile and interventionist approach can support projects that vary in aim and scope. Concretely, this means that the Canada Council will be able to support large-scale initiatives with grants up to $500,000, while also funding smaller projects in the sector that are relevant and vital, and that could be carried out for under $10,000.
Scale aside, what matters most will be the initiative’s relevance, impact and feasibility. Its ability to account for disparities in context, scale and available resources.
Likewise, applications will not be assessed on the basis of the usual artistic quality criteria, but rather on their relevance, impact and feasibility. This will be determined comparatively of course, in order to support the most promising and significant among the projects submitted.
The Fund’s overall principles
In creating this Fund, the Canada Council’s goal is to kickstart the arts sector’s digital transition within a specific timeframe.
The Council is allocating funds to this transition in the interests of sustainable development. Among other things, this means that artists and arts organizations will have real control over the implementation and outcomes of the initiatives being supported, that strategies will be user-focused, and that citizens will be the ultimate beneficiaries of new sustainable approaches.
At the same time, we would also like the initiatives submitted to demonstrate openness, in the sense that they integrate consensus, collaboration and networking – right from the design phase.
This means sharing knowledge and outcomes of the funded initiatives widely, rather than fiercely protecting this information as exclusive property. This breaks away from the notion of competitive advantage, which is now just an illusion in the world of digital giants.
Digital culture is first and foremost a question of transforming relationships between human beings. Only secondly is it a matter of technological decisions. It’s a culture of accepting the inevitable risks, mistakes and imperfections of any iterative process.
In this digital culture, trial and error is often a key part of the process (ideally on a small scale) and mistakes identified by users lead to feedback and corrective action, which are all part of the continuous design process. This is the new wave of “co-creation.”
The Fund would also be there to help as initiatives are developed, and rather than take a decisional approach, the Council could provide project proponents with useful and much-needed expertise and non-financial resources.
Our goal is to see initiatives through to their successful completion, and also to quickly finalize projects that may have hit a snag, without penalty.
Being agile means being able to start over and try again, to adjust, move forward, experience some failures and get back at it. In this digital transformation we’re living the only certainties are speed, scope, reach, time and its completely unpredictable nature, both now and in the future.
That’s why the Council plans to be an attentive and active partner in the Canadian arts sector’s digital transition. We’ll work with the community and collaborate with all parties whose mission and interests involve incorporating digital.
There are three components to the Fund:
- Digital literacy and intelligence
- Citizen access to the arts and cultural engagement
- Transformation of organizations
The Fund will support the development of new initiatives and optimize existing ones.
Digital literacy and intelligence
The purpose of this component is to support artists, writers, organizations, and groups of organizations in their efforts to better address the challenges, issues and opportunities of a digital society. To develop and broaden their strategic digital thinking. And to strengthen their ability to translate that thinking into concrete actions.
Public access to the arts and cultural engagement
The purpose of this component is to encourage the sharing of and access to artistic and literary works. To enhance the artistic experience of users. And to broaden the participation and cultural engagement of Canadian citizens.
Transformation of organizations
The purpose of this component is to help arts organizations transform the way they work so that they are in a better position to address challenges and seize opportunities for development and exposure through digital.
Scope of initiatives:
- Initiatives should benefit several artists or organizations, and ideally an entire community or sector. The Fund will not support initiatives that benefit a single organization or group.
- Initiatives based on extensive dialogue, that involve close collaboration among several players and partners from different parts and sectors of society, and that can mobilize the appropriate expertise. We encourage the community to work with others, and to go beyond the usual alliances among existing groups. The challenges we are facing are not exclusive to the arts. The idea is to create partnerships with other sectors, with businesses, and with people who have the necessary expertise. It is time to forge new alliances and to diversify existing ones.
- Initiatives with specific measurable results and significant expected benefits: The Fund is not an arts or academic research fund for digital or related issues; it’s intended for exploratory work focused on solving specific problems faced by many.
- Initiatives that encourage the active involvement of participants: As with some of the other initiatives, the goal is to support those who can test ideas with people, and introduce methodologies that differ from the norm.
- Initiatives developed based on openness and focusing on sustainable development.
- Initiatives that share knowledge and results with the community – because the sector needs to learn from the mistakes and successes of others.
Types of initiatives
I’m going to share a few examples of approaches that have already been developed in other countries. But first, to be clear, I’m sharing these examples with you to explain how the three components work, and to make them more concrete; not to direct your efforts, or the discussions you’ll have over the next few days, months and years.
I hesitated to share these examples because in the past we’ve noticed that organizations and groups sometimes try to emulate or copy the work of their colleagues when they apply for grants, thinking it will help their chances. As Simon said earlier, “One of the pitfalls of codifying the arts lies in complying with the parameters imposed by funders.” We want to avoid this with our new Fund, and in fact with our entire New Funding Model.
For the time being, we’re open to a wide diversity of approaches, scales and collaborators, and to the development of new constellations.
The Digital Literacy and Intelligence component could potentially fund the following types of projects:
- digital strategies and visions; expertise; and digital talent;
- symposia, forums, webinars, design-thinking workshops; coaching approaches;
- workshops using participatory methodologies; innovation gathering;
- experimentation with and mastery of new tools to develop literacy in new digital tools and technologies;
- coding workshops to improve discoverability of works, artists and organizations;
- research and development of protocols and standards;
- adoption and development of open-source systems;
- open data initiatives;
Initiatives for the Citizen access to the arts and cultural engagement component could include:
- exploration of new ways of engaging citizens in the creation, production, distribution and sharing of artwork or artistic content;
- innovative projects using metadata to further engage audiences in the arts;
- open data and open-source software initiatives to promote citizen engagement in artistic and literary creation.
Examples for the Transformation of organizations component include projects that:
- develop a digital vision and/or strategy to implement digital initiatives;
- explore new governance and management approaches (rights, collective agreements, etc.);
- and other innovative projects to encourage organizational and operational transformation.
We’ll have the chance to continue this discussion over the coming months. I will now give the floor over to my colleagues, and to all of you here. I can’t wait to hear your ideas.