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Annual Public Meeting 2024

Video description

The 2024 Annual Public Meeting of the Canada Council for the Arts took place on March 27, 2024. During the event, Jesse Wente, Chair of the Board, and Michelle Chawla, Director and CEO of the Council, shared insights on Canada’s arts scene, highlights of upcoming initiatives and updates on the Council’s 2021–2026 strategic plan.

A question-and-answer period followed, moderated by Yves-Gérard Méhou-Loko, Secretary-General of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO.

This recording includes simultaneous sign language interpretation in ASL, as well as closed captioning.


Yves-Gérard, Secretary-General of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO

Jesse Wente, Chair of the Board

Michelle Chawla, Director and CEO of the Council

Lise-Ann, Director General, Arts Granting Programs

Publication date

May 1, 2024

Event information

The APM took place on March 27, 2024.


It provokes us.

It inspires us.

It stirs our imagination, feeds our creativity and sets us in motion.

It takes us places we never thought possible.

It is freedom, experimentation, pain and joy.

It creates new myths and reinvents old ones.

It soothes the wary and offers us hope, touches our very souls.

It breaks new ground, breaks down walls and brings us together.

Art connects us with our selves and drives us forward, telling our stories and giving us voice.

Art shows us who we are.

Arts are part of us all.                                                                              

[Yves-Gérard Méhou-Loko]

Good afternoon and welcome to the Canada Council for the Arts 2024 Annual Public Meeting.

I’m the Secretary-General of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO.

I was born in France with a heritage from Benin and Nigeria.

I grew up in Québec City, and I was drawn to the Canadian Commission for UNESCO because it ties with my values and upbringing with my commitment to culture, building peace and inclusive communities.

I’m a member of the Canada Council for the Arts Senior Management Committee.

I have been at the Council less than a year, so this is my first Annual Public Meeting.

It’s my pleasure to be your emcee for this Annual Public Meeting.

Today’s meeting will take place in both official languages.

For those of you online, you can change the language in which you are listening to this event by clicking the link at the top right-hand corner of this page.

For those of you who are here on site, we have headsets you can wear to listen to the simultaneous interpretation.

We have American Sign Language and Langue des signes québécoise available today.

You can click on the link at the top of the screen to watch the event with simultenous interpretation.

If you have any technical problems, please click on the button at the bottom of the screen.

I’d like to begin by acknowledging that the Canada Council’s Ottawa offices are located on the unceded territory, the Algonquin Anishinaabe Nation, who have been here since time immemorial.

The Council recognizes that the Algonquins are the traditional guardians and defenders of the Ottawa River Watershed and its tributaries.

We salute the long tradition of hospitality, which has benefited many nations in this magnificent territory, and we pledge to defend and promote the voice and values of our host nation.

We recognize the undeniable contribution of First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities to Canadian culture as a whole and their contribution to the artistic community of Canada.

The full land acknowledgement is available on our website at canadacouncil.ca in both official languages.

At the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, our mission to work towards peace requires recognition for the past actions that shaped our country.

The full land acknowledgement is available on canadacouncil.ca in both official languages.

I will now give you a sense of today’s agenda.

First off, we will hear from the Chair of the Board, Jesse Wente. Then, Michelle Chawla, Director and CEO, will say a few words. A question-and-answer period will follow.

A recording of this event in both official languages will be available on our website in the coming weeks.

For those active on social media, you can use #CanadaCouncil24 to interact with posts about this event.

We have a very full agenda, so let’s begin.

I would like to invite Jesse Wente, Chair of the Canada Council for the Arts’ Board, to come to the podium.

[Jesse Wente]

Hello, everyone.

This past year, as Chairman of the Canada Council for the Arts, was one of transition, as I began working with the new director and CEO.

I’m delighted to be working with Michelle Chawla, who knows the Council and the art sector so well after having held many different positions at the organization over the course of her career.

This new leadership ensures continuity and familiarity with our work while also bringing important changes to our work and the organization.

I am acutely aware of how difficult a time this is for the sector.

But because Michelle truly embodies the Council’s values, such as care for our work, respect and openness, I believe we can look to the future with optimism.

I’m already seeing a positive response in the arts sector to Michelle’s priorities to reconnect, engage and work more closely with the sector.

Priorities that are strongly supported by me and the Board.

The third year of the Council’s strategic plan has just come to an end, and I’m happy to see that the Council has made significant strides towards meeting its ambitious commitments, including critical support provided directly to artists and arts organizations across the country.

I’d like to share a few of our accomplishments.

We committed to partnering and strengthening relationships to help address distinct cultural realities in the North, and we succeeded in co-developing and co-delivering three separate initiatives to better support Indigenous communities and beyond.

The Council now has partners on the ground in the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Inuit Nunangat that provide access and direct funding where it is needed most.

These partnerships represent a new way of working, collaborating and sharing knowledge while respecting the unique needs and realities of each region.

The results so far demonstrate the necessity and relevance of these partnerships.

It’s still early days, but these initiatives are a step in the right direction, and we hope to see long-term changes in our relationships with artists in the North.

Equity is a focal point in our strategic plan and a priority that we consistently work to advance.

I’d like to share a recent example from the Art Bank on how we are making progress on our commitments to equity.

The Art Bank launched an open call for the purchase of new artworks with the goal of establishing a collection that includes works from a broader diversity of artists.

Priority was given to works by artists that were not included in the Art Bank collection and to artists who are Indigenous, Black, racialized, Deaf or having a disability, or as belonging to official language minority, youth, 2SLGBTQI+ and gender-diverse communities, women and artists at the intersection of these identities.

The response to the open call was tremendous and led to the Art Bank acquiring 72 works of art from artists from every province and territory.

We’ve seen a great response to the purchased works, and nearly all are on loan or on hold to be displayed in public venues.

For those of you who have joined us in person at the Council’s offices, I invite you to visit the Âjagemô Exhibition Space downstairs to see some of these incredible works for yourselves.

Those of you online can also enjoy the Coming into Sight exhibit online at canadacouncil.ca.

You’ll also see an inspiring work of art by Anishinaabe artist Chief Lady Bird, just outside this room that was commissioned by the Council to welcome folks into this space.

Now, these are just a few examples of what the Council has accomplished in recent years, but I’m pleased to see our strategic commitments come to fruition in physical form.

As we navigate a path forward, the Council’s experienced Board and strong governance will enable the organization to rise to any challenge.

I want to thank the Board for their excellent work, and I’d like to ask any members who are here to please stand up.

We have some members who are unable to attend, so don’t worry about the seemingly small size of the Board. We are actually at full complement.

In closing, I remain cautiously optimistic about what lies ahead for our sector. We know there are challenges ahead, both obvious and unexpected.

But I’m confident that by working together, we can help shape a more equitable and sustainable art sector, one that reflects a Canada of today and points us to the Canada of tomorrow.

Thank you.

I will now invite Michelle Chawla, our Director and CEO, to come to the podium.

[Michelle Chawla]

Thank you, Jessie.

Hello, everyone.

I’m so excited. I’m very happy to be part of my first Annual Public Meeting as Director and CEO of the Canada Council for the Arts.

While I have been in this role for about nine months, I have dedicated my career to public service and, in particular, service to the arts.

I am committed and passionate about this work and this role as it brings together my deep personal values of service, along with my love for the arts.

So it’s also deeply tied to my cultural upbringing as a person who grew up in a mixed background.

So I’m a Québécoise, raised in Montréal, and also grew up in the Punjabi community as a Sikh, where community service, which is known as “seva,” is at the very heart of who I am, how I work and how I lead the Canada Council.

While this meeting is an important way for the Council to provide updates on its progress and initiatives, I’m very pleased to be able to open a dialog with you today.

Artists and organizations play an important role in the cultural ecosystem and in the communities they serve here and around the world.

The Council is driven by a mission to support the many artists and arts organizations across the country who help us understand ourselves, our cultures and our shared humanity.

I find it particularly inspiring to see every day that the sector’s leadership, talent, creativity, strength and ongoing dedication to the arts are as present as ever, despite the ever-increasing challenges the sector faces.

We know these are difficult times for the sector, and we are committed to finding ways to help it meet these challenges. But the Council faces challenges of its own.

A few weeks ago, you may have seen that the Council was included in the federal government’s Refocusing Government Spending initiative.

And as a result, the Canada Council will be reducing its current spending over the next few years.

I do want to assure you that our main goal is to minimize any impact on the arts sector.

These reductions will not impact the Council’s regular granting programs, nor our capacity to serve the sector.

Even with a lower budget, we will continue to invest over $300 million directly in the arts sector every year.

We will continue to support the sector through our granting programs, our wide array of prizes, our Public Lending Right payments to authors and creators, as well as through special initiatives and partnerships.

We’re also continuing to deliver our priorities set out in our strategic plan, which are helping move the Council and the sector towards a more equitable and sustainable future.

I’m pleased to say that the Council is on track to meet and even exceed most of the funding commitments made in our strategic plan, whether that’s opening up our project funding to first-time applicants, enhanced investment in the Public Lending Right Program or our support for international activities.

My priorities as CEO are for the Council to continue implementing its commitments, including continuing to support the rebuilding of a sustainable art sector, improving regional distribution of our funding, prioritizing our support for historically marginalized and underserved communities, and honoring the commitments on self-determination that we have made to Indigenous peoples and nations.

We also remain committed to our role in fostering cultural exchange and cooperation on an international scale.

We will continue to support Canadian artists and arts organizations to develop relationships and to showcase their work in markets around the world.

These priorities are aligned with many of the sector’s pressing issues.

The most important of these issues is that the arts sector is recovering slowly from the consequences of the pandemic, and that it’s also doing so unevenly.

We recognize that many members of the arts community continue to struggle.

I can assure you that we are monitoring the situation closely and are in dialogue with organizations and other funders, including at the provincial, territorial and municipal levels to find the answers to these challenges.

We co-invest in programs to help organizations rethink their operations in response to changing circumstances.

Despite the current context, I continue to be optimistic and inspired by what you are all capable of doing.

We have witnessed the transformation and innovative, creative and resilient nature of the sector on an ongoing basis, and we want to encourage and support it as much as we can.

As well as helping the sector get back on its feet, another priority close to my heart is equity.

We know it will take time, but we’re actively working to advance this priority.

We’re improving access and financing to historically underserved and marginalized communities.

We are also working to address the historical funding imbalances to better serve the arts ecosystem across Canada.

We will be able to do this through targeted mobilization and awareness-raising activities, by collecting and analyzing data to understand where our funding is going and where there are gaps, by working with other funders to better understand and support the global arts funding ecosystem and by supporting and promoting the work of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO.

People don’t always realize that the Canadian Commission for UNESCO is part of the Council.

From the outset, the Council and the Canadian Commission for UNESCO have shared a common history and a common goal to promote the sustainable development of society.

A good example is the incredible work the Commission has done to raise the profile of the United Nations International Decade of People of African Descent and the International Decade of Indigenous Languages.

As we work to meet our commitments, we are continually looking at how we can support you, the arts community.

It’s crucial that we work together towards bringing the Council and the sector closer.

Along with my Council colleagues, I’ve had many conversations with stakeholders across the country.

To share just a few examples, I’ve met with members and leadership of the Canadian Arts Coalition, Business for the Arts, the Fédération culturelle canadienne-française, the Conseil québécois du théâtre and the Regroupement québécois de la danse, as well as many other arts service organizations in the early part of this year.

So far, since the beginning of my mandate, I’ve also met with stakeholders in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec.

I’ve been so inspired by the people I’ve met and, as I make my way other parts of the country, including Manitoba and Newfoundland in the coming months, I look forward to continuing to engage with people and to build stronger relationships between the sector and the Canada Council.

I’ve appreciated the benefit of being present in person across Canada, but we’re also conscious of our environmental footprint, and I’m grateful that our new ways of working also make it possible to meet virtually more often and with more people.

Going forward, you will hear more from us as we seek to improve our support for the sector and consult with you on timely and important topics.

We know the arts community will likely continue to face many challenges, whether they be new or long-standing, but I’m convinced that working together is the way forward.

At a time when we see so much divisiveness and hate in the world, I’m committed to doing everything I can to support and promote the arts.

In keeping with our mandate, we will continue to promote the arts as a force to build peace, promote inclusion, combat hate and unify a divided world.

As I said earlier, the arts matter to me and you matter to me.

I will do everything I can to lead the Canada Council in a way that serves you, the arts sector.

I’m constantly moved by the unshakable creativity and innovative spirit of the arts community, and I’m optimistic for our future and eager to work with you to get there.

I want to thank the Board, the Council staff and colleagues, and all of you for being here today.

Thank you so much.

[Yves-Gérard Méhou-Loko]

Thank you very much, Michelle, we will now move on to the question period.

We invite people in the room to use the microphones available to ask your questions.

I remind you that you can also ask your question in the language of your choice.

Also, please identify yourself when you ask a question.

Of course, it’s always great to know who we’re talking to.

I’d like to take a moment to invite Lise Ann Johnson, Acting Director General, Arts Granting Programs of the Canada Council, to the stage for the question-and-answer period.

We will also answer the questions that we received ahead of time by email, and I would like to thank the people who submitted questions touching on several topics and issues, and we are unfortunately not able to answer all of them today.

So we took the most common themes and gathered all of them together.

To get it started, we will begin with questions that were received in advance.

We received many questions about peer assessment as well as the way the Council gives feedback to the candidates.

I’ll turn to you, Michelle, to answer this very first question that was sent to us by Christine Curnillon.

Let’s listen to the question.

[Christine Curnillon]

Christine Curnillon, from Groupe Le Vivier.

My question today for the Canada Council for the Arts would be the following: Does the Council plan to reinstate results feedback?

[Michelle Chawla]

Thank you very much for the question.

That is something that we hear very often, and we know that receiving personalized feedback would be ideal.

We really acknowledge and we really appreciate the work and the efforts that are put into preparing applications. We also recognize the importance and the value of getting feedback.

But we’re faced with a challenge, which is the sheer volume of applications that we receive.

Just to give you an example, since 2017, when we created new programs, the number of applications we received has almost tripled.

To be even more specific, there was a competition in the fall from one of our major programs, it’s Explore and Create. We received almost 7,000 requests for that single competition.

So as you can imagine, to be able to give personalized feedback on every one of those is impossible.

However, we truly believe in feedback, and we’re trying to find ways to see how we could give this kind of communication.

So we’re doing pilot projects of sessions of group feedback, group sessions for feedback, and it will explain on certain topics and give some advice to help applicants for future applications.

There’s actually a webinar happening this week. There’s still time to register if some people are interested. We also create webinars to see how to prepare requests.

All sorts of advice that will be posted on our website also.

If you’re not able to take part in a webinar, all this information will be made available online.

All this to say that we’re really thinking about all this because we know it’s a challenge, we know it’s important, and we’d be very interested in getting any suggestions from you.

We’re listening, and we’d like to hear from you as well.

So thank you for the question.

[Yves-Gérard Méhou-Loko]

Thank you, Michelle.

During your time as Director and CEO, you have received several open letters and petitions from the community on specific topics of interest to the signatories.

More recently, there is an ask for Council to rethink multidisciplinary peer assessment committees.

Onscreen, you will see an excerpt of a question sent by Nick Fraser, which reads as:

“Will the Council reconsider the [...] practice of multi-disciplinary juries and return to hiring peer assessors who actually know the field they are evaluating?”

Please, Michelle.

[Michelle Chawla]

Thank you for that question.

And similar to the first question, that is also a question we get regularly.

I’m very happy to ask Lise Ann to take a stab at answering that question.

[Lise Ann Johnson]


Thank you very much.

It’s a very timely question, and it is one that we’ve been hearing over the last, I’d say, 12 to 18 months.

I’d like to maybe just to provide some context so everybody understands what the question is really about.

Just a bit of background on peer assessment.

Peer assessment is at the heart of the Council’s assessment process.

It’s the basis on which we make our funding decisions.

It is a process that we take very seriously.

The quality and the effectiveness of the peer assessment process is something that is very near and dear to us.

We work with hundreds of peer assessors across the country every year, hundreds and hundreds.

We select peer assessors on the basis of a number of different factors.

Artistic experience, knowledge, disciplinary knowledge included, is one of the things that we look at.

But we also look at other things.

We look at what region, what kind of regional knowledge people bring to the table.

We also consider socio-demographic backgrounds.

When we put together peer assessment committees to assess applications, we really want to make sure that we have a diversity of opinions and perspectives at the table.

It’s very fundamentally important to us.

We have multidisciplinary programs, and multidisciplinary assessment has been around the Council in different ways for really quite a long time and even predates our programs.

More recently, what we have done is for programs where they’re assessing artistic projects, where artistic merit is one of the criteria.

We have been grouping our applications in larger buckets.

As opposed to theater applications together and dance applications together, we have been grouping applications into performing arts, studio arts and literary arts.

This is at the heart of the question that Nick Fraser asks.

There are some advantages that we have seen.

It really minimizes conflicts of interest.

It also works really well for those projects and applicants that don’t fall neatly into disciplinary buckets.

Many newer voices, emerging practices, many artists who are coming from underserved communities who are not framing their work in more traditional disciplinary categories.

But we hear you.

We hear the concern.

It’s a very commonly asked question, and it’s a very timely question because what we want to do is...

We’re absolutely open to looking at the effectiveness of this practice, and we have launched a pretty significant peer research project.

We are sending out a survey, we’ve already launched part of it, to everyone who’s been a peer assessor over the last two years.

We’re doing interviews with peer assessors, and we’re doing focus groups with peer assessors as well.

We’re also doing focus groups with Canada Council employees who are involved in the assessment process.

We want to take a look at whether this practice is working.

We’re open to change, but we really want to make an informed decision.

We have launched the project.

We’ll have the results in the fall, and we’ll be very happy to share a summary of that research project back with the community once it’s available, and we’ll look at what improvements we can make.

We want to hold on to what’s working, but we’re sure that there’s lots of things that will come out of the research report that we can make improvements on.

Before I turn it back to you, I’m just going to make a pitch, which is please self-nominate.

For anyone who’s interested in serving as a peer assessor at the Canada Council, we have a self-nomination process that’s fairly new.

It’s through our portal.

If you create an account, you’ll be invited to also self-nominate as a peer assessor.

We really want to make sure that we have a rich base of peer assessors from across the country with all sorts of different expertise and disciplinary knowledge to draw from.

That’s my pitch: if you want to serve as a peer assessor, please self-nominate.

[Michelle Chawla]

That’s great. Thank you.

[Yves-Gérard Méhou-Loko]

Great pitch.

[Michelle Chawla]

Yeah, great pitch.

[Yves-Gérard Méhou-Loko]

As I mentioned earlier, we have received several questions in advance.

Among the questions submitted by participants in advance were several related to the state of the world and global crisis and the role of Council in responding to the turmoil all around us.

So this is a question that many of us actually are struggling with and which Brad Lepp, the Executive Director of the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres, has expressed very eloquently in this video shared with the Council. Please.

[Brad Lepp]

Hello. My name is Brad Lepp.

I’m joining you from Tkaronto, Treaty 13 territory covered by the Dish With One Spoon Covenant and the traditional territories of the Haudenosaunee, the Anishinaabeg, including the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.

First, happy World Theatre Day! I hope everyone will get tickets to go see a show soon.

My question is this:

Every week, we’re reading about organizations on the brink of collapse. These stories, coupled with what we read in the news, the world feels like a pretty awful place right now.

The term I’ve heard is that we are in a state of poly-crisis: globally, locally, economically, environmentally, socially, everywhere we look, and not just in our sector, we are confronted by things failing.

And so, from your national perspective, where do you see hope? Where do you find optimism for the year ahead?

Thank you.

[Yves-Gérard Méhou-Loko]

Well, what an amazing question by Brad Lepp.

Michelle, please. I will turn to you to respond to this one.

[Michelle Chawla]

I mean, that is the question, if you think of what we’re experiencing every day.

And so, the simplest answer is, I find hope in all of you.

I find hope in Brad’s question.

I find hope in all of you sitting here and the colleagues I work with.

Really, that question resonates.

So much of what we see is all about divisiveness and hate, and I think including a lot of difficult coverage in the arts sector itself.

Every day, there’s another story.

It can be overwhelming, and sometimes it is hard to remain hopeful or positive, but I am a deeply optimistic person because of the sector we work in and the voice of artists.

I feel profoundly that that is the mandate of the Canada Council.

That’s my role, and I love it, which is how do I support those voices? Because that is where the optimism and the hope really lies.

And providing the opportunity for artistic voices, a diversity of voices across all parts of the sector, showcasing that incredible work, the power of the arts to bring communities together despite the challenges, despite differences, that is where the hope and optimism is.

So I really, really appreciate that question because I think it’s something that we all ask ourselves, and we’re all in this together.

So thank you for the question.

[Yves-Gérard Méhou-Loko]

Thank you, Michelle.

As you know, both the Canada Council and the Canadian Commission for UNESCO are committed to promote the arts as a force to build peace, promote inclusion, combat hate, unify a very divided world.

We now welcome further questions from those in the room.

And once again, please identify yourself when you speak.

That way we will know roughly where you are.

We have several microphones in the room.

[George Sapounidis]

Good afternoon.

My name is George. My artist name is Chairman George.

I’m a Greek. I’m a Greek Canadian.

In 2018, I released an album at the National Arts Centre, merging Greek and Chinese music, Greek songs in Mandarin Chinese.

I’ve also toured China extensively.

Because of the pandemic, for three summers, I went to Britannia Park here in Ottawa and just performed on a bench for people from around the world.

What I would like to do, my next recording project, is to record an album of anywhere from 12 to 15 languages.

One song in a different language from around the world.

My question is, because to reflect the beautiful diversity of Canada, question one, is this realistic? Number two, how would peer assessment take place for not multidisciplinary, but a multiple language project like that? Thank you.

Chairman George.

Thank you very much.

[Michelle Chawla]

Wow. Thank you so much, Chairman George, for sharing that.

I mean, sounds wonderful and amazing.

For your question about funding that’s available, please stay a little bit after because we have many Canada Council employees here who would be very happy to give you some tips on how to navigate our funding programs.

But you do raise a really interesting question about how do we manage those type of multi-language projects in peer assessment committees, and I think that was probably very interesting for many in our audience.

So maybe I’ll ask you, Lise Ann, to talk to us a little bit about that.

That’s a great question. Thank you.

[Lise Ann Johnson]

For those of you who go into our portal and self-nominate to be a peer assessor, you’ll see that one of the questions we ask you is whether you speak English, whether you speak French, but we also ask about other kinds of linguistic expertise, precisely for this reason, because there are times when, in peer assessment, we need to call on people who can speak other languages than English and French.

We also build into our process the ability to bring in, on specific files, additional expertise.

So absolutely.

Sounds like a very eligible project.

We’d be happy to talk to you afterwards and point you in the right direction, and we’re pretty confident that we could make sure that it’s assessed properly.

[George Sapounidis]

Thank you very much.

[Michelle Chawla]

Thank you.

[Peter Zanette]

Good afternoon.

My name is Peter Zanette, dignityfordiversity.ca.

In 2019, I was told by a festival to remove my rainbow sticker for my volunteer ID badge that was considered branding.

You’re still funding it.

The bigger picture is this.

I shouldn’t be judged on my identity displayed. I should be judged on my actions.

If I’m a bad person, kick me out.

The bigger picture is this.

People who identify with any of the grounds of the Canadian Human Rights Act should be able to wear something reflecting that, while volunteering or working, whether you’re an artist, a staff person or a volunteer.

This is healthy.

You have to have a healthy organization as a whole.

We want to be accepted, respected and protected.

And I think your role, I believe, is to provide some protection in requiring organizations that you fund to demonstrate how they are protecting persons who identify with the Canadian Human Rights Act wearing something.

And I don’t see it.

It may be implicit, but it has to be explicit, in my opinion.

Closets are not healthy.

Artists need administration and volunteers to carry things through.

If you’re going to provide a diverse artistry to bring a diverse audience, well, guess what? Volunteers and admin people are part of that process.

I think it’s your role, as leaders at the top, to demonstrate that, to provide that thing and demand it.

This is the 21st century.

I implore you to take action, look into it.

I’ll be glad to work with your suggestions on the policy side.

But I think this is something we have to do in that, let’s honour those who worked hard and long to get those grounds in the human rights code by bringing them forward, bringing that visibility to a level that is acceptable, which should be celebrated, not a target of hate.

I thank you.

[Michelle Chawla]

I 100% agree with everything you said.

So thank you for making that statement.

It’s absolutely part of our values and how we want to work both at the Canada Council, but also in the way that we support the sector.

So I think you make a really, really important point.

Maintaining, ensuring the safety and well-being of everyone, free of racism, free of discrimination, is really important.

The importance of healthy workplaces, as you say, is absolutely critical.

So thank you for making that statement.

We are in complete agreement with you.

Thank you.

[Lise Ann Johnson]

Michelle, can I also just say something?

To reassure you, we do have a number of policies in place, and we also have criteria that requires organizations to demonstrate how they are supporting equity and diversity and inclusion.

But I also want to say how important volunteers are to the arts sector.

I want to recognize and thank you for your volunteer time.

I know how much arts organizations and artistic projects depend on volunteers from across the country to be able to support everything from their front of house to their ticketing to their community engagement.

So thank you.

My second pitch is, volunteer for your local arts venue.

Thank you.

[Michelle Chawla]

That’s great, thank you.

[Jonathan Hobin]

Hi there. My name is Jonathan Hobin.

I’m the Executive Director of the SPAO: Photographic Arts Centre.

I really appreciate the opportunity to ask a question.

When we hear about budgets becoming smaller and potentially funding being decreased for organizations that are already tightly funded and the idea of laying more people off is a struggle.

I think organizations and artists might take comfort in more transparency about how much percentage of the budget is allocated for staffing and contract work at the Canada Council, versus how much is actually distributed to artists and arts organizations.

I think there’s an accountability here when we think about it, and will the proportion of staffing change in alignment with the spending budget that the Council will be distributing?

Thank you very much for the question.

[Michelle Chawla]

That’s a really good question.

Thank you.

One of the commitments we’ve made is to increase our transparency.

We want to be much more transparent about everything that we do, and that includes all of our financial information.

We do publish our annual report that has that information, but I think what we can do better is provide the context.

We also publish our quarterly financial statements.

I know that sounds very bureaucratic, but it does include the lines, what goes to grants, what goes to services, what goes to admin overhead.

One of the things that we’re very conscious of is trying to provide as much of our funding directly to the sector.

Almost 90% of our funding goes to the sector.

Every quarter, those of you who run businesses, you look at the bottom line, we have the Board scrutinizes every spending that we do.

While we do need staff to deliver the programs, our first lens is how much can we give directly to the sector? But I take your point: increase the transparency, make that information available, and we’re definitely working in that direction.

It’s not perfect yet, but it will keep improving.

So I really appreciate that question.



Close to.

[Jesse Wente]


[Michelle Chawla]

Oh, there you go.

See, the Chair of the Board knows exactly the numbers.

We just talked about that today.

And more transparency.

Thank you.

[John Jantunen]

Hello, my name is John Jantunen. I’m a novelist.

For the last year, I’ve been working at the Integrated Care Hub, in Kingston, which is a safe-injection site homeless shelter.

We have an incredible diversity of artists there. Musicians, we have visual artists, we have poets, we have rappers, we have a lot of people.

These are people that would never consider applying to the Canada Council, and, in fact, don’t even qualify to apply to the Canada Council.

My experience as a working poor artist over the past 20 years is that poverty is the number one barrier to participation in the arts in this country and elsewhere.

I’ve raised this concern a number of times through past surveys, and I’ve never heard the mention of these socio-economic barriers.

I’m just wondering why that is and what you guys are doing to address that.

Thank you.

[Michelle Chawla]

Thank you.

I’m going to ask Jesse to answer that question.

[Jesse Wente]

Sure. Thank you so much for the question. I appreciate it a lot.

The Council is very aware that poverty remains, and has been for quite some time, the number one challenge for access, both in terms of consumption of the arts, buying a book or going to see a show, as well as producing art.

One of the things we hear a lot about is the rising cost of materials, the rising cost and lack of studio space.

Just the ability to actually have your artistic practice be viable is a challenge. We’re absolutely aware that this is true.

In fact, the Canada Council, I would include pretty much every funding body in this country.

One of the realities that we have had to face over time is that our funding, the grants we give, have become part of the social safety net for artists in this country in a way that arts council funding was never intended to be.

It was never meant... It was meant to create. It was meant to foster creation. It was not meant to keep the lights on. But that is the reality that so many of the people that we serve face. We’re very well aware of that.

In terms of how we advocate for that, the Council does advocate to the government around issues.

For example, for several years, we advocated around a universal basic income as one solution that would benefit artists, but would then benefit the broader Canadian society.

We’ve advocated around changes to the tax code so that there’s less burden on people that work, temporary or work that isn’t necessarily employment in the way that the tax code might consider it.

There’s several avenues, and those advocacy points are those that exist beyond the purview of the Canada Council.

The Canada Council, via its mandate, via its budget, is unable to cure poverty, quite obviously.

But we can be a voice for the community when we meet with the government to express exactly what you’re expressing, to say this is what we are hearing, and we urge you to address that in policy solutions that you do have control over, that it exists beyond our purview, because we think there would be benefit to our communities, and that they would allow the Canada Council funding that the government does give us to actually achieve what it’s meant to do, which is to foster all of this creativity as opposed to, unfortunately, being necessary for people to live.

We do advocate for that.

We do absolutely recognize that poverty is a significant issue for access, not just in our sector, but for sectors across the board.

We will continue, certainly, I will in my time as Chair.

The government is a little bit sick of hearing this from me, but I will continue every time I meet with them to say that these are the things we actually need if you want a vibrant cultural sector in Canada.

Thank you very much for the question.

Chi miigwetch.

[Yves Nadon]


A question in French.

[Michelle Chawla]

Go ahead.

[Yves Nadon]

My name is Yves Nadon.

I’m the Director General of Éditions d’eux, a publisher for young audiences in Québec.

I hadn’t thought of asking questions, and I didn’t think there were that many people here.

I thought I’d have an opportunity to chat with you over a glass of wine, so I’m going to ask you a question now.

The foundational program for editors is not fair.

There’s a lack of transparency because of the significant gaps in the amount that is given to certain publishers and literary activities.

Is the Canada Council for the Arts ready to look at its practices and ensure better fairness?

[Lise Ann Johnson]

There are components in our programs... Our basic components.

We have basic components in many of our programs.

One of them is for publishers, and that is in the support for artistic practices.

Unfortunately, we have a set budget for that kind of support to publishers to ensure their operations.

Unfortunately, we have to work with that limited budget that we are given, and each request is assessed using the same criteria.

There are funds freed up with each new competition.

There’s always a possibility for this fixed budget to receive further funding, which will allow us to meet the needs of new requests or new submissions.

The criteria are established on the basis of the program.

The program has set objectives that are fairly specific, and the criteria are set out in advance and linked to the objectives of the program.

We’re always ready to listen and to make sure that the components and these objectives do reflect the real needs of the artistic sector.

I invite you to send me an email or to meet with me and so that we can have a chat so that I can understand what your observations are as to the unfair aspect of the process.

But I can assure you that there are always openings for the use of further funds.

[Michelle Chawla]

We are coming with a microphone.

[Penny McCann]

Hi. My name is Penny McCann.

I’m a local filmmaker, and I just want to pick up on something Jesse talked about, and that is the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and T4As for artists grants. It is a burden.

Not only is it... I mean, everything about the tax system is a burden, and it’s obviously a burden...

It remains a burden to artists, but the lack of response, the lack of ability of the CRA to change the coding on that T4A is harming artists.

I just went through a ridiculous year of back and forth because they don’t recognize the self-employed nature of artists.

I’m just saying this to put it on the public record.

I appreciate and I understand how difficult it is speaking to the CRA and making them change things.

I just urge you to keep at it because these are not student bursaries.

It remains a real burden for artists receiving grants.

[Michelle Chawla]

I 100% agree that it’s important for us to play that role, that public policy role.

I can assure you that we do, behind the scenes, continuously try and work with our federal counterparts, but especially in the areas that directly affect artists.

You make an excellent point, and we will continue to advocate for a better understanding of the artists and how artists work and what are their conditions and employment.

So thank you for raising that.

[Yves-Gérard Méhou-Loko]

Thank you very much, Michelle.

Thank you, Jesse.

Thank you, Lise Ann.

Thank you to all three of you.

And thank you for your questions.

[Michelle Chawla]

We have one last question.

Thank you.

[Patrice James]

Hi, how are you?

[Michelle Chawla]

Good. Thank you.

[Patrice James]

My name is Patrice James.

I’m a long-standing artist in the community here.

I’m a peer assessor with Canada Council for the Arts, a past Arts Administrator, so I’ve been in the community for a long time.

I have both a question wrapped with a comment as well.

In 2021, the Council for the Arts asked the community to assist with a major recruitment campaign to foster diversity, equity and inclusion.

My question is, sorry, I have to read off my phone.

[Michelle Chawla]

That’s good.

[Jesse Wente]

We’ve all been there.

[Patrice James]

I recently had to get readers. I just have one last question.

How is the Council actively addressing systemic barriers, biases and discrimination in hiring practices regarding creating a more inclusive and equitable environment that values skills and qualifications over language proficiency or other non-essential criteria?

It is essential when working with BIPOC communities to create opportunities for all individuals, regardless of their background, to thrive and contribute to diversity and vibrancy of the Canadian arts sector.

Are you going to work with some of the recommendations that you’ve gotten from organizations like the Racial Equity Media Collective to continue to address some of these inequities?

[Michelle Chawla]

The most direct answer to that is yes.

It’s extremely important for the Canada Council to ensure that in all of our hiring practices, that we have as much diversity, equity, inclusion in our staff complement, in our processes, in our policies.

We do a lot of internal work around systemic biases, around eliminating racism and discrimination in our work environment, but also in targeted recruitment.

We do look at how do we ensure that we have a very balanced and diverse workforce and always make extra steps to ensure that diversity inclusion is in all parts of our organization at all levels as well.

In senior levels, in officers, in every single part of this organization.

I really appreciate that question.

Thank you for that.

I think we’re wrapping up.

[Yves-Gérard Méhou-Loko]

Yes, thank you, Michelle.

Thank you for your questions.

This unfortunately concludes our Annual Public Meeting.

Thank you to all of you who joined us in person today, as well as online, wherever you joined us from.

Thank you to all of my colleagues who made the organization of this event possible and who daily also express their passion for the Canada Council for the Arts’ mandate.

Thank you.