International Society for the Performing Arts Congress May 26th, 2017

Identities / Funding Models

May 26, 2017

It’s a pleasure to be here with such talented performers and presenters from around the world. And it’s an honour to share this panel with fellow arts leaders like you, Jane and Henriëtte.

Philosopher Achille Mbembe famously said: “identity is not essential; we are all just passers-by.”

Yet, as we pass through our 21st century society – global yet tribal, digitally-connected yet divided – we take on many layers of identity.

Indeed the subject of identity remains front and centre in the artistic discourse in Canada. A country that is one of the world’s most diverse and digital societies. A country that many are calling post-national.

One of our literary icons, Mavis Gallant, famously defined a Canadian as: “someone with a logical reason to think he is one.” Through some would interpret as a lack of identity, I see it instead as a conscious choice of one’s community.

This conscious choice is, of course, shaped by our individual and collective stories, past and present. Our stories as citizens of one of the world’s most digital and diverse countries. Our stories as citizens of a country still tied to a colonial past… still coming to terms with a history of cultural genocide against the Indigenous Peoples of the land.

And as a public arts funder, the Canada Council for the Arts is also conscious of these stories shaping the identities of Canadians. We have a responsibility to ensure that our funding encourages the free expression of identity through the arts for all citizens. We have a duty to ensure we are fully leveraging the potential of the arts to drive progress in our society, to build a promising future.

Because funding the arts has never been a simple matter of allocating grants. Our funding models are the expression of our values and the core of our policies. They are the levers of change within an organization. And, ultimately with society.

In the past few months alone, I’ve witnessed first-hand the public impact of our funding. For example, our Welcome to the Arts initiative gave Syrian Refugees opportunities to experience work by some of Canada’s finest arts organizations. Our {Re}conciliation initiative is supporting projects that encourage reconciliation and conciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

I recently read an article by Agnes Quackels that called on arts institutions to reflect and drive change. The author wrote: “Can we have art institutions (and here I’m quoting the artists Sarah Vanhee) that practice alternative politics instead of presenting programs about alternative politics.” [end quote]

For me, this article calls on arts organizations to walk their talk. To be leaders in change.

This is the impetus behind a large-scale transformation currently underway at the Canada Council. A movement to make our programs more inclusive and empowering. At the core of this transformation is a new funding model that is more open and accessible.

We broke down the silos of 140 programs isolated by disciplines – disciplines rooted in a Western European vision of artistic practice.

We removed barriers to access, and we made it a criteria for the organizations we fund to better reflect and engage with their community.

And we’ve backed these measures with specific commitments to Indigenous arts, Deaf and Disability arts, culturally-diverse and young artists.

We have a responsibility to ensure that our funding encourages the free expression of identity through the arts for all citizens.

Simon Brault, CEO and Director, Canada Council for the Arts

We take these commitments very seriously. We’re developing measures to track our progress and to make sure that at the end of the five years we’ve moved the needle forward and truly made a difference.

Being a relevant organization means being responsive to the preoccupations of our society in the here and now. Context is everything. And being flexible in funding the arts in Canada in 2017 means we cannot insist on a one-size-fits all approach. Especially when it comes to funding Indigenous arts.

This year, Canada marks 150 years of Confederation. And just last year, the Truth and Reconciliation Committee released its findings on the tragic legacy of residential schools on First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. Our country is confronting difficult truths about the effects of colonization on Indigenous Peoples and grappling with how to advance a process of reconciliation for a better future.

One of the heartbreaking truths that has affected me personally since I learned that I would have the responsibility of being the CEO of the Canada Council, is the deliberate attempts throughout our country’s history to eradicate the cultures and languages of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

The Council has a responsibility to be part of the movement to support a cultural renaissance in the nations that survived this period and are reclaiming their full self-determination. This means that that we cannot support Indigenous artistic practice just as we are supporting any other practice. We need to pay attention to cultural survival and transmission.

That’s why we transformed our approach to funding Indigenous arts to support First Nations, Inuit and Métis artists on their own terms to fully carry out their attempts to support to define identities, to speak cultural truths, to foster resilience, and to build nationhood.

In practical terms this means:

  • Creating a program designed specifically to respond to Indigenous artists and arts oganizations
  • Tripling our funding to Indigenous arts over the next five years.
  • Ensuring people of Indigenous descent are managing, administering, adjudicating and evaluating grants – in our organization, in our assessment committees.

In essence we’re addressing our funding of Indigenous arts as an issue of nationhood. An issue that is fundamentally tied to identity.

Obviously the situation of Canada and the Canada Council differs from the other panelists here with me. And I look forward to the conversation on how to best support artists to continue to explore the prickly yet fundamental question of who we are in the world.

Ultimately, I believe the common thread is that our funding models – and at the core, our institutions – must strive to be flexible, adaptable, inclusive, and always relevant in this endlessly fascinating, ever fluid environment of the arts and identity in the 21st century.

Portrait - Simon Brault 2014
Simon Brault, O.C, O.Q.

Director and CEO

Simon Brault is the Director and CEO of the Canada Council for the Arts. Author of No Culture, No Future, a collection of essays on the rise of arts and culture on public agendas, he has participated actively in initiatives such as the Agenda 21C de la culture au Québec. An initiator of Journées de la culture, he was also a founding member and chair of Culture Montréal from 2002 to 2014. In 2015, he received the Quebec CPA Order’s prestigious Outstanding Achievement Award for bringing together “two worlds that were once disparate – the arts and business – an alliance that significantly benefits society at large.” Follow Simon Brault on Twitter: @simon_brault

Tagged As Funding Speeches