Funding the Arts in a Digital Age:
A Canadian Approach
Speech by Simon Brault
Hong Kong International Arts Leadership Round Table
November 29, 2017
It’s a pleasure to be here with you – and to be part of this prestigious panel.
I was last here in February 2016 – and it was deeply inspiring and rewarding to meet and speak with fellow arts funders from this region. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to be back to continue our conversation.
The image shown here, was featured on the Canada Council’s annual report for 2016-17. It’s a still from a film made by Kyoka Tskamoto [SAK-ah-MO-to] that describes her personal journey to reconnect with her sister in Japan. It speaks to the deep cultural connections that Canadian artists have with people throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
There’s a great appetite for exchange between our countries. We share the same challenges and hopes for the future of the arts in our increasingly global world.
That’s why the Canada Council for the Arts has made it a priority to do more to support projects and initiatives that build collaboration between the artists and arts organizations of Canada and the Asia Pacific Region.
When I was here last year I mentioned a few exciting initiatives that the Council supported, including the presence of Canadian authors at the Bookworm International Literary Festival in Beijing.
We’ve just recently entered into an exciting new partnership with Korea Arts Management Services for the Korea-Canada Exchange Program.
Not to mention a host of high-profile tours of the region that the Council supported in the past year. I’ll show you more examples of this work throughout my presentation.
The Canada Council’s commitment to strengthen opportunities for exchange and reciprocity in this region is part of a broader commitment to boost the presence of Canadian art in key markets around the world.
We’re backing this commitment by doubling our investment in international travel, exchange, co-productions, collaborations and partnerships to 2021.
And it goes without saying that in this ultra-connected digital age, it would be impossible to extend our global reach without addressing the very real issue of technology. Which, of course, is the question we’re tackling today.
And it’s why we’ve made digital one of our other key commitments. Last spring we organized a summit to bring together leaders in the arts world and the digital world to accelerate and build momentum for a conversation that we want to foster through a special digital fund.
Through this fund we will invest $88.5 million over 4 years to encourage artists and arts organizations to collaborate with digital experts. Not specifically to create digital art, but to come up with strategies on how to adapt to the digital reality. From whatever their starting point may be.
We just received the first round of applications. It’s too soon to share the results. But I can say that we received some 350 proposals from artists and organizations from across the country, in all fields of practice.
And why is it so important that the artists engage with and master digital?
Of course, at one level it’s about the sustainability of the sector.
But I would say that it goes beyond this. It’s about the sustainability of a society with humanity at its core.
Digital technology allows for radical innovation and provokes disruption. As writer-philosopher Éric Sadin notes, “Disruption is less an intention and more a consequence.”
Disruptive innovation leads to new, radically different markets that bring customers greater benefits at lower cost.
We tend to think that disruptive innovation is the result of new technology. But in fact it’s often based on existing and proven technologies.
Just look at Netflix. It has had huge consequences in Canada – both on the film and TV industry and on the viewing habits of Canadians.
But Netflix is essentially just a new way of offering content already created by others. And it will eventually, inevitably, be replaced by another disruptive innovation.
It’s obvious that the arts sector has an enormous and limitless capacity for creation. But we must not confuse creation with innovation. Our sector needs both right now.
The arts must now expand its capacity and its will to innovate.
It has to bring its deep and rich sources of imagination and creativity to radically change the experience of citizens. To offer them greater benefits.
To do this, our sector has to step out our of our comfort zone. We have to strengthen what defines us. We have to better assert ourselves. Communicate the value of our work.
And above all, do a better job of engaging the public with our work.
Because the stakes are high. It’s not just about the sustainability of the arts sector.
It’s about developing a progressive, humanistic and ethical way of thinking digitally.
The Italian poet Cesare Pavase once wrote that “art is proof that life is not enough.” But I’m convinced that as time goes on, and as technology increasingly controls our lives – to the point of alienating us from it – art will prove that technology is not enough.
Digital technologies reach deep into our most inner identities – with reverberations felt around the world. It is certainly the case with social media for instance.
Whether our digital era troubles, fascinates, disturbs, excludes, rallies, inspires, impoverishes, disappoints or galvanizes us, it affects us all. In all sectors of society, all aspects of human life, and all nations.
In our new globalized civilization, digital offers a window of opportunity to strengthen the relationship between artists and society.
It can advance the role and importance of the arts to cross-cultural dialogue, inclusive and sustainable development and, ultimately, equality and democracy.
If there’s one word to describe working in the digital age, it is iterative.
We are asking the artists and organizations that we fund to be comfortable with an iterative approach. To be ready to advance, take risk, adjust as needed and continue to improve and innovate as they go.
And we as arts leaders, arts funders, must do the same.
More than ever we must be agile, open to collaboration and exchange, and ready to adjust our course and seize opportunities as they arise.
I look forward to our conversation today and to finding ways that we can move forward together.
I’m happy to discuss the Council’s approach with you all – and also want to learn from your experiences.
So that we can, together, find common ways to support the arts to truly fulfill their role. A role in humanizing our digital, global world. And ultimately, in shaping a better future for us all.