Simon Brault, Annual Public Meeting 2019

The Canada Council’s Journey

January 15, 2019

Annual Public Meeting Speech, Simon Brault
January 15, 2019

The Canada Council is at the midpoint of a transformative journey. Our journey began in 2016. That was the first year of our five-year strategic plan, Shaping a New Future. Our destination is an arts sector that is more strongly connected to the lives of Canadians; in other words, an arts sector that can contribute significantly to the creation of a shared future for the many peoples in this country in all their diversities.

The arts hold the inherent power to bring people together. By the end of our current strategic plan in 2021, the Council will emerge from its transformation and strategic repositioning better equipped to amplify the presence of this awesome power here in Canada and around the world. The Council will also be better equipped to evolve along with the needs of the wider public and the realities of our ever-changing world.

As Pierre mentioned, in the 2016-17 year the Council also received the first increase to its budget. As you may recall, this was part of the Government of Canada’s major reinvestment in the arts and culture. By 2021, our budget will have doubled to $360 million.

Now, in the 2018-19 year, we are at the midpoint of both our strategic plan and the incremental doubling of our budget. We have also now completed the first full year of grant delivery through our new funding model programs.

Even at this early stage, we’re starting to see the impact of the Council’s transformation.

One of our programs, Creating, Knowing, and Sharing: The Arts and Cultures of First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples, comes to mind.

I’d like to emphasize that all of us have something very important to learn from the artists supported through this program. That’s because Indigenous cultures have never separated the arts from ideas of healing, human existence, or daily life. In a similar vein, at the heart of the Council’s transformation is a re-visioning of the arts as more deeply interconnected with all aspects of our lives.

In the first year of the Creating, Knowing and Sharing program, the Council reached 209 artists, groups and arts organizations with $9.4M in grants—of which 40% received a grant from the Canada Council for the first time.

Further to this, there have been significant increases to all Indigenous organizations receiving operating funds.

This has meant greater visibility of Indigenous artists here in Canada and internationally, and we’re looking forward to seeing that visibility grow even more in 2019, UNESCO’s International Year of Indigenous Languages.

Our support to Indigenous creation is part of four major commitments we made in 2016. We fulfill these commitments through the strategic investment of our increased budget to have a real impact on the arts sector. I’d now like to give you an update on those commitments.

Making Progress on Our Commitments

Support to Indigenous Creation

In 2016, we made the commitment to triple the Council’s support to Indigenous creation.

To date, our investment in support of Indigenous artists and organizations has more than doubled. And we’re on track to reach our goal of tripling that investment by 2021.

In 2018, we also doubled our support to Canada’s presence at the Venice Architecture Biennale. This was the first ever Indigenous-led entry to be presented by Canada at the Biennale. The exhibition, UNCEDED: Voices of the Land, was presented by internationally-renowned architect Douglas Cardinal and curators Gerald McMaster and David Fortin.

First-time Recipients

One of the most transformative commitments we made was to ensure 25% of our new funds would go to first time recipients by 2021. This is a commitment to more strongly support the Council’s equity-seeking groups, and ensure the arts sector reflects the evolving diversity of the country. It’s also a commitment to reach the next generation of artists and arts organizations—to ensure a renewal of the arts sector.

So far, we are on track with this commitment.

Last year, our program officers went on the road to reach new grant recipients. They travelled across the country to help artists and arts organizations discover our new funding model programs and better understand the support available to them. In 2018, we held over 35 cross-country outreach sessions in almost every province and territory. We also held information sessions with many of the Council’s equity-seeking groups, including culturally diverse and Deaf and disability arts communities, youth and artists from official language minority communities.

We’ll continue to travel across the country in 2019.

This is about more than just a commitment—it is at the core of what we do. We want to reach all Canadians, to ensure they have access to our support as artists and arts workers, and that they have access to a diversity of artistic expressions as audiences. I encourage you to follow us on social media to see when we may be visiting your community, or a community near you.

Raising the International Profile

In supporting the arts across Canada, we are also thinking about how we support the arts around the world.

Three elements underpin the Council’s international strategy: our grant programs and other funding initiatives; our international framework; and new organizational functions to support international partnerships and coordination.

To raise the international profile of Canadian artists and arts organizations, we committed to doubling our support to international activities by 2021.

I’m happy to report that—at the midpoint of our journey—we’ve already reached that goal. This signals a strong appetite around the world for arts from this country, as well as a strong degree of commitment from artists and arts organizations from Canada to share their work globally.

The Council will continue to support the presence of our artist and arts organizations in the world through its grants in the coming years—in particular through the Arts Abroad program.

Beyond our granting programs, the Council also undertook several initiatives in 2018 to strengthen Canada’s arts leadership on the international stage.

In May 2018, the Canada Council hosted the first ever Americas Cultural Summit here in Ottawa. The event brought together renowned artists, eminent thinkers and leaders in public arts and culture funding from across the Americas to discuss their role and impact on furthering cultural citizenship. Let’s take a look at a video recording in which Argentina’s Minister of Culture, Pablo Avelluto, highlights some of the ideas discussed at the Summit.

(Summit video plays.)

At the Summit, participants identified common issues and advanced a Call to Action in which they endorsed shared priorities—such as the need for greater diversity in the cultural sector, a vision for greater digital inclusion and support of Indigenous rights.

In an era of strengthened borders, this collective statement signals the unique position of the arts above-and-beyond our respective borders: we’re ready to work together to have a real impact in the world.

You can read the full Call to Action in the final report from the Summit, posted on our website.

It’s worth noting the conversations that took root at the Summit continue to grow beyond this event.

This past fall, I participated in several international forums where I shared many of the ideas central to the Call to Action, and promoted the important role of cultural diplomacy in our increasingly divisive world.

These conversations, as well as those from the Summit, were deeply connected to the creation of new opportunities for Canadian artists and arts organizations to share their work around the world.

The Canada Council signed an agreement with the Secretariat of Culture of the United Mexican States to work collaboratively and increase artistic exchange and circulation between Canada and Mexico.

In 2019, we’ll see one of the first major initiatives under our partnership with Mexico come to life. The International Cervantino Festival—one of the most important cultural festivals in the world—has extended an invitation to the Council for Canada to be the Guest Country at its festival this October. The theme for the 2019 festival is Migrations. We are supporting the Festival’s leadership as they select their programming. In particular, close attention will be paid to emerging companies, and works that are inclusive of Canada’s cultural and regional diversity, its two official languages as well as Indigenous voices.

Throughout 2019, the Council will continue its work towards supporting Canada’s presence as the Guest of Honour at the 2020 Frankfurt Book Fair—one of the largest book fairs in the world. Frankfurt will also be a year-long showcase of performing and visual arts programming from Canada. We’ve partnered with the Department of Canadian Heritage to create Frankfurt 2020, a new funding initiative that supports the translation of Canadian literary and non-literary works into German.

The Arts and the Digital World

We know that digital technologies are also a key element in extending the reach of the arts—internationally, as well as across our vast country. 

That’s why we made a commitment to deliver $88.5 million in grants through our Digital Strategy Fund between 2017 and 2021.

We launched the Fund in the 2017-18 year, and distributed a total of $6 million through 45 grants to support the arts community in its digital transition. 

In the process, we developed a more profound understanding of the current realities and needs of the arts in Canada and of the Canadian public.

With this in mind, we now need to evolve the Digital Strategy Fund to maximize its impact.

On December 17, 2018, we made a new funding opportunity available through the Digital Strategy Fund. Organizations received core funding from the Council in 2017-18 can now apply to receive funding that will help them scale-up their engagement with the digital environment.

In particular, core recipients can apply to hire a consultant or expert to help them undertake one of three activities:

  • Conduct a digital maturity assessment and get a better sense of their current state;
  • Complete a digital needs assessment to better understand what they need to do next; or,
  • Develop a digital strategic plan to guide them towards their destination.

The deadline for this opportunity is February 4, 2019. It will be the first in a an expanded suite of offerings we have planned for the Digital Strategy Fund in the coming year.  

I’m quite excited about the changes we’ll be making to the Digital Strategy Fund. I’m confident they will strengthen the arts sector—and situate Canada as a world leader in the digital era.


As with all great journeys, when we set out to transform the Canada Council we knew we’d need to calibrate our trajectory.

We’re proud of the impact we’ve already had—and we remain dedicated to the commitments we put forth in 2016. At the same time, we’re also prepared to make the necessary changes—as with the Digital Strategy Fund—to ensure we can fulfill those commitments, and optimize our contribution to the arts sector.

We understand our investments to have an impact on the lives of Canadians in many different ways. That’s because an investment in the arts is truly an investment in humanity. The arts have the incredible capacity to bring diverse peoples together, to foster communication among them, and to encourage their collective exploration of ideas. In the words of the Franco-Manitoban writer Gabrielle Roy: “Nous connaîtrions-nous seulement un peu nous-mêmes, sans les arts?” [“Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?”]

We are ultimately committed to bringing people together in celebration of our shared humanity—across Canada and, indeed, around the world.

We’re thrilled to see how our commitments have contributed to this goal in 2018—and we look forward to ongoing success in 2019.

Thank you.

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

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