Canada House

Towards a new strategic plan

January 21, 2020

Towards a new strategic plan

January 21, 2020

Simon Brault’s Speech
Annual Public Meeting, January 21, 2020

I want to start by once again thanking everyone here and online for attending our annual public meeting. Michelle gave you an overview of our recent progress. I would like to present the work we are undertaking to develop our next strategic plan, which will begin in 2021.

In 2021, our budget will reach $360 million, double what it was in 2015.

Our indicators tell us that, by 2021, we will have met all of our strategic plan commitments and delivered the related investments. Does that mean we will simply move into a new status quo? The answer is no, and it will always be no. And that’s because an organization like the Council must always consider the relevance and impact of its actions, and adapt to the changes in its environment. However, planning does not mean predicting everything, especially when it comes to artistic creation.

Art expresses, illustrates, criticizes, interrogates, transposes, and sometimes even transcends the realities, issues, and hopes of society by offering unexpected perspectives. Art is an essential condition for democracy to be sustained and to reinvent itself. Art is a source of re-enchantment in a world where, unfortunately, fear, threats, and disillusionment are taking up more and more space.

With our next strategic plan, we will reaffirm the relevance of public funding for the arts in Canada—both in the current context and the one we foresee for the next five years. Based on strong measurement and a supporting rationale, we want to strengthen our recent achievements and build on promising commitments for the future.  We will soon launch an engagement exercise with as many stakeholders as possible, both within and outside of the Council, online and in person.

Once again, we want a unifying, inspiring, and innovative plan; a plan that will allow the arts to contribute even more to a humane, just, and sustainable society; a plan that gives everyone access to the arts and their power to inspire and emancipate; a plan that allows us to collaborate with various partners in all sectors in order to maximize the presence and reach of the arts in our lives, in our communities, and at the heart of our international activities.

The Continuity of our commitments

Of course, with the planning process we are launching, we are not turning the dial back to zero. We have made real and tangible advances over the last four years, and it is our responsibility to honour our most transformative commitments over time so they can produce optimal results.

In light of this, we will:

  • Continue to support the journey towards truth and reconciliation with Indigenous communities through artistic creation.
    • This means we must accelerate our reflection on the decolonization of our approaches and systems and take swift action.
  • Continue on the path of inclusion by being even more open to new practices and by drawing in communities that have been kept at a distance from the Council for too long.
    • We will continue to work towards inclusion, consolidating and expanding our understanding of equity in relation to all of our communities, including Deaf and disability arts, culturally diverse, and official language minority communities, and we will look at issues of gender and sexuality, as well as career stage.
  • Continue to consider the creation and sharing of art as it is questioned and defined by digital technologies.
    • As Michelle mentioned, the strategic fund we created four years ago has reached many artists and organizations across Canada and met various needs. It has led to hundreds of innovative partnerships and established the basis for new approaches that will need to be further tested, consolidated, and amplified. The fund must be even more open to experimentation with digital tools and to work models for artistic creation and dissemination, distribution and engagement with large audiences. Carolyn Warren, the director general of the Arts Granting Programs Division, is already planning in-depth conversations with the community about the future of our investments in the digital shift and on the development of new models of cooperation and joint investment with the private sector and leading cultural industry organizations.
  • Further support the reach of Canada’s artistic and literary presence on the international stage and contribute to the redefinition of Canada’s cultural diplomacy.
    • Again, as mentioned by Michelle, the coming year will be marked by the strong presence of artists from Canada in both Germany and Abidjan. Another initiative I’m particularly excited about after my trip to the North: we will soon begin preparations for the Arctic Arts Summit. And, of course, on the international front we’ll have many opportunities to test other intervention models through our regular programs, special investments by the Government of Canada, and a coordinated approach to cultural diplomacy.

Simply put, we are not merely finishing one strategic plan in order to start another. We are committed to the long term, taking into account the challenges and opportunities that emerge out of the context in which artists work.

The North

We’ve said it many times: when the Council develops policies, programs or initiatives, we try to take into account the various realities that exist across Canada. Of course, it is only once we step outside our offices and engage with the public and our partners that we get a true sense of the challenges and possibilities on the ground. My trip to the North in August 2019 allowed me to imagine new ways to engage in a dialogue about strategic planning. During the trip, I met artists, cultural workers, members of the public, representatives from community associations, and elected officials and civil servants in the territorial governments—all from many different backgrounds: First Nations, Inuit, Métis, new Canadians, non-Indigenous people, members of diverse cultural communities, and linguistic minorities, both young and old.

I noticed once again how great the cultural, economic, linguistic, geographic, and political differences are between the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut—and even between communities within the same territory. The North is not a homogenous entity. Realities, issues, and needs differ greatly from one community to the next, and local partnerships will be a necessary part of our response. We must not confine our understanding to geographical borders; rather, we must be open and sensitive to complexity.

I’m using the North as an example here, but, of course, Canada has many diverse communities of artists.  I, as well as my colleagues who travel the country, had the opportunity to engage in discussions with many artists and cultural workers in Toronto and Vancouver this past year. And I will be undertaking a similar exercise soon in various parts of Atlantic Canada. The Council’s knowledge, combined with that of our partners in the field and the crucial Canada-wide engagement exercise we are undertaking for our next strategic plan, will help us create an inclusive and forward-looking approach.  

In short, we would like to reflect on the ways in which we can adapt our work for greater efficacy. We cannot do this work alone, behind closed doors—we are ready to listen and to create a strategic plan that takes into account the present realities of this vast territory that is Canada.

Launch of a commitments exercise for the strategic plan

Today, we are launching the process to develop our next strategic plan, and I invite you to follow us on social media and to visit our website where we will post more information in the coming weeks.

The Council is committed to listening to voices that have been underrepresented in discussions on the funding and sharing of the arts in Canada. Any attempt to project ourselves into the future propelled only by the voices we have already heard would be both dangerous and against the democratic nature of this exercise. We need to hear from all groups seeking equity and recognition—and, in particular, Indigenous peoples and youth. Since the Occupy movement, young people have been making their voices heard, and sharing their views on issues through strong social movements.

We are also keeping an ear to the ground for constructive criticism of the Council. We will carefully consider suggestions to improve the performance and impact of our initiatives and programs, as well as the whole of our operations.

We are committed to maximizing the relevance and impact of the arts in society, and to securing the presence of the arts at the major decision-making tables where the future is discussed. Our plan must not only take into account issues that matter to Canadian citizens, but also set tangible goals for addressing them. The arts are a symbolic force that enables us to tackle current challenges, and we will make sure we support the social role they can play in our diverse communities. We are only at the beginning of our process for exploring the themes to be addressed in our next strategic plan, and we want to hear from you about the issues where the arts can make a difference.

The issues are sometimes complex—there are moral, political, ethical, and cultural approaches to how we can respond. Take, for example, the issue of climate change: it touches on environmental, technical, and physical considerations—but it goes beyond these. Climate change raises questions about social inequality, and fundamental and collective rights, and, ultimately, a question of climate justice. Evidently, the people and communities who are the least to blame for global warming are suffering its worst consequences. That is why the Council will consider an authentic Indigenous perspective as well as an international and inclusive point of view when it thinks about a potential response to climate change.

At stake is the very real ability of the arts and culture to transform rampant fear, isolation, and anxiety in the face of climate irregularities into individual and collective hope. Also at stake are the creativity and united efforts of the cultural sector’s leadership, who are thinking about how their sector can evolve.

For example, large international festivals—and local ones, as well—are adopting charters and concrete measures to reduce their carbon footprint in response to growing demand from festival-goers and artists who make them a requirement for their participation.

Conclusion and launch of the question period

I said at the outset that I expect a lot of questions about our next strategic plan. Of course, we don’t have all the answers, because we’ve not yet begun discussions with our various stakeholders; but I can undoubtedly speak to the process we are considering, the major milestones we are setting for ourselves, and the general vision guiding the exercise.

Lastly, I would like to thank all those who contribute to and enhance this great discussion on the arts and our shared future.

Thank you.

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