Michelle Chawla’s Speech at the 2021 Annual Public Meeting

January 26, 2021

Welcome. Bonjour. Kwey-Kwey.

My name is Michelle Chawla. I’m the Director General of Strategy, Public Affairs and Arts Engagement at the Canada Council for the Arts.

I am delighted to welcome you to our 2021 Annual Public Meeting.

We were thrilled to hear from many of you that you would be joining us for this event. We feel fortunate to have such a dynamic online audience—people from across Canada and around the world: ambassadors, leaders from international arts and culture agencies, artists and arts workers representing a breadth of practices and from a diversity of communities, and passionate citizens who, like us, believe strongly in the important role of the arts in society.

Land acknowledgement

I would like to begin by acknowledging that our offices are located on the unceded territory of the Anishinaabe Algonquin Nation, whose presence here reaches back to time immemorial.

The Council recognizes the Algonquins as the customary keepers and defenders of the Ottawa River Watershed and its tributaries. We honour their long history of welcoming many nations to this beautiful territory and the Council is committed to upholding and uplifting the voice and values of our host nation.

Further, the Council respects and affirms the inherent and Treaty Rights of all Indigenous Peoples across this land. The Council has honoured and will continue to honour the commitments to self-determination and sovereignty that we have made to Indigenous Nations and Peoples.

The Council acknowledges the historical oppression of lands, cultures and the original Peoples in what we now know as Canada and fervently believes that the arts contribute to the healing and decolonizing journey we all share.

This land acknowledgement was developed by members of the Algonquin community and I thank them for their generosity and collaboration.

Throughout today’s meeting you will see images on your screen to accompany our speakers. Images shown during the land acknowledgement were of a canoe that was handcrafted by Algonquin elder Daniel Smith. The canoe is an enduring symbol of Indigenous presence, cultural continuity, and our shared future on this land.

This canoe is in the Âjagemô space at the Canada Council’s offices.

The format of the 2021 Annual Public Meeting

This year, the Annual Public Meeting is quite unique. For the first time, because of the pandemic, it is online only. I assure you that the logistics of the meeting comply with the guidelines provided by public health authorities.

In these difficult times, our thoughts are with the artists, organizations and their staff, and all their families, who have been impacted by the pandemic. Rest assured that the Council has done everything within its power to minimize the impact of COVID-19 from the outset of the pandemic.

Today, we have the pleasure of hearing speeches from several Council representatives.

I will be speaking first, giving you an overview of the progress that’s been made on our current strategic plan and the work we’ve been doing to develop the next plan.

After that, you will hear from our Chair Jesse Wente; the Director General of the Arts Granting Programs Division, Carolyn Warren; and the Director and CEO, Simon Brault.

A question period will follow. Please note that we will be replying to questions sent in by email. As it will not be possible to respond to all the questions received at this meeting, you can always contact us afterwards by email at feedback@canadacouncil.ca.  

You will be able to listen to the speeches from this meeting again, in both official languages, on our site towards the end of February.

I’d like to thank the live simultaneous translation team, as well as the sign language interpreters for this meeting.

All right, we have a full docket, so let’s get started!

An update on the Council’s commitments 

At the outset of our 2016‒21 strategic plan, the Council set ambitious goals. And I’m proud to say that our commitments—totalling 487 million dollars for the arts sector—are being realized.

Let’s look at how we have reached our goals. I’d like to remind you that the following achievements reflect our activities from the 2019-20 year—that is, before the current crises with the pandemic. With respect to our commitment to increase support to the arts—specifically, investing 25% of the total budget of new funds in new recipients—we not only hit, but exceeded our target. We also achieved our commitment to balance funding between project grants and core funding.

I am happy to report that we also realized our commitment to triple our investment in Indigenous creation.

What’s more, we exceeded our commitment to support international projects, and we’re on our way to achieving our commitment to invest 88.5 million dollars in digital. Of course, because of the pandemic, the upcoming results for international projects are going to vary.

From the beginning of the pandemic, the Council set up various initiatives to support the arts sector through this moment. Carolyn Warren will expand on these initiatives and digital engagements in a few moments.

You can visit the Council’s Commitments page on our website for more information, where you can also read several related stories on projects by artists, groups, and organizations that have been funded by the Council. The stories speak volumes about the scope and impact of our investments. And, of course, our 2019‒20 Annual Report is also available on our website for more information.

We began working on our next strategic plan several months ago, discussing our areas of focus and the direction we want to move.

To ensure that the plan is a cornerstone for the future of the sector and that it is grounded in our reality, the Council launched a comprehensive survey and organized discussion sessions with various communities, including with Indigenous communities across Canada and, of course, with the Council’s staff.

Our Director and CEO will speak broadly to our next strategic plan, the context informing its development, and how the first years of the plan will centre on transition and reconstruction.

Introducing the Council’s new chair, Jesse Wente 

I would now like to introduce the Chair of the Council’s Board. Jesse Wente became Chair in July 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic. Because he has sat on the Board since 2017, Jesse has been able to bring both a new vision and a sense of continuity in his role as Chair.

Jesse is a writer, communicator, speaker, arts leader, and staunch defender of Indigenous rights and First Nations arts. A member of the Anishinaabe nation, Jesse became the Council’s first Indigenous Chair.

I will now turn it over to Jesse Wente.