Carolyn Warren’s Speech at the 2021 Annual Public Meeting

January 26, 2021

At the Canada Council, I oversee granting programs and strategic initiatives that foster the creation, distribution, and promotion of the arts in Canada and internationally.

As you likely know, we’ve refocused our work this year as COVID-19 has placed—and continues to place—significant new pressures on the arts:

  • many cultural venues have had to limit public access or close;
  • national and international arts events have been cancelled or postponed their 2020 programming;
  • and artists have lost valuable opportunities to work and connect with audiences.

All of this has had significant repercussions on the ongoing operation of organizations and the livelihoods of many artists and arts workers.

Through this very difficult period, I’ve been inspired by the many ways those in the arts are adapting in order to continue creating and sharing work—developing outdoor arts experiences, looking for safe ways to create and rehearse, and, of course, pivoting to digital platforms to reach audiences.

I’ve also heard of artists and arts workers meeting regularly online to discuss shared struggles and offer encouragement during a time of great isolation. Connecting with one another throughout the crisis has been critical and given rise to new reflections on the future.

The Canada Council’s response to COVID-19

At the Council, we’ve remained in close touch with many of you to adapt our support and respond to the pressing needs of this time.

Since March, we’ve delivered several support initiatives, including:

  • $55M in emergency funding to organizations;
  • and an additional $7.8M to organizations specifically from Indigenous, culturally diverse, Deaf and disability, and official language minority communities.

We also launched Digital Originals, a program that offered micro innovation grants to artists, arts groups, and organizations to pivot their work for online sharing. Many grants went to individual artists never before funded by the Council and from a diversity of backgrounds. This initiative was a partnership with CBC/Radio-Canada, which is showcasing selected projects online—I invite you to see them at  

We also adapted our international work in Germany and at festivals in Edinburgh to ensure that the arts from Canada remain connected to the wider world—broadening and deepening our engagement with the global community at the same time as we see artists and arts organizations focussing more closely on their local communities and audiences.

Digital platforms have been a big part of this adaptation internationally and new transnational collaborations are being formed in the arts as in all sectors, including science, of course, where we’ve seen the critical importance of international collaboration on the search for a vaccine during the pandemic.

Turning to the future

With the arrival of vaccines, we see light at the end of the tunnel—and an opportunity to renew and rebuild the arts sector, to make sure that the many ways art is made, shared, and experienced in Canada are innovative, equitable, increasingly at the heart of our society, and, ultimately, more sustainable.

The Canada Council for the Arts is committed to doing everything we can to make this vision for a renewed arts sector a reality.

I turn now to Simon Brault, Director and CEO of the Canada Council, who will set the stage for our next strategic plan, which will guide our work in the arts as we emerge from this moment and confront new realities here at home and around the world.

To all of you—artists, arts workers, and arts lovers—thank you for your ongoing courage, resilience, creativity, and commitment to bringing the arts to life.