Simon Brault’s Speech at the 2021 Annual Public Meeting

January 26, 2021

The current situation at a glance

As mentioned by Michelle, Carolyn, and Jesse, the current situation demands that we examine the inner workings of those systems whose limitations have come to light in the pandemic. This will enable us to lay more fair, equitable, inclusive, and sustainable foundations for the arts sector.

Of course, to accomplish this, we will have to reconcile determination and reality. The great precariousness of the arts sector today is glaring. For over 10 months, the sector has suffered the harsh economic and psychological consequences of health measures that have objectively slowed its growth.

And so, the Council must both continue to support artists and organizations in urgent need and be prepared to support them in their transition to a post-pandemic world. And that world must not carry over the inequities and flaws that increasingly hampered its development, outreach, and recognition.

An overview of the discussions for the Council’s next strategic plan

Last summer, we began surveying the arts sector and organized several opportunities for dialogue ahead of our next strategic plan. I even had the privilege of attending several of these sessions.

I heard attendees express their growing concerns for the future. I took note of a strong desire for increased, predictable, diverse, and sustainable funding. But I was especially struck by the fact that conversations very quickly turned to the leadership role expected of the Council. Artists and directors of organizations from across the country, various fields of artistic practice, and backgrounds insisted on the growing importance of the Council’s role beyond that of simply a funder.

Many hoped that the Council might make a difference in public policy and government investments to further various aspects of our social development. Among other things, people mentioned:

  • closing the digital divide for creators and audiences;
  • improving the social safety net for artists and cultural workers;
  • promoting the increased and sustained presence of arts and literature in schools; and
  • ensuring that arts and culture are taken into consideration in developing Canada’s economic strategies, international trade, public diplomacy and environmental strategies, to name but a few.

We recently published a report that summarizes the discussions, your answers to the survey on our strategic orientations, and the suggestions we received, which we encourage you to read.

The main strategic areas for the Council

I think we can all agree that the so-called “normalcy” that preceded the pandemic is not—and should not be—our next destination.

On the one hand, several approaches developed hastily in 2020, namely in terms of digital dissemination, are here to stay. On the other hand, certain structural problems that were already jeopardizing the viability and reach of the sector will have to be gradually resolved. To that end, we must:

  • rely on renewal, reconstruction, and innovation;
  • seek to advance diversity, inclusivity, and our social responsibilities, namely on the social and climate justice fronts, both within and outside of our sector; and
  • increase and encourage collaborations and partnerships with other sectors.

I believe this is the surest way to give arts and culture a more prominent place in the conversations that are shaping the future of our society.

We will not recommend ready-made solutions; rather, we foresee various forms of investment and support to generate innovative solutions and models.

Innovation will be at the heart of the major project we implement to contribute to the recovery of the arts sector over the coming years. Innovation will ensure a sustainable transition and reconstruction. And innovation requires that we identify, accept, and understand the problems we need to solve. We stop innovating when we accept the status quo as a way of operating and let it happen or, worse, when we try to justify it.

Insight on the Council’s support

Already, the work we are undertaking together towards our next strategic plan is starting to take shape.  I want to highlight a few overarching areas for the plan:

  • We will support an increased presence of Indigenous perspectives in all the Council’s activities and policies, while we continue to progress in our own decolonization process, which we want to be exemplary and consistent.
  • We will work with the communities most affected by systemic racism in order to address its presence and impact in both the Council and the wider arts sector.
  • We will continue to focus on digital technology in our programs and allocate a significant investment to support the digital transformation of the Council and the wider sector.
  • We will champion equitable remuneration for artists, namely in the digital realm, and we will also champion equitable public access to the arts.
  • We will support research, development, and risk-taking to enable the sector to work towards its renewal.
  • We will support initiatives that foster the renewal and strengthening of a competency-based leadership that reflects the diversity of the sector and society.
  • We will contribute to ensuring the sector has the tools to develop eco-friendly works and dissemination practices.
  • We will launch strategic initiatives and rely on local partnerships to meet the realities of the North, namely in terms of artistic creation and sharing art, and to reach underserved communities and give them equal access to the arts.

The arts sector’s transition and reconstruction

We are invested in a major transition with a view to rebuilding a more just, equitable, and sustainable arts sector. We will continue to support and assist the sector during this transition, drawing on our usual agility, empathy, and determination.

If there is one lesson we must learn from the pandemic, it is that the arts are essential to our lives, they are a need that has been strongly expressed by the public and, of course, artists. There is an urgency to preserve and rebuild the sector to better meet this essential need.

In December 2020, I invited artists, groups, and arts organizations to prepare projects that will create jobs. I sent out that invitation so the community can be ready for the initiative we plan to launch with additional funding the Council was allocated by the government in its last Economic Statement. Be ready—and stay tuned!

In conclusion, I would like to thank all the artists, organizations, our various partners, members of the public and, of course, members of the Council’s staff and its Board, who have contributed to the conversations and survey for our next strategic plan. The plan will live up to the sector’s ambitions and its incredible potential to contribute to our collective development in a way that is just, equitable, inclusive, and sustainable.