We Need Art Now More Than Ever, but There Is No Art Without Artists
Blog post from the Director and CEO
Though lockdown measures are being progressively lifted, the ravages wreaked by the pandemic on the arts sector are still being felt. For almost two years, the Canada Council for the Arts has maintained a balance between support for organizations and support for individuals and collectives, who are submitting record numbers of applications for projects related to artistic and literary creation.
For the first time in its history, the Council’s annual budget will exceed $500 million in 2021–22, in part due to pandemic-related emergency funding. Nearly 90% of that amount will go directly to the sector in the form of grants, payments to authors, and prizes for artists. By combining the emergency funding received from the government with savings in our operating budget, the year-to-date success rate for project funding applications in our regular programs is 47.2%.
These are impressive numbers that reflect the exceptional efforts of the Council’s teams. But while many organizations have received support to keep their heads above water, the independent scene’s situation remains precarious. The reality is that despite all our investments and those made by other government departments and funding agencies, most artists and culture workers are experiencing increasingly unsustainable financial and psychological pressures.
While many sectors are experiencing labour shortages, the arts sector is experiencing the opposite; people are more than willing to work, but projects are not starting or are being postponed or cancelled due to restrictions and health measures. As a result, many artists and production specialists have left the sector, either temporarily or permanently. This is especially true for the performing arts.
From the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve heard loud and clear that society needs art and culture. And so, it is disconcerting to note the extent to which society has still not put in place permanent mechanisms to support adequately its artists and those with whom they collaborate to create, produce, and distribute work. Let’s remember that there is no art without artists!
Taking short- and long-term action
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Council has become much more than a funder for its clients. In fact, it’s our duty to care about the fate of all artists and culture workers and to raise awareness among the public and stakeholders so that artists and culture workers’ living and working conditions are improved—both when they are working and when they cannot work. We were pleased when the federal government agreed to include self-employed arts workers in the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and the Canada Recovery Benefit. However, we must recognize that the $300 per week limit of the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit contributes to the desperation of thousands of artists and technicians who are unlikely to find work for several months. We are advocating for the maximum amount of the benefit to be increased to $500.
In Canada, like elsewhere around the world, the thinking around support to the arts has begun to change. The issue of a social safety net for artists and self-employed cultural workers is already leading to many initiatives in Europe—initiatives that we are following closely.
The Council will continue to fund and support arts organizations—without neglecting direct support for artists and other cultural workers. But improvements will need to be made to cultural policies and wealth redistribution mechanisms for our sector to reach its full potential.
In closing, I would like to invite you to come and talk about hope and the future at the Council’s next annual public meeting on March 30, 2022. I am confident that, together, we can rebuild a fairer, more inclusive, and more resilient arts sector that will benefit all society.