Speeches from the Canada Council for the Arts’ 2023 Annual Public Meeting
Michelle Chawla’s Speech at the 2023 APM
The Canada Council for the Arts is in the second year of its 2021-26 Strategic Plan, Art now more than ever.
You can find the plan on our website.
Art, now more than ever is about rebuilding the arts sector on a stronger, more inclusive, and more sustainable foundation.
The plan sets out three major directions:
- investing in rebuilding and innovation;
- increasing the benefits of the arts for society; and
- encouraging and enhancing collaboration and partnerships.
The plan offers a vision for what we want to achieve.
But to make that vision a reality, we’ve set key actions to guide our work and investments.
Now, halfway through the second year of this plan, we’ve made important progress on those actions.
As part of our direction to invest in rebuilding and innovation, for example, we delivered targeted support to address the impact of the pandemic on the arts sector.
As part of our work to amplify the benefits of the arts for society, we undertook the Research on the Value of Public Funding for Indigenous Arts and Cultures project.
The research was guided by a Mi’kmaq methodology also known as Two-Eyed Seeing, which brings the strengths of both Indigenous and Western worldviews together to move forward in harmonious and sustainable relations.
This groundbreaking project helps us, as an arts funder, better understand and articulate the vital role that Indigenous arts and cultures play in the lives of all Canadians.
We believe this research is also an invaluable resource for the entire arts sector in Canada.
We published this Research on the Value of Public Funding for Indigenous Arts and Cultures on our website, along with research summary’s in Anishinaabemowin and Inuktut.
One of the major activities we undertook to encourage and enhance collaboration and partnerships this past year was co-hosting the Arctic Arts Summit in June 2022 with the Government of Yukon.
The event took place in Whitehorse, Yukon with a vibrant online presence.
The gathering brought together participants from across the circumpolar region, including representatives of Arctic countries and the Indigenous Nations of the circumpolar region.
Strong relationships are essential to our ongoing work in and for the North.
Co-delivery partnerships are a new way of working for the Council.
They allow us to support artists and arts workers on their own terms, according to their realities and priorities for making arts and culture in the North.
We want to build more co-delivery partnerships like these.
Discussions are underway with prospective partners to do just that.
Stay tuned to learn more soon.
These are just a few examples of our strategic plan actions that we’ve achieved so far.
You can read all our actions and our current progress on them on our website.
I also encourage you to read our annual reports, which offer a year-by-year overview of all the Council’s impact.
Jesse Wente’s Speech at the 2023 APM
It’s wonderful to be speaking to you today from the Kakaekwewin room at the Council’s offices in Ottawa.
This is my third Annual Public Meeting as Chair of the Canada Council for the Arts, but, on account of the pandemic, my first in-person.
It’s wonderful to see many of you here in the room, and to know many more of you are joining us online from coast-to-coast-to-coast.
Through all the challenges of the last two years, the Council’s strategic plan has been a guiding force.
Last spring, I had the privilege of seeing the strategic plan in action when I travelled with the organization’s board and senior leaders to the North.
In our strategic plan we made the commitment to strengthen our presence and relationships in the North to meet its unique and varied cultural realities for making and sharing arts and culture.
This trip was about advancing concrete ways to bring that commitment to life.
We met with artists, arts leaders, and arts workers in their studios, theatres, community centres, and craft stores.
We also had constructive exchanges with locally elected politicians and leaders. We participated in community gatherings, like those on the shores of the Arctic Ocean in Tuktoyaktuk.
We visited innovative projects, including the Community Greenhouse in Inuvik, an old arena converted into a greenhouse with over 170 garden beds where elders, children, food bank volunteers and other community members come together to grow food.
We also held our first board meeting in the Northwest Territories.
And we attended the Arctic Arts Summit in Whitehorse as co-organizer of this international gathering, where we heard about the commonalities shared by people across the North and several areas ripe for collaboration.
I was thrilled with the two co-delivery partnerships that emerged from this trip, which Michelle has already mentioned.
These kinds of initiatives are essential to the Council’s commitment to the North.
As an organization in the South, the Council has a limited understanding of the region’s realities.
Partners on the ground understand their communities in profound, nuanced ways that we lack—and their guidance and collaboration is crucial.
Indeed, the Council needs to work like this to fulfill the strategic plan’s commitment to redress many inequities of the past.
The Council’s equity work must continue to place the autonomy of historically marginalized and disenfranchised communities at its core.
By working in this way, the Council strives to foster
- an arts sector that includes, represents, and speaks to the diversity of this country;
- an arts sector that acknowledges the cultural sovereignty of Indigenous peoples and respects the concepts of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis self-determination;
- and, ultimately, an arts sector that is sustainable.
Today, I’m pleased to introduce to you three new Board members who have been appointed since our last annual public meeting.
I’d ask each of you to stand when I say your name:
- Irfhan Rawji;
- Stephane Moraille;
- Charlie Wall-Andrews, who cannot be here today.
I’d also like to acknowledge those board members who have been recently reappointed or who have ongoing appointments to the Board:
- Jennifer Dorner
- Marie Pier Germain, Vice Chair
- Cheryl Hickman
- Ingrid Leong
- Ben Nind
- Karl Schwonik,
- Gaëtane Verna.
This board represents a diversity of experiences, perspectives, communities, regions, and areas of expertise in the arts and beyond that is complementary and enriches their collective oversight of the Canada Council for the Arts.
To close, I would like to thank the Government of Canada for its ongoing confidence in the Canada Council for the Arts and the work that we do.
I’d also like to acknowledge the Council’s staff and its executive management team.
And I’d like to thank Director and CEO Simon Brault, who led the Council through an impressive transformation over nearly nine years at the helm of the organization.
I’m deeply proud of what we’ve achieved together so far this year, and I look forward to our shared work ahead.
Simon Brault’s Speech at the 2023 APM
As many of you know, this will be my last Annual Public Meeting as Director and CEO of the Canada Council for the Arts.
With five months remaining in my mandate, I’ve been reflecting on my time in this role.
I’ve also been thinking about the future of the Canada Council for the Arts—and of arts funding more broadly.
In Canada and all over the world, the era of arts funders as gatekeepers of society’s artistic and cultural life is coming to an end—and this is not a bad thing.
I feel privileged to have led the Canada Council for the Arts on a transformational journey to enhance its impact on society, a journey we’ve been on for several years now.
Equity has been—and must remain, now more than ever—an integral and powerful driver of the Council’s transformation and evolution.
While the Council has been committed to equitable funding for a long time, for the first time its 2021-26 strategic plan places questions of equity, access, and inclusion at the fore of its directions and decisions.
Our strategic plan seeks to better understand and address the numerous barriers faced by youth, official language minority communities, and historically underserved and marginalized communities, including Indigenous, Black, racialized, Deaf and disability, and 2SLGBTQI+ and gender diverse communities, women, and artists at the intersection of these groups.
We’ve made the commitments that 50% of our funding will go toward projects, and that 20% of our project funding will reach first-time recipients, which will help us reach historically underserved and marginalized communities.
I am convinced that by opening our doors wide to all those who have the right to create, practice, and share their art, we will ensure our future as an arts council because we’ll be in tune with wider society.
I’m thinking here of a well-known and powerful quotation from Indigenous Australian artist, academic, and activist Lilla Watson that speaks strongly to the idea I’m trying to express: “If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you come here because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
Our transformation has been about more than changes to our funding.
For example, we also launched a recruitment campaign to significantly increase the diversity of the people who work here daily at the Council.
We exceeded our goals within a year, with increased representation of Indigenous staff, Racialized staff, and staff who are deaf and living with a disability.
More than two years later, I’m proud of how this campaign has transformed the composition and real work of the Council.
The breadth of lived experiences in the organization—at every level, on every team—is so much richer than it was when I began here in 2014.
Now, when we make decisions about our work, we’re doing it with even more voices speaking up to make sure we understand the implications for the many different communities across this country.
It also means that when people call the Council or meet with us at gatherings like this, or at our outreach sessions, we are closer to reflecting the diversity of the country.
This isn’t, however, a closed file.
We must also continue to transform our organizational culture to make sure this is a place where people from all backgrounds feel welcome and heard, where they feel that they are making a difference.
Looking to the future, the Council must also continue to transform itself into the most accessible organization possible.
This is about making sure our built environment, communications, technologies, programs and services are accessible.
We published our first accessibility plan on our website last December.
It’s a plan that we’ll update every three years as we come to understand what we’re doing right, and what we need to do better.
Our strategic plan’s commitment to a more equitable arts sector stands alongside its vision for a decolonized future for the arts.
To actualize this vision, we must also decolonize the Council by questioning our own assumptions and convictions.
It’s important to acknowledge that decolonization is a complex, evolving and open concept and journey.
There’s no definitive guide on how to undertake this work.
And it had different implications for different organizations and sectors in our society.
To decolonize the Council, we must:
- accept to reframe our understanding of what constitutes art.
- question the notion of professionalism and artistic disciplines, which are deeply rooted in a specific time in history, mostly Eurocentric and often from a very colonialist perspective.
- challenge the notion of “artistic excellence,” a concept that upholds hierarchies of good taste and values that confirm and perpetuate the status of the dominant culture.
- move beyond limited notions of artistic expertise that are often the product of an education system built to reproduce power relations and safeguard the privilege of the dominant colonial discourse on art and culture.
The work to decolonize the Council has already begun.
It is a fascinating journey and we learn everyday how to navigate it.
Perhaps the most significant step in recent years was the creation of the Creating, Knowing, and Sharing program, a program with a genuine aspiration toward Indigenous cultural sovereignty and self-determination at its core.
Another part of this work is the Council’s recent partnerships that support Indigenous cultural sovereignty and determination, like that with the Inuit Art Foundation that was previously mentioned.
There’s still much work to decolonize the Council—and it relies on the ongoing collaboration of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people both within and beyond the Council.
This work must be guided by humility, openness, listening, patience, respect and empathy.
The Council’s transformation has also been about deepening our role beyond that of a funder.
Of course, our granting programs remain at the heart of what we do.
But in recent years, we’ve been able to develop other aspects of our work to have an even greater impact on the arts and society more broadly.
We witnessed this during the pandemic when government leaders looked to the Council to understand how the crisis was affecting the arts and to understand what emergency measures were necessary and appropriate for the sector.
It’s now time for the Council to give even greater voice to other challenges facing the arts.
In light of the pandemic, we know that improved working conditions and better remuneration for artists and arts workers is an urgent issue that we must continue to advocate for.
The Council also needs to actively take part in the most pressing conversations of our time, like the climate crisis.
Related to this, the Council also continues to play a significant role in Canada’s cultural diplomacy.
I’m thinking, for example, of our partnerships for Canada in Germany during the 2021 Frankfurt Book Fair where Canada was the Guest of Honour and the 2019 Festival International Cervantino where Canada was the guest country.
As the global community continues to face many significant challenges, it’s essential that the arts be a part of the shared solutions that go above the borders that divide.
The Council’s transformation doesn’t end here, at this meeting, or with the end of my time as Director and CEO.
Indeed, the Council must continue to transform itself, building on what’s already been achieved, and in response to the evolving realities of our world.
I’m proud of the 2021-26 strategic plan, Art, now more than ever, a visionary document that will continue to guide the Council in the years ahead.
I know that the Council’s exceptional senior management and all of the Council’s teams will continue to bring this excellent plan to life.
Similarly, the Council’s Board has a breadth of expertise and a diversity of perspectives that are essential to making the most of the current transitions and changes.
Beyond these walls, the Council’s transformation, and its vision for a more inclusive and sustainable future, relies on the support and input of the entire arts sector and the wider public.
More than this, we need you to challenge us—to question our assumptions and our approach, to hold us accountable to our mandate and our strategic plan’s vision.
We’ve now arrived at the question-and-answer period of our meeting where you have the opportunity to do just that.
I invite you to ask us the tough questions, to push us to consider what we might have overlooked, what’s not on our radar yet.
Help us to keep transforming.