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March 27, 2024

Speeches from the Canada Council for the Arts’ 2024 Annual Public Meeting

March 27, 2024

Speeches from Jesse Wente and Michelle Chawla during the 2024 Annual Public Meeting of the Canada Council for the Arts.

Jesse Wente’s speech during the 2024 APM

This past year as Chair of the Board of the Canada Council for the Arts was one of transition, as I began working with a new director and CEO.

I’m delighted to be working with Michelle Chawla, who knows the Council and the arts sector so well, after having held many different positions at the organization over the course of her career.

This new leadership ensures continuity and familiarity with our work, while also bringing important changes to our work and the organization.

I am acutely aware of how difficult a time this is for the sector, but because Michelle truly embodies the Council’s values—such as care for our work, respect and openness—I believe we can look to the future with optimism.

I am already seeing in the arts sector a positive response to Michelle’s priorities to reconnect, engage and work more closely with the sector—priorities that are strongly supported by me and the Board.

The third year of the Council’s strategic plan has just come to an end, and I’m happy to see that the Council has made significant strides towards meeting its ambitious commitments, including critical support distributed directly to artists and arts organizations across the country.

I’d like to share a few of our accomplishments.

We committed to partnering and strengthening relationships to help address distinct cultural realities in the North.

And we succeeded in co-developing and co-delivering three separate initiatives to better support Indigenous communities and artists. The Council now has partners on the ground—in the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Inuit Nunangat—that provide access and direct funding where it is needed most.

These partnerships represent a new way of working, collaborating and sharing knowledge, while respecting the unique needs and realities of each region.

The results so far demonstrate the necessity and relevance of these partnerships. It’s still early days, but these initiatives are a step in the right direction, and we hope to see long-term changes in our relationships with artists in the North.

Equity is a focal point in our strategic plan and a priority that we are consistently working to advance.

I’d like to share a recent example from the Art Bank on how we are making progress on our commitments on equity.

The Art Bank launched an open call for the purchase of new artwork, with the goal of establishing a collection that includes works from a broader diversity of artists.

Priority was given to works by artists that were not included in the Art Bank collection and to artists who are Indigenous, Black, racialized, Deaf, or who have a disability or belong to official language minority, youth, 2SLGBTQI+ or gender diverse communities, women and artists at the intersection of these identities.

The response to the open call was tremendous and led to the Art Bank acquiring 72 works of art artists from every province and territory.

We’ve seen a great response to the purchased works, and nearly all are on loan or on hold to be displayed in public venues.

For those of you who have joined us in person at the Council’s offices, I invite you to visit the Âjagemô Exhibition Space downstairs to see some of these incredible works for yourselves.

Those of you online can also enjoy the Coming into Sight exhibition online at canadacouncil.ca.

You’ll also see an inspiring work of art by Anishinaabe artist Chief Lady Bird just outside this room, which was commissioned by the Council to welcome folks to this space.

These are just a few examples of what the Council has accomplished in recent years, but I’m pleased to see our strategic commitments come to fruition in physical form.

As we navigate a path forward, the Council’s experienced Board and strong governance will enable the organization to rise to any challenge. I want to thank the Board for its excellent work, and I would like to ask any members in attendance to please stand up.

In closing, I remain cautiously optimistic about what lies ahead for our sector. We know there are challenges ahead, both obvious and unexpected, but I am confident that by working together, we can help shape a more equitable and sustainable arts sector, one that reflects the Canada of today and points us to the Canada of tomorrow.

Thank you. I will now invite Director and CEO Michelle Chawla to say a few words.

Michelle Chawla’s Speech during the 2024 APM

I’m very happy to be taking part in my first Annual Public Meeting as Director and CEO of the Canada Council for the Arts.

While I have been in this role for about nine months, I have dedicated my career to public service and, in particular, service to the arts. I am committed and passionate about this work and this role, as they bring together my deep personal values of service along with my love for the arts.

It is also deeply tied to my cultural upbringing, as a person who grew up in two worlds. I am both a Québécoise raised in Montréal and a Sikh from the Punjabi community. Community service, known as “seva,” is at the very heart of who I am, how I work and how I lead the Canada Council.

While this meeting is an important way for the Council to provide updates on its progress and initiatives, I am also looking forward to engaging with you today.

Artists and arts organizations play a crucial role in the arts ecosystem and in the communities they serve, both in Canada and around the world.

The Council is driven by a mission to support the many artists and arts organizations across the country that help us better understand ourselves, our cultures and our shared humanity.

I continue to be inspired every day by the sector’s leadership, talent, creativity, strength and continued dedication to the arts in the face of growing challenges.

We know the sector is facing difficult times—and the Council is working to help but also faces certain challenges now.

A few weeks ago, you may have seen that the Council was included in the federal government’s Refocusing Government Spending initiative. As a result, the Council will be reducing its current spending over the next few years.

I want to assure you that our main goal is to minimize any impact on the arts sector. These reductions will not impact the Council’s regular granting programs nor its capacity to serve the sector.

Even with a lower budget, we will continue to invest over $300 million directly into the arts sector each year.

We will continue to support the sector through our granting programs, our wide array of prizes, our Public Lending Right payments to authors and creators, as well as through special initiatives and partnerships.

We are also continuing to deliver the priorities set out in our strategic plan, which are helping move the Council and the sector towards a more equitable and sustainable future.

I’m pleased to say that the Council is on track to meet—and even to exceed—most of the funding commitments made in its strategic plan.

Whether that’s opening up its project funding to first-time applicants, enhanced investment in the Public Lending Right program, or our support for international activities.

And my priorities as Director and CEO are for the Council to continue implementing its commitments, including:

  • continuing to support the rebuilding of a sustainable arts sector;
  • improving regional distribution of its funding;
  • prioritizing its support for historically underserved and marginalized communities; and
  • honouring the commitments on self-determination that it has made to Indigenous Peoples and Nations.

The Council also remains committed to its role in fostering cultural exchange and cooperation on an international scale.

We will continue to support artists and arts organizations from Canada to develop relationships and to showcase their work in markets around the world.

These priorities are aligned with many of the sector’s pressing issues.

The most critical of which is that the arts sector is recovering slowly and unevenly from the impacts of the pandemic.

And we recognize that many in the arts community continue to struggle.

I want to assure you that we are carefully monitoring the situation. We are actively in dialogue with organizations and are in close contact with other funders, including at the provincial, territorial and municipal levels, as we try to find ways forward.

We are also co-investing in programs to support arts organizations in reimagining their operations in response to evolving circumstances.

Despite the current context, I continue to be optimistic and inspired by what you are all able to do. We have witnessed the arts sector’s continued transformation, innovation, creativity and resilience, and we want to encourage and support these as much as possible.

In addition to helping the sector in its recovery, equity remains a top priority for the Council.

We know it will take time, but we are actively working to move the needle on this priority.

We are working to correct historic regional funding imbalances to better serve the arts ecosystem across Canada.

We are also increasing access and funding to historically underserved and marginalized communities.

Some ways we’re doing this are:

  • through targeted engagement and outreach activities;
  • by collecting and analyzing data to understand where our funding is going and where there are gaps;
  • by working with other funders to better understand and support the overall arts funding ecosystem; and
  • by supporting and promoting the work of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO.

People don’t always realize that the Canadian Commission for UNESCO is housed within the Council—since their inceptions, the Council and the Canadian Commission for UNESCO have shared a history and a common goal to promote the sustainable development of society.

An example of this is the incredible work the Commission has done to raise the profile of the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent and the International Decade of Indigenous Languages.

As we work to meet our commitments, we are continually looking at how we can better support you, the arts community.

I think it is crucial that we work towards bringing the Council and the sector closer together.

Along with my Council colleagues, I have had many conversations with stakeholders across the country.

To share just a few examples—I met with the members and leadership of the Canadian Arts Coalition, Business for the Arts, the Fédération culturelle canadienne-française, the Conseil québécois du théâtre and the Regroupement québécois de la danse, and many other arts service organizations in the early part of this year.

So far, since the beginning of my term, I’ve met with stakeholders in person in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec.

I have been so inspired by the people I’ve met and, as I make my way to more parts of the country—including Manitoba and Newfoundland in the coming months—I look forward to continuing to engage with people and to build a stronger relationship between the sector and the Council.

I have appreciated the benefit of being present in person across Canada, but the Council is also conscious of its environmental footprint. I am grateful that our new ways of working also make it possible to meet virtually more often and with more people.

Going forward, you will hear more from us as we seek to improve our support for the sector and consult with you on timely and important topics.

We know the arts community will likely continue to face many challenges—whether they be new or long-standing—but I am convinced that working together is the way forward.

At a time when we see so much divisiveness and hate in the world, I am committed to doing everything I can to support and promote the arts.

In keeping with the Council’s mandate, we will continue to promote the arts as a force to build peace, promote inclusion, combat hate and unify a divided world.

As I said earlier, the arts matter to me and you matter to me. I will do everything I can to lead the Canada Council in a way that serves you, the arts sector.

I am constantly moved by the unshakeable creativity and innovative spirit of the arts community—and I am optimistic for our future and eager to work with you to get there.

I want to thank the Board, Council employees and all of you for being here today.

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