New money for the Arts in Canada

Artists, arts audiences, and arts lobbyists were gratified by the announcement in the Canadian federal budget of new money for the Arts in Canada, with $50 million to be applied in the 2006-2007 fiscal year and an additional $30 million for 2007-2008.

Organizations waiting in line for their first Canada Council operating grant got excited that this might be their year to gain some secure operating funds instead of depending on the ups and downs of one-time project funding exclusively.

Not so.

In Canada Council’s newsrelease of October 2006, the method for allocating the funds was not spelled out although it was suggested that one possible way of allocating funds would be through,“a special competition (in the case of arts organizations which currently receive operating funding) or through the Council’s regular programs for individual artists and activities aimed at increasing public access to the arts.”

Nowhere in the public announcement carried in newspapers across the country, nor in Canada Council’s press release was it made clear that in fact the Council was going to priorize giving money to its existing operating clients. Yet when the , guidelines were announced to apply for the new funding this was the language “Guidelines. Who is eligible? Organizations currently receiving annual or multi-year operating funds may apply.

And what if your organization is not receiving annual or multi-year funding? The answer, “No further action is required at this time”.

While the Council suggests that additional money is being allocated to project grants to help non-operating clients, I could not find anywhere on the site how much money is being allocated to which programs.

Note that to become an operating client of the Canada Council, an arts organization must already be in receipt of funding from their provincial arts council. To become a provincial client, you must be supported by any municipal funding body for which you may be eligible. Canada Council operating clients are among the oldest and richest arts organizations in the country.

My organization, the Toronto Philharmonia, has been in existence for 35 years, 30 years as a community orchestra–called at that time the North York Symphony–and spending the last 5 years as a professional orchestra. During that time we’ve given an annual classic music series, provided educational programs to local schools and offered adult education opportunities in music appreciation. Hardly a newcomer to Canadian arts.

But we are not operating clients of Canada Council. We’ve been told that we stand a scant chance of being funded under the professional orchestras program simply because there is a lack of funds in the program and our location in the mega-city (although serving the former borough of North York)makes us a low priority for funding. While nationally, music organizations receive an average of 30% of their budget through government funding, our orchestra has to raise 90% of its funding through private funders and ticket sales. Yet we are ineligible to apply for a share of the new funding. Is this fair? Is this what you expected to happen when the new arts funding was announced?

Once again, it appears that the rich arts organizations will get richer while smaller arts organizations serving local communities get the short end of the stick. If you don’t think this is fair, please feel free to comment here but also let your local MP know that you’d prefer that new arts funding be distributed to the poorest arts groups in the country, not the richest.

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Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers