New Funding Model at the Canada Council for the Arts: ARCA raises concerns

Montréal, January 29, 2015 – On January 20th, the Canada Council for the Arts held its Annual Public Meeting, and announced sweeping changes to the existing granting program to be implemented by 2017. Notably, the announcement proposes a reduction of the number of grant programs administered by Council from 142 to fewer than 10.

To many, the Canada Council for the Arts is seen as a smoothly run organisation that has for many years shown leadership in serving the sector in an equitable, timely, and efficient manner so the proposed changes announced by Council have come as a great surprise within the visual arts milieu. What then is the impetus for such a dramatic restructuring, and why haven’t the constituents been consulted on this specific matter?

To date, the announcement refers to “a new suite of national, non-disciplinary programs” with no additional details as to what these programs will be. How does Council envision reducing the number so dramatically without significantly hampering the quality and requirements of objective peer assessment that has been a core principle of the agency for decades? Council claims these 10 programs will still adhere to the principles of peer assessment but fails to define just who will constitute a peer, in the case of assessment committees. This is a matter of considerable concern and deliberation for those who have come to rely on assessments made by professionals from within their discipline and community. Council disciplinary officers currently compose their committees by balancing representation of artistic practice, professional specialization, language, cultural diversity, Aboriginal artists and arts professionals, geographic regions, and gender. This process has been carefully cultivated over the past four decades, and currently serves as a fair and equitable model of adjudication.

Within the visual arts, and more specifically, within the artist-run centres network, the grant system, although challenging, is not considered too onerous or complicated. Certain adjustments could be made in the name of greater flexibility and this was precisely one of the objectives of the recent operating program consultation initiated by the visual arts section with members of the community that took place in ten cities across Canada. Over the years, the Assistance to Artist-Run Centres program has enabled, at a low cost, the development of a dynamic network of some 190 artist-run centres that offers services adapted to the specific needs of art professionals in our sector. This massive restructuring of arts funding has been announced before any results from the consultation have been shared, in spite of reassurances that the review process was to take place over time. With so few details forthcoming we can only feel that this announcement has been premature and hasty.

At present, our key concerns include:

  • It is surprising that these changes draw inspiration from an Australian model that has yet to be fully implemented, and for which we have no metrics of success.
  • Without details, the announcement seems arbitrary. Why 10 programs (or fewer) if it isn’t known what the programs will be, or how they will impact the cultural landscape?
  • Peer assessment is a fundamental principle that must be maintained and defended as it ensures that funds are attributed to artists who are committed to their practice, and who contribute to their discipline, to their community and beyond.
  • Specific grant programs are informed by peers, and developed over time to provide the means by which a diverse range of cultural activities can flourish. We applaud grant programs that can bend to accommodate new and innovative practices, but are wary of a one-grant-fits all approach which may privilege more popular forms at the expense of innovative research.
  • We are generally in favour of “simplified” grant forms, but recognize that the balance between user-friendly forms and the supply of adequate information for juries to make good assessments has been a goal of Council officers and the arts community for years.

ARCA will continue to monitor updates provided by Canada Council and seek further information so as to better inform its membership and the cultural milieu.

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Information: Anne Bertrand  info(at)