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Navigating the Canada Council’s New Funding Model

In February we welcomed staff from the Canada Council for the Arts (CCA) to speak to our members about the Council’s new funding model and how we anticipate it will affect them. We hosted two webinars – one on the Engage and Sustain program and another on the Explore and Create Program, the two main programs that we anticipate theatre companies will access.

The Council representatives shared useful information on the new model, the two programs, and how assessments in the new system will work.

Thanks to Guylaine Normandin, Aimé Dontigny, and Caroline Lussier for sharing this information with us, and to Lise Ann Johnson and Valerie Côté for their help arranging these sessions.

The New Funding Model – New Information on the process

We’ve been in touch with Council staff for updated information about revised deadlines for the new programs.  The opening date for the portal and application deadlines have been changed since the webinar.  The portal will open after June 5.  An updated overview of all the new deadlines is up on the Canada Council’s website.

In terms of deadlines to core grant components in the Explore and Create program and the Engage and Sustain program, these are the dates. All applications below should be submitted through the portal.

  • Artist-Driven Organizations – The deadline is July 4th
  • Artistic Catalysts – The deadline is July 4th
  • Artistic Institutions – The deadline is July 10th

As we get closer to the first grant application deadlines there will be more to learn and more information about what the new funding model has in store for us. The folks at Council encouraged all of us to keep monitoring the Canada Council website for news on the application process.

Making an Application

Here are a few details we do know that may be helpful in preparing you to submit an application:

During the webinar, the Canada Council staff stressed that theatre companies (and all applicants, really) are encouraged to create an account and register a profile as soon as possible – this needs to happen at least 30 days before applying so that your account has enough time to be validated.  Even though the portal isn’t open for applications yep it’s open to create a profile.

A preview of the guidelines, application forms and appendices for all of the components are now available for each of the six programs, including the granting streams discussed in the two webinars:

A note: if you’re planning to work on you application in a Word document and then cut and paste your responses into the portal make sure to keep your formatting simple.

The preview application forms have approximate word counts for each of the questions (eg. “approximately 750 words”). Council will then convert the word counts to a character count in the portal (for technical reasons related to HTML language). The folks at Council assured us that they’re aware of the artistic community’s concerns about how approximate word counts will be translated into character counts, but feel they have made sufficient allowance in the character count maximums. The portal will tell applicants how many characters they have left to use in each text box. From the council, “Applicants who comply with the approximate word counts and simple formatting should not experience difficulties, but Council will monitor the situation once the portal opens on June 5th”.

Engage & Sustain vs Explore & Create – Where Do You Fit?

If you haven’t already discussed your application with a Program Officer and aren’t sure which program is right for you, a Canada Council staff member can make a recommendation on where you might fit best. However, it’s ultimately your decision which program to apply under.

Council staff recommend that you look at the criteria for each component, as well as the application questions, to get a sense of which program best reflects your core activities. Where your company fits really comes down to what you consider your core programming. Here’s how our guests from the CCA explained it:

Explore & Create might be for you if

  • Your company puts most of its energy and resources into creating original work that is driven by the vision and voice of your artistic leader or artists embedded within your company

Engage & Sustain might be for you if

  • Your company not only produces theatre, but also plays a larger role in your community or sector


  • Your company brings a range of artists and creative works to a diverse public, and your programming includes outreach or audience development activities


  • Your company has taken on other responsibilities in the sector in addition to your artistic output – Are you in a crucial region? Addressing a gap? Is your mandate or programming culturally diverse?

In particular, the folks at Council encouraged us to look at the specificities of the “impact” or “engagement” criteria in each program.

Artist-Driven Organizations

  • Peers will be asked to assess the potential of the proposed activities to contribute to the experience and development of the artists involved, advance artistic practice, and engage your intended public with the work.

Artistic Catalysts and Institutions

  • Peers will be asked to assess a company’s impact on deepening relationship with your public, as well as how you reflect the diversity of your organization’s community or region.

A Note on Diversity

So what do these notes on impact and engagement mean for your company, especially if your main street doesn’t to look like Yonge St?

Our guests were clear that the Council plans to be non-prescriptive in its approach to diversity, and also acknowledges that each community is diverse in its own way, which implies the need for different approaches. It’s clear that what diversity looks like in St. John’s might be different than what diversity looks like in Winnipeg or Edmonton or Kamloops.  In terms of the diversity and inclusion criteria in the Engage and Sustain program, Council is looking for self-awareness of your company’s own narrative, its strengths and weaknesses, and your capacity to address them. Being aware of the breadth and depth of your community, and how your work impacts and connects with it, will be key.

In essence, for Engage and Sustain applications, it comes down to the following:

  • How are you already doing great work?
  • What is your role in your community and in the sector?
  • What are your plans for reflecting the diversity of your community in your programming, artist development, audience development and/or organizational structure?
  • What impact are you having?

As each company continues on their granting journey there will be opportunities to check-in and look at how the company is addressing their weaknesses and the impact it’s having on its community and the sector or how it is advancing artistic practice. The Council is eager to be able to demonstrate both the qualitative and quantitative impact arts organizations have, so being able to demonstrate the impact you have ‘on the ground’ would be valuable information to share.

Assessments – What Will (and Won’t) Change

One of the most popular topics that always finds its way into the new funding model conversation is peer assessment and how it will or won’t change under the new model. Many members on the call were interested to hear what information our CCA guests had to share on this subject.

Our Council guests made sure to be clear that assessments in both programs – Explore and Create and Engage and Sustain – will not be multi-disciplinary. This means that, as a theatre organization, your application will still be assessed by peers in the theatre community.  Also, within the discipline of theatre, applications to these two programs will be assessed by committee members in either French or English, based on the language of the application.  Unlike other disciplines, theatre peer assessment committees in these two programs will not be bilingual.

If you want an overview of how peer assessment works at Council, you can find additional information on the Canada Council website.

So, What Now?

Well, at this point we all have a short list of things to do:

Simple, right?

Good luck to everyone writing their first grants in the new model!

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