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PACT Testimony for CHPC’s Study on the Canada Council for the Arts

Presented by:
Boomer Stacey, Interim Executive Director
Nick Tracey, Chair of the Advocacy Committee

Study summary: That the committee study how the Canada Council for the Arts is managing their increase from Budget 2016 and their transition to a modernized funding model to ensure that artists no matter where they live in Canada have the support the need to contribute to the creative sector.

June 6th, 2019
3:15pm to 5:15pm

BOOMER: Good afternoon Madam Chair and members of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. My name is Boomer and I am the interim Executive Director of the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres, known as PACT.

I am joined by my colleague Nick Tracey, Senior Director of Administration for Young People’s Theatre and recently appointed Chair of our Advocacy Committee. We are here today to represent PACT’s members, 150+ professional theatre companies operating across the country.

NICK: PACT’s membership is diverse, ranging from the largest performing arts organizations in Canada to small independent or rural theatre companies.

We want to offer an overview of the importance that our members place on the Canada Council for the Arts and a brief evaluation on the Council’s funding modernization and renewed investment.  We recently completed a member survey about their perceptions of and interactions with  the Council’s new model. 116 of our 150 members responded. 100 of them (or 86%) receive Council funding.

Theatres receive funding for creation and development projects, production, and core operating dollars. In those surveyed, 90% had received core operating funding and 28% received special project grants.

Since the new funding model began, 40% of our member survey respondents remained at a flatlined funding level and 59% of respondents saw their funding change (94% of which received an increase). This means that many of PACT members can now hire more artists and staff, increase salaries, upkeep their facilities, reach new audiences and support greater and increased artistic programming.

We are happy to see funding going to first-time recipients and pleased to hear that the Council aims to triple their investment with Indigenous artists and organizations. We would be pleased to also see the Government step up in other ways to further support sharing of Indigenous stories and creation of Indigenous theatre across the country including sustained funding to the NAC’s newly created Indigenous theatre section.

The most pressing message we bring today is that the arts sector is thrilled with the doubled investment. It is empowering many to enhance the delivery of their visions and missions, which reach and impact Canada’s diverse communities. We applaud the Council in implementing a new model, opening access and addressing major creative shifts in Canada’s cultural ecosystem. We are at the crux of this shift and we must see the doubling of the investment continue over the next two years. This time period is necessary for us to see the return on such a historic investment to truly take shape.

We imagine that it is no easy undertaking for the Council to undergo a huge strategic shift at the same time as receiving an incremental doubling.

PACT, most of our members, the Canadian Arts Coalition, and many others advocated for the doubling of the budget. Many of our members are longstanding Council recipients and likely to come to you with concerns about the rollout. These concerns are legitimate in respect to Council-client relations and the integrity of arms-length decision-making. We see these concerns as opportunities for evaluation and readjustment in the Council, and will no doubt require consultation, open communication and action by Council leadership.

This is the spirit in which we come to you today – to encourage more responsiveness, reciprocal dialogue and action between the Council and its clientele, as we undergo this strategic shift and doubling of the budget together.

Our members had mixed responses as to how easy it was to identify which funding stream they should apply under. 35% of our surveyed members found it easy to identify, 40% were neutral, and 25% found the process difficult. We believe that the Council’s current cross-country outreach sessions and presentations, along with client-Officer relations, will help ease some of these difficulties.

Program Officers presented at our national conference two weeks ago in Saskatoon, giving an important opportunity for theatres to understand the new funding streams, criteria for assessment, and clarify any confusion or misinformation that theatres had about eligibility. We value this close relationship with Council and hope to continue this opportunity for officers to meet with our members.

We understand that Council staff are also undergoing a learning curve with the new model. As a result, our members were split 50/50 in whether or not staff where helpful. In terms of overall communication, including that from the leadership, 58% felt that communication was not transparent, and 61% felt that it was unclear. This is especially troublesome in two areas:

For one, many were told before they applied under the new funding model to ‘dream big,’ ‘reach for the stars’ and ‘be aggressive’ in their budgetary ask. This set unrealistic expectations and was especially frustrating for recipients who remained flatlined or saw a decrease in their funding. We believe that the Council is now well-aware that they did not set realistic expectations in the first year, especially since the doubling of the investment is incremental – not fully realized in year one.

Secondly, a huge change was made to the peer jury assessment process, the lifeblood of the arms-length funding decision making.

The Canada Council, provincial and municipal councils, have always had other artists and arts practitioners assessing and ranking the applications then allocating funding amounts to each recipient. Previously, staff and leadership were only required to approve and have the final sign-off on funding allocations over certain amounts.

We met with a Program Officer this week to discuss our member survey which helped demystify the new jury process for us. Under the new model, jury members rank and submit recommendations, but the Council staff make the final funding allocations. It is our understanding that Officers adhere to the jury’s ranking and allocate funding increases as close as possible to the applicant’s budgetary ask. Under the new ranking system, juries have three choices – green, fund an increase; yellow – flatline; or red – decrease.  Juries are reminded of the implications of their decisions however, it can be easy to fall into the ‘yellow’ flatlined zone. And, for juries who rank many ‘greens,’ the funding might run out before it makes its way down the list.

In addition, it is clear that well-written funding applications continue to be well-assessed. The Council and others are doing outreach sessions across the country on ‘how to write a good grant application’ and we believe in the importance of developing grantwriting skills. However, small theatres with limited staff capacity, who must undertake multiple roles in addition to grantwriting, or some companies who may have limited experience with grantwriting (but no less merit in their artistic or operational abilities), risk making their way into the yellow or red categories. We will continue efforts to build grantwriting skills across the country, however we need to determine how merit can still be assessed beyond a “well written” application.

Many of our members are also questioning if jury make-up is as diverse as it should be.
We have submitted our concerns and our survey results to the Canada Council Officers that we work most closely with. However, we are looking for more open dialogue and active consultations with the Council’s leadership, especially as this new model is evaluated. We are looking to first an understanding of new strategic decisions, and then to readjustments to the model as necessary to truly benefit the Council’s clientele and their communities.

We see a lot of promise, through our artists and arts organizations, that the doubling investment of $180 million will realize its full impact, all while the Council and its clients work together to ensure that the new model is as strong as it can be.

Thank you for your time and we look forward to your questions.

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