Thank you for having me. I am honoured to be here.
The Canada Council for the Arts has had the enormous privilege of seeing its budget sharply increased. It is important for us to answer questions from parliamentarians, artists and the public on what we do with that money.
By way of introduction, I would point out that the council has undergone a radical transformation since 2015. That major change began in 2015, when I became director of the council. Since I had previously been its vice-chair for 10 years, I was already familiar with the organization.
The purpose of that transformation was essentially to simplify programs and to ensure the council provided more support to artists in accordance with their wishes based on different, more future-oriented business models. Here are a few figures to illustrate the scope of the change. When I became director, the council was managing roughly 150 programs. Today we have 6. The duties of approximately 70% of the council's employees have been changed to enable them to work differently, to act differently and to expand the council's influence in the arts community.
Then in 2016 we released a strategic plan. The title is “Shaping a New Future: Strategic Plan 2016-2021”, and there were four big commitments in that strategy plan.
The first one was that we would increase our support to artists, collectives and organizations striving for artistic excellence and greater engagement in the arts by an increasingly diverse public.
The second commitment we made was that we would amplify the quality, scale and sharing of Canadian art through digital technology.
The third one was that we would invest to renew the relationship between indigenous artists and indigenous and non-indigenous audiences for a shared future.
Finally, the fourth big commitment we made at that time was that we would raise the international profile of Canadians art and artists.
Each of these commitments was supported by very specific targets in order to make it happen.
On March 22, 2016, the Government of Canada decided to double the council's budget over five years. That resulted in an additional appropriation of approximately $550 million to 2021, slightly more than half a billion dollars, in the arts sector. An investment of that scale has never happened in the council's history. We have very clearly announced our financial intentions to the community and to the Canadian public.
The first thing we wanted to achieve was to modify the distribution of funds. Before the doubling of the budget, in every year there was a high proportion of our funds that was locked into ongoing operating grants, and there was very little flexibility and less and less flexibility at every level of the system—both at the municipal level and the provincial level—to accommodate projects and to open the doors and the windows to diversity.
There was a sense that things were not moving a lot and that the Canadian art system would less and less reflect the society that supports it, so we wanted to make sure that we would bring more flexibility into the system with the new money and that we would move the needle from roughly 67% going to core funding to 50-50, and we are already almost there.
We also made the announcement that we would take a portion of the new money, meaning $88.5 million, to create a very important digital strategy fund in order to help the art sector to transition, to adapt, to cope with the digital possibilities and capacities that we have in Canada and worldwide.
We also made the commitment that we would triple the investment to support indigenous creation, and not only augment the investment but rethink and reframe the way we do the support to make sure that it will be done less from a Eurocentric perspective and more according to indigenous world views with a program that is completely administered by a staff of indigenous descent and indigenous peers.
Finally, we made the commitment that we would double, over five years, the investments of the Canada Council for access to international markets.
We also made a very significant commitment that 88.5% of all the new money that the Canada Council receives will go directly to artists and arts organizations. That was a very bold commitment, because it meant that the bulk of the money would not serve to develop more bureaucratic capacities but go directly into the sector.
As of last month, the council had received, so far, $225 million, or 41% of all the new money I mentioned, the $550 million. As of today, in the arts system in Canada, $202 million, or 90% of the money we received, has been directly invested and distributed across Canada for artistic groups and arts organizations and to support projects. It's a big change. It's a big revolution in terms of the arts system.
It's clear that one of the difficulties with an announcement such as this one is that it generates a lot of expectations. First, most of the artists who heard that the budget was doubled thought it was happening overnight, not over five years. There were a lot of needs expressed and there were, again, a lot of expectations. Some of them were unrealistic, but our duty and our responsibility is to deal with all of those expectations calmly, with empathy and understanding, and to explain the choices we made. It's clear that it was impossible for the Canada Council to make decisions in terms of augmenting the support for indigenous creation. Reinvesting in diversity, we made the commitment that 25% of all the new money we would get would go to first-time recipients. It was impossible to make all those commitments, and at the same time satisfy the expectations of everybody across Canada. We would have needed billions of dollars to do that.
What is really important is that we made choices, and I can say now that we made very strong inroads in terms of reconciliation, in terms of creating new possibilities for our Canadian artists and arts organizations on the world stage, in terms of growing and consolidating what I could call the independent artistic scene across Canada, and in terms of inviting and supporting new artists and new voices across Canada.
One of the unrealistic expectations currently under considerable discussion is the regional distribution of council funding.
As a federal funding agency, the Canada Council for the Arts invests in provincial, municipal and local ecosystems that are highly diversified in the funding they receive, the size of organizations in those ecosystems and their funding history.
Every time we invest in Canada, we are aware that it is in very different contexts across the country, and contexts that are ever-changing, because the Canada Council represents only one portion of all the public money invested, and the level of investment and the way the cultural ecosystem works is very different from one province to another.
What we are trying to do, in fact, is not to come to a point where we would create a system in which public funding would be equal in every province in Canada. It's impossible to achieve—
Mr. Brault, thank you for being with us today.
I'm going to switch to English because I have lots of things to say for my people back home. I'm channelling a mentor, a great Edmonton and Canadian musician and talent, and a distinguished senator, the late Tommy Banks.
Mr. Brault, we know each other well because I was previously parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage.
I have to say that I like your work and I love what the CCA stands for. I like that the Canada Council for the Arts funds the Edmonton Opera, the Alberta Ballet, the Winspear Centre for the arts, the Citadel Theatre and many other worthy organizations in Edmonton and Calgary.
What I cannot stand for are the numbers, Monsieur Brault. If we look at the numbers and the principle of regional equity, the Canada Council for the Arts is categorically failing Albertans.
Let's take a look at the numbers. After we doubled the funding for the Canada Council for the Arts.... I will share this, and I will send a document that has been helpfully prepared by the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts—because they have enough money to do this kind of data crunching, and western arts groups do not.
Here are the numbers for 2017-18 for arts organizations funded by the CCA, per capita: Toronto, $16.62; Montreal, $30.73; Vancouver, $35.39. How much did Calgary get? It got $4.73. How much did Edmonton get per capita? It got $4.56.
Let's take a look at the provincial lens for the same year and the same funding, a year after the beginning of the doubling of the funding: British Columbia, 14.7%; Ontario, 32%; Quebec, 31%. Alberta got 5.7% of the funding.
On every single indicator—and this includes population, artists, assessors and funding—Alberta is at the bottom of the barrel. We are 12% of the population. We have 8% of the artists, 5% of the assessors, and just over 5% of the funding.
Monsieur Brault, how are you going to do regional equity, which is what the doubling of the funding was intended to do? I want to see more francophone artists. I want to see more indigenous artists. I want to see more LGBTQ artists. I am not seeing in the data a 25-year consistent underfunding of Alberta arts organizations moving a single needle. What are you and your organization going to do to address this egregious discrepancy in funding?
That's exactly right. You definitely love all those artistic disciplines, and we know you have all the necessary experience.
I imagine you were prepared to answer all these questions. After all, you received a fantastic budget, which may even be a model to the rest of the world given the importance of art in society. Some people question that. I hope I'll get a chance to talk to about the cuts to the number of programs and about their substance and the impact they're having on the communities, particularly on community pride.
First of all, I'd like to say I'm uncomfortable with the questions you've been asked about funding, more specifically about the province and city of one of my colleagues on the Standing Committee of Canadian Heritage, particularly since he's on the government side. It's the same as if I were a government member and, knowing my city needed $3.5 million to renovate a cathedral, I had worked hard to bring in someone from Canadian Heritage who specifically dealt with those matters.
We all know there's no shortage of work on the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. We've refused to discuss a number of topics that would have been entirely appropriate in the current situation, which is characterized by a paradigm shift. The entire cultural sector seems very pleased with the report on our copyright study, but it would've liked us to propose interim measures to rectify certain inequalities relative to the Internet giants. They also wanted to hear about cultural diversity and dissemination adjustment models.
As you can see, Mr. Brault, I'm giving you a break.
We still work with peers. Last year, some 550 peers came to Ottawa to conduct assessments. We use the same assessment system, but the way to get into the system is less focused on the person's discipline — theatre, for example — and much more on the nature of what that person does.
What we would expect from an organization such as the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde, which is an institution, is very different from what we want from a company consisting of three persons, say a choreographer, his best friend and another dancer. All organizations used to have to meet the same criteria and requirements, which was a major disadvantage for many companies. So we cleaned up the programs and simplified access to them.
We've been using this model for two full years now, and, frankly, I must say we've vastly improved the situation. We had to do it because the council and everyone were stuck. You nearly needed a sherpa to find your way through the programs. Now it's something we can explain to anyone. Artists, particularly the new generation, don't have the patience to deal with the old bureaucratic systems. We had to simplify matters in order to become more efficient.
Now I'd like to respond briefly to the member from Alberta.
While Mr. Nantel was making the introduction, last year in Alberta we received 606 applications, and the success rate was 44.2%, an increase of 8% over the success rate from 2015-16, so there is progress there.
However, I must add, just to explain the question of demand, that in B.C., the same province, the number of applications we received was 1,866. We don't decide that. It comes from the artists. The success rate in B.C. was the same, so the question of demand, for us, is the real question. This is where we are investing our efforts right now.
Canada Council is not creating art; Canada Council is recognizing and responding to projects that are formulated by artists. This is why we focus and we are travelling and criss-crossing Alberta and other provinces right now, to make sure that people hear about us and understand and gain more capacity to apply. We're there to respond, and the money is there. The good news is that over the last three years, we started by making permanent reinvestments in organizations. Now the big chunk of the money is money that is uncommitted, so there is real hope in terms of developing, and this is what we're working on, with honesty and passion.
I'm smiling because when we took the decision to reduce and simplify the grant application process, we had all of the young people, people from the north, people who were not really well advantaged by the system, applauding, and we had big organizations that were very frustrated because they could not explain at length what they wanted to do.
To be very concrete, we reduced the number of words. We asked for explanations. We also worked with juries that are aware of the context and know the artists. They can just judge on what is written on the paper, but they know the track records of the artists. Again, I'm not saying that everything is perfect, because I think we have more and more work to do to reach out to people and explain the Canada Council.
Again, this is work that we have not been doing for 20 years because there was no new money and there was no interest in having newcomers in the system.
It's exactly the reverse right now. The reverse right now is our priority is to make sure that we remove all the barriers. We did that. For instance, we published what has been the most visited section of the website of the Canada Council ever. We published a communique saying that we are removing all the barriers that are related to the formal number of years of artistic practice and all of that, because we saw that this was disadvantaging people from some regions in Canada and was also preventing refugees and immigrants from applying to the Canada Council. We removed those barriers, and we are moving from a culture in which we felt we were under siege and were gatekeepers to a situation that we think is about outreach, meeting people and inviting them to apply, and we have the money to respond.
I think that it will change the arts system for the better.
My pen is down, so the arms are down. If the pen's out of my hand, then I'm all good. It's like scaling Mount Olympus. That is what Alberta artists and...
Mr. Brault, I lived with my first partner
for seven years. He paints like Michelangelo. He sculpts like Rodin. He tried for eight years and failed every time. He made multiple attempts at grants every year—fail, fail, fail.
Then at his last, last, last attempt for the Winter Olympics, he decided to take an Olympic idea but made it a hockey player, naked. He called it Slapshotolus, and he was able to get an $80,000 grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, but that was after 10 years of trying.
Stewart Lemoine has 72 Canadian plays, 10 Sterling Awards, and the Tommy Banks Award. After 11 years of trying, he stopped trying to get funding from CCA.
I understand the machinery. I understand that 66% of the jurors are from Ontario and Quebec and five are from Alberta, and that's going to build in some inherent bias, but let's figure out what the mechanics are so we can get this addressed.
Three years ago we did a kind of survey. We tried to see what was happening worldwide with the arts sector. What happened in fact with digital is that the disruption really happened in the cultural industries, in the music industry first and then in film, with digital screens and all that. The disruption was not so much with the arts sector, especially the performing arts, but it is disruptive in the sense that the cultural habits and the way people relate to any content is profoundly changing with digital.
Our fund is to help the sector find ways of coping with that and using the possibilities. We decided that we would create a fund, and that the fund would support initiatives whereby people would partner. It's interesting, because the fund is present everywhere in Canada.
It started, very surprisingly, in the far north, because people were ready to take it. Right now there are probably 250 projects across Canada. There are a lot of collaborations on big data, on access, on ways to be more visible on the web. This is the kind of work we do.
Recently we opened a component to help organizations that wanted to understand where they are from a digital standpoint, and it has been a huge success. A lot is invested right now, and frankly, the Canada Council's fund is one of the most important ones for the arts sector worldwide.
We wanted to do that, and because we are also responsible for supporting the writers of this country and all of that, we really wanted to make sure that we would address that and also protect our investment. The digital fund will be $30 million next year. It's roughly 9% of everything we invest, but we think that by investing there, we will protect the other 90% of our investment, and if we don't do it, all of that will be at risk.