Thank you, Madam Chair, and thanks to the rest of the committee for inviting me to speak to you today on behalf of the Canadian Association of Stand-up Comedians, CASC.
I want to take a moment to clarify that our newly incorporated not-for-profit organization, as of May 1, also now includes members who are sketch and improv artists, as well as stand-up comedians. Since we started this endeavour in July 2017, we have grown to over 880 members in communities across the country in all provinces and territories.
CASC is pleased to learn that the Canada Council for the Arts has been managing an increase from budget 2016. That's good news for artists. We're very excited as well to learn more about the council's transition to a modernized funding model.
The motion mandating the study, which your committee adopted, also stated your intent to examine how the council's new funding model will ensure that artists, no matter where they live in Canada, have the support they need to contribute to the creative sector. I'd like to speak to that last part on behalf of comedians across the country.
With full respect to the committee, in addition to ensuring the council funds and supports artists no matter where they live, I believe it's time now to also ensure it funds and supports artists no matter what kind of art they create. The council has taken a bold approach to this idea in reducing their funding streams from 150 to six, and reducing the number of fields of practice, or artistic disciplines, that applicants can opt into.
Historically, under the old model, comedians have been excluded from the council. This conspicuous absence of comedy has sent a message to comedians over the decades, a message that I believe has compromised our art and been a disservice to the creative sector in this nation, a nation that is recognized on the global stage as a comedy nation.
With the newer model, comedians were initially advised to make an applicant profile under the theatre field of practice. Comedy, of course, is a practice in its own right, and many comedians still face barriers in accessing council funds, even in just getting to the point where they're approved to submit an application. They're told that they do not meet the general background requirements of a theatre artist, and of course, many of us don't. We generally have different training and different peers, and typically perform in different venues.
Last week we met with Canada Council for the Arts staff for the second time, including with the director general. We learned more about the council's new emerging-career profile, which the council has encouraged comedians, as potential first-time recipients, to apply under. We also understand that the council wants to provide 25% of the new investment to first-time recipients, something that likely would not be possible without the historic doubling of the council's budget.
Canadian comedians continue to innovate and develop boundary-pushing work, take risks and reach new audiences. We do so just like many other artists in this country. CASC is optimistic that comedians will finally get a seat at the table with the Canada Council for the Arts.
There are barriers that remain for comedians who will not apply under the emerging-career profile, or as they receive funding in future years, will still be required to apply under the theatre or writing profiles. This means they may run into the same dead ends. Right now, we create a theatre profile, apply hopefully to get a grant as a theatre artist, and then are rejected based on eligibility criteria before any consideration is given for the artistic creation.
While opening the fields of practice to be more broad is theoretically a good thing, the risk is that the council's program officers and peer assessors will not adequately understand the unique contexts across very specific disciplines. We believe it is crucial that comedians be active participants in developing, assessing and delivering the council's new model. Comedians must be consulted in order to establish a more clear understanding of the art that is created in the stand-up sketch and improv disciplines so that program staff at the council, those who help design, oversee and evaluate grant applications, can more accurately identify comedians who do satisfy the council's eligibility criteria and do support its mandate.
We've been informed that comedians can already apply to be on peer assessment committees at the council. With an absence of any comedy influence from within the council for decades, however, we believe the council must ensure that comedians are on the team, joining a diverse range of artists and arts professionals who evaluate, score and rank eligible applications.
All of our federal public support programs for the arts, including those within Canadian Heritage, are fundamental to a thriving comedy landscape in this country, and they benefit comedy artists by creating opportunities to train and perform, but none of them provide funding directly to the comedy artists, the ones who perform the discipline. This is why our relationship and access to the Canada Council for the Arts is an integral part of the health and growth of Canadian comedy.
Having had us call ourselves something else in order to work around or accommodate the process implies that we are not artists. It suppresses our perspective of ourselves and the world around us, and it discourages the very expression that the council is mandated and professes to compel within the Canadian artistic community of creators.
If the fields of practice are now both more open but still limiting, at the same time, what other new accommodations might be indoctrinated in the new council funding model that alienate comedians or other artists for another 60 years?
As arts distribution and presentation models change and as, seemingly, less programming and content are being properly supported and created in Canada by Canadian artists, CASC believes the country's creative sector is in crisis. Therefore, it's more important than ever for the council to get it right.
Advancement for artists doesn't necessarily mean mainstream success or reaching massive audiences on the global stage. For many comedians, it does, but for some comedians who have searched for an outlet, exhausted all avenues and perhaps even given up hope of being able to express their innovative voice to Canadian audiences, the council is one of their only prospects for the kind of advancement that is meaningful to them.
This is the first time in history in Canada that there's been an association like CASC. With the council's current transition to a modernized funding model, the timing is optimal for comedians to be active participants in creating legislation, policies and funding programs that foster and promote the arts and that bolster the production of works in the arts.
Furthermore, in nurturing and advancing Canada's creative sector, it's crucial that Canadian policy-makers protect not only big domestic corporations but also Canadian artists, when fighting to protect our distinct culture from foreign influence and ownership. That's why CASC is asking this committee to direct the Department of Canadian Heritage and the Canada Council for the Arts to collaborate with all private and public stakeholders in the arts community, including comedians, to ensure we maximize all possible avenues to build upon Canada's brand as a comedy nation.
I thank you, Madam Chair, for the time.
We're grateful for the opportunity to speak to the committee today. We look forward to working with the Canada Council for the Arts on their new funding model.
Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you, everybody, for inviting me here today.
I'd like to begin by saying it is tremendously important to me to be able to speak to the industry that has shaped my life. I want to acknowledge what a complex task it is to determine how funding is allocated across such a vast country and I appreciate the efforts of many of the employees of the Canada Council who do their jobs with integrity.
Before I express my own views on the historic 2016 increase in funding to the Canada Council and how I think it has impacted Alberta, I'd like to give you some context as to who I am to be able to speak with an informed voice.
I am an Alberta-born artist, born in Grande Prairie, Alberta, a small town of 11,000 at the time. I have earned my living subsequently as a performer, artist and administrator for nearly 40 years and I've had the privilege of performing all over the world, including an invitation to sing for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Currently I am the Executive Director of Ballet Edmonton, an Alberta-based contemporary ballet organization, and I also sit as a governor and senator at the University of Alberta, so I am familiar with large billion-dollar budgets and the scope of competing needs.
I spent the first 12 years of my professional career living in Toronto and having an eastern career and travelling around the world from there. I went back to Alberta in 1991, and I feel I have a comparative Canadian experience from which to draw my conclusions.
I appreciate this committee's understanding of how important support for the arts sector across this country is, not just for the artists but also for Canadians. It's clear that we share a belief that art is a powerful tool for wellness, quality of life, community building and reconciliation. It is also an economic driver in every province.
I hope you also, therefore, share my belief that it's vital we address the very real issue of the historically inequitable funding that continues to exist at the Canada Council.
At the heart of my discontent is the realization that Alberta artists for many decades have been impacted by loss of artistic opportunity, the opportunity to engage with our public, to take artistic risks, to create new work, to develop artistic relationships with our colleagues from across Canada, to tour and to be recognized nationally. This inequity has impacted our provincial artistic growth and inhibited our ability to contribute to the overall cultural identity of Canada.
The people of Alberta make up 11.6% of the population of Canada, yet for the past 20 years our province has endured a systematic cap on funding. In 2001, we received 6.7% of Canada Council funding. In 2018, two years after the doubling of the budget, we are at 5.4%. That is a decrease of a percentage point, this despite historic funding.
The refusal to democratize funding across Canada has diminished our voice and put into question Alberta's value to the Canadian arts ecosystem. We are a robust and passionate community with a history of producing amazing artists with careers that resonate around the world, yet we seem to be nothing more than a footnote to the Canada Council.
Bearing in mind the geographic challenges and access to resources of some of our remote provinces and territories, I am here to suggest that funding be mandated to be proportionate to populations, with a few exceptions for those remote communities. This would allow all Canadians to reap the benefits of being nourished by a healthy arts community.
While it's true that Alberta did see the council raise the per capita percentage variance of Alberta's artists from $1.97 in 2014 to $2.71 in 2018, it's also true that at the same time, the province with the highest per capita spending went from $5.77 to $8.53. It is outrageous to suggest that excellence was at the heart of those funding decisions when it's clear that systemic bias is at the heart of those funding decisions.
Despite the influx of all those new dollars, the council's new funding model has not corrected the imbalance. The incremental increases to Alberta are a testament to that. In fact, Edmonton Opera receives less operating money than it did in 2004. Until this year, the Art Gallery of Alberta saw no funding increases for 10 years, and this year saw $25,000. One of the most well-attended, beloved regional theatres in Edmonton, the Varscona Theatre, gets no council support despite housing four resident theatre companies.
What formula allows for this kind of imbalance to happen for decades, and why is that formula not discarded, as it clearly allows inequities to keep occurring? I am left to conclude that there are deeply held provincial biases and a wilful blindness to allow them to remain unchallenged. The council for far too long has used the words “merit” or “excellence” to disguise the resistance to change that would see the redistribution of art across this country.
Funding inequity does not impact just Alberta artists; it impacts Albertans. It impacts our public, our patrons, who have been denied programming, denied the outreach that we so longingly want to implement, denied seeing more of their own stories on stage and denied the opportunity for the shared experience that art facilitates in communities. Funding inequity has seen Alberta artists' careers stunted; artists who have refused to leave the province and for whom remaining there meant a much diminished capacity for expression. Those lost years cannot be recaptured.
How would a jury, regardless of its arts experience, have a genuine sense of regional artistic practices when there is not an individual from each province or territory on a jury pool? How would the council understand the transformative change that any given artist or arts group has on a community when they use a measurement model that reflects their own community and therefore their own artistic preferences? It's worth noting that on any given jury pool at the Canada Council there is an average of 63% central Canadian and between 0% and 5% Albertan jurists.
To suggest that excellence across Canada looks and sounds the same everywhere is a deeply flawed assumption and in many cases leads to art that is designed to secure national funding, not to create authentic, inspired, honest art.
To justify static funding levels by claiming Alberta lacks significant output is to assume funding has no impact on output. Of course communities that are richly funded create more art; well-funded artists have more capacity, more energy, more resources, and, of course, more confidence to bring their art to life.
Alberta alerted the executive of the Canada Council that our inequitable funding for as long as I can recall must stop, and yet we were simply told that regional funding is not possible because funding depends on merit and excellence, so that the message we hear is that our art is inferior.
Art is supposed to act as a bridge. It unites communities across this vast geography. Art is supposed to help us teach and inform each other about each other, and the council has a responsibility to use its own internal creativity to develop a transparent funding strategy to ensure that can occur everywhere in Canada.
If federal arts funding continues to be politicized, it fundamentally is a broken system, and it defeats the entire purpose of a national arm's-length agency.
Our strength as a nation, as artists and as people, is in our regional diversity. Our art should reflect that diversity. Homogenous art is a failure.
I urge you to see that steps are taken to realign or reinforce the mandate of the council to allow for an accurate reflection of Canadian artists' identity to finally emerge. Our civic and provincial funders can assist the council in determining the best needs of the communities they represent. They are the boots on the ground. This is possible only if the council will allow a meaningful, transparent dialogue, followed by an action plan that is also transparent, to be developed in consultation with leaders across the arts sector.
My comments today are provoked into existence by my four decades of lived experience and my deep and profound respect for the artists I have worked with, I have known and I have witnessed in my province. I am so proud to be a Canadian artist, and I am proud to be an Alberta artist. I look to this committee to ensure that the council honours that.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
[Witness spoke in Cree]
Greetings, my friends. The flame of my spirit greets the flame of yours.
I'd like to begin by acknowledging that we are gathered here today on the unceded territories of the Algonquin nation. I would also like to bring greetings from the city of Edmonton on Treaty 6 territory, as well as from the Sucker Creek Cree first nation of Treaty 8, which is the territory of my people, the Sakawithiniwak.
When I was asked to travel here to speak with you about the future of funding the arts in Canada, I found myself initially feeling that the honour was misplaced. In the tradition of my ancestors, gathering a diversity of people in a circle like this one, around a problem or an idea or a new technology, taking turns to go around and to one by one describe what we see from our place in the circle, to listen and to trust one another, so that we may co-create a multi-dimensional understanding of the thing in the centre, is a sacred and important governance process. What could I, a 25-year-old actor from the Prairies, possibly describe from my place in your circle that would be of value to your study?
The truth is that I have had the great fortune and privilege of having a career that many would consider a great success, but I have always considered that success a product of countless individuals and organizations that have supported me on my journey. From having access to training and experiences in the arts from a young age, to being encouraged to pursue my acting and singing professionally, to being invited to perform on the world stage, to returning to Edmonton to ensure that I was doing my part to open up the arts for indigenous peoples, and finally, to producing, writing and performing in my own first work, I have seldom been without the means and encouragement to take my next steps. I have always known that my experience has been an exception to the rule.
This afternoon, I'd like to use my time in your circle to share my story so that perhaps I may shine a light on the support I have been given along the way that has enabled me to do more in my short career than many are able to do in a lifetime. You can imagine, with me, an answer to the question that I have asked myself when thinking about the good fortune I have: What if all artists in Canada had the same privileges that I have had?
One of my very first memories is of the Edmonton fringe festival, the oldest and largest fringe theatre festival in North America. In my family, attending it was a staple of every summer. It demonstrated to me that the performing arts were a valued and important part of life. My early discovery of my love of acting, singing and dancing made it that much easier for me to consider this a viable career path. It was made still easier by the support from my high school drama department and such extracurricular opportunities as the young companies at the Citadel, the Edmonton Kiwanis Music Festival, and Rapid Fire Theatre's Nosebowl High School Theatresports Tournament. Growing up, each of these stepping stones taught me to work hard, dream big and continue working on my craft.
When I was 18, I was fortunate enough to secure a place in the University of Alberta's Bachelor of Fine Arts acting program to further develop my skills and professional acumen. The small class size and world-class instructors pushed me to my limits, and sometimes beyond, and strengthened my belief in the importance of storytelling as a means of building community and identity. Upon my graduation at 21, my first professional gig was Evangeline, a co-production between the Citadel in Edmonton and the Confederation Centre in Charlottetown. In that show, I was fortunate enough to be mentored by Brent Carver, a Tony award-winning actor, and to make professional and personal connections with other actors and artists from across Canada.
The confidence gained from that experience, as well as from being cast in my first lead role, for the Edmonton Freewill Shakespeare Festival's Romeo and Juliet, that summer inspired me to take the leap in moving to Toronto to pursue further classical training at Soulpepper Theatre's academy. In that program, at just 22 years old, I was able to work with some of the country's most treasured artists on such fulfilling projects as True North Cabaret, where, in my off-Broadway debut, I read a passage of work from Richard Wagamese and sang Joni Mitchell's song Both Sides Now. My performance was critically praised in the New York Times, and added fuel to the fire that had begun to grow in me during my time in Toronto and burned with questions: How was I vitalizing myself as an indigenous artist, not just a Canadian artist? How was I using the gifts I was born with, and given, to lift up my people as a whole?
They were the questions that my artistic community supported me in asking. At 23 I decided to take a cultural sabbatical to delve into them more fully, and I was supported in that as well.
I returned to Edmonton to engage with ceremony and the history of my people. To support myself I joined my sister and business partner, Jacquelyn Cardinal, at a company we started together, Naheyawin.
Naheyawin is a consultancy working to help organizations and communities build capacity for abundance, kindness and reinvigoration of the spirit of treaty by implementing indigenous principles into everyday business practices and processes. We often say that we invite others to peer through our indigenous lens with us and feel empowered to travel the bridges to the places we dream of going and in that journey, transform into the people we believe we can be.
In the last two years since I returned to Edmonton, Jacquelyn has testified on our behalf before the Senate on two occasions about our approach and impacts of our work in our indigenous and non-indigenous communities.
An example of such work was our assistance last year in the development of an award-winning 10-year arts and heritage plan for Edmonton called Connections & Exchanges, which included the policy recommendations to ensure indigenous peoples have the opportunity to participate in and develop our past, present and future manifestations of our cultures.
I cannot overstate the significance of being invited to walk alongside the organizations that helped me transform into a contributing artist as they themselves transform into a future of truth and reconciliation. It has truly been an honour.
When I felt I had gained enough rootedness and sense of place to begin my artistic development, once more in parallel to my continued work at Naheyawin, I was welcomed with open arms by my community. I was given the role of Hamlet at Freewill Shakespeare Festival last summer. That enabled me to produce, write and perform in my first original stage play called Lake of the Strangers, a co-production between Naheyawin and Edmonton's Fringe Theatre, which debuted in January of this year.
Both projects allowed me to combine all that I learned in my training and work experience with all that I had learned from my journey in vitalizing myself as an indigenous person and consequently were what I believe are my greatest professional achievements to date.
The Sterling nominations honouring excellence in Edmonton theatre—I learned just last night I have one for my leading performance in Hamlet, and there are four for Lake of the Strangers, including best new play—are a testament to what is possible when time, space and encouragement are afforded to emerging artists.
To close I would humbly urge the committee to consider the circle we sit in today as a smaller part of an even larger one, which is ultimately describing what we value as Canadians. I don't speak for all artists, but I do believe that my story of enormous and transforming support should be commonplace among all those who contribute to the creative sector in Canada. We should all be able to follow the love of our crafts down winding paths of learning, reaching, failing and reinvention so that we may, together, continue to do the work of artists, to make sense of the past, uncover who we are today and venture into the future.
[Witness spoke in Cree]
Well, it would be an insistence by the private and public sectors and this committee to the Department of Canadian Heritage and to the Canada Council for the Arts of more comedy creation in this country.
Right now, whether it be live or produced—and obviously, as I mentioned, the distribution channels are changing dramatically—we are still recognized as a comedy nation. We are missing the boat in terms of the volume of content that's been created for all of the streams.
Comedy, either stand-up, sketch or improv, is one of the most immediate forms of theatre and storytelling in the world, and it's not even recognized as an art form and funded directly to comedy artists in this country. If there's no insistence on comedy creation in terms of content, whether it be streaming, programming or directly in live environments....
I stated that I did a scan of the 2017-18 prime-time schedule. On English Canada television, aside from CBC, less than 7% of the prime-time television programming originated in Canada.
The Massey commission started its study in 1951 because of a bleak cultural landscape in this country. It stated that only 14 English novels were created in an entire year.
CASC believes that we're in a similar crisis right now. We need to embrace and insist on the creation of content here, and fuel it—as you heard from Hunter Cardinal—in respect to all communities, to make sure we continue to thrive in terms of the volume of comedy content.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Distinguished members of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, good afternoon.
I am Joëlle Préfontaine, Artistic Director and Co-General Manager of the only professional francophone theatre company in Edmonton, UniThéâtre. I have held this position for 16 months, but I am very familiar with the company, since I worked there for 10 years as an actress, instructor and stage director.
UniThéâtre was created in 1992. It resulted from a merger of two theatre companies: Théâtre français d'Edmonton, founded in 1967, and Boîte à Popicos, created in 1978.
I am from the Franco-Albertan community of Legal, located in north Edmonton. I lived below the poverty line as a bilingual artist for 15 years, while I worked full time, putting in over 40 hours a week. I had to get into debt to survive. I am sharing that information with you because I know that many artists will see themselves in my story.
Despite everything, arts are doing well in Alberta. A growing number of artists are choosing to set up in Edmonton to practice their art. I could attend two shows a week without managing to see everything that is happening in my sector.
So it is a privilege for me to be joining you today. I thank you for giving me this opportunity to meet with you.
I will more specifically focus on four themes: increasing the budget of Canada Council for the Arts, or CCA; communications with the CCA; representation of the Canadian francophonie on CCA juries; and the future of the CCA's funding.
After the funding of the Canada Council for the Arts stagnated for a few years, the Government of Canada announced in 2016-2017 that it was committing to double the CCA's budget by 2021. I need not to tell you that we liked that news.
The capping of the CCA budget before the 2016-2017 announcement hindered the development of the arts community. The CCA did not have means to support the proposals of new artists or established artists for new projects. During that time, the development of Alberta's artistic organizations such as UniThéâtre was limited by the lack of resources available to them. Despite those conditions, my company has remained in touch with its community.
However, even with the planned increase of the CCA's budget, the organization will still not be able to meet the real needs of the arts community. The announcement of new investments in the Canada Council for the Arts came with another piece of news, which was the restructuring of its programs. So the CCA has reduced the number of its programs. Previously, there were some 150 of them, and then the organization ended up with six so-called flexible and more open programs. It is true that it is easier to navigate in CCA's new operating model. However, some aspects of the implementation are lacking.
Before the new model was implemented, UniThéâtre would contact a specific CCA officer capable of directing it toward programs that would be likely to support its projects. As he was our main interlocutor at the CCA, the officer had a view of all facets of our activities. He understood what was involved in managing a francophone theatre company in a minority setting.
A company like UniThéâtre has a double mandate, which is both artistic and community-based. We exist to support and present the work of French speaking artists, but we are also promoters of French language and culture. I add that I relearned French through my experiences in the theatre. We are helping shape the Franco-Albertan identity.
So our officer understood the roles we play. Now, if UniThéâtre wants to use more than one CCA program, it must contact more than one officer. That is a considerable change. It means that every officer has only a partial vision of who we are and what we do. We have to repeatedly introduce ourselves to every one of them, in the hope that they will learn not only to know us, but to understand us. That lack of familiarity harms the fluidity of our relationship with the CCA.
In addition to the relationship UniThéâtre has with the CCA as a client, the organization sometimes invites me to be part of its peer juries to assess certain funding requests submitted to it. That other point of contact with the CCA is important to me and to UniThéâtre. Every one of those experiences is learning in itself. Finding out what my peers are doing and how they are doing it is essential to my artistic development. That said, I know that, when I accept those invitations, I will be the only Franco-Canadian to participate in the assessments. So I will have to represent nine provinces and three territories.
Despite the context sheets proposed by the CCA, the other members of the jury, mainly from Quebec, knew relatively little about artists from the Canadian francophonie, the challenges associated with creating in a minority language context and the gaps between the provinces and territories in terms of public funding for the arts. They don't know that there is only one vocational theatre program in French at the post-secondary level in western Canada. This is a large task I am proud to carry out, but I think it would be important to include at least one other artist from the Canadian francophonie on francophone juries, in order to lighten the burden of the person who must represent the entire country instead of one province in particular.
As the general co-director of UniThéâtre, I pay special attention to current events that could affect my company. For example, the federal election next October is on the horizon. Funding for arts and culture is rarely mentioned during an election campaign, but, since I have your attention, I am putting the following request to the political parties represented on this committee: make the commitment to maintain the announced increase to the Canada Council for the Arts budget, to consolidate it and even to enhance it after 2021. That money will not be wasted. The funding provided to a theatre company like mine is used to cover the cost of hiring companies and artists we use in our projects. It allows us to sell our tickets at affordable prices, so that as many people as possible can attend our productions. That way, we generate economic benefits for our city, our province and our country. In addition, we contribute to the quality of life of our fellow citizens. Those are accomplishments UniThéâtre is proud of.
I want you to know that I am forever grateful to the Canada Council for the Arts for its support to my personal and artistic journey, as well as to that of UniThéâtre. The funding we receive helps us live our dreams, create opportunities to share stories with our audience, and grow. The arts bring us together, help us learn and be heard.
Thank you for your attention.
Thank you for the introduction.
Today I'm bringing a perspective to this hearing, which I suppose is what you're calling it, as a Canadian, not as an Albertan.
My position right now is President and CEO of the Winspear Centre and of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.
I was born in Montreal, and that is where I studied music at university. I then lived in Europe for a few years, after which I returned to Montreal.
My first job in Canada as an administrator was in New Brunswick.
I worked at the Saint John Symphony Orchestra, which is now called Symphony New Brunswick. I spent about four years there as the chief executive officer. I then moved to Ottawa, where I worked at the National Arts Centre for four years. After that, I worked in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where I stayed for about 10 years. I then moved to Edmonton, where I still work.
It is from this vantage point that I speak to you today, because as a Canadian—and I'm a staunchly fierce, proud Canadian—I think there is a real palpable difference from one region of this country to another. I think you have a real challenge in any funding body to be able to develop a method where the various solitudes of this country are truly considered.
I was very lucky. When I was going to McGill University, one of my professors was Hugh MacLennan. You do remember, I hope, one of his many great books and the one that stuck with me, Two Solitudes. Really, I've contemplated this so much since those days. I would say that there are five or six solitudes in Canada. You have the Maritimes. You have Quebec. You have Ontario. You have the midwest, Alberta, and then B.C., and then, of course, in fact you have northern Canada, as well.
For me, the beauty of this country is exactly all those very different cultures that we embrace as Canadians. I think it's this part that has been lost as a result of the funding model within the Canada Council. I don't believe it was ever done intentionally, but it is one of the outcomes of the way that funding is evaluated through artistic merit. Having also sat on juries for the Canada Council, I myself have witnessed the challenges that jury members faced in evaluating the different context within which each application was being evaluated.
This is really what I wanted to share with you today, that there are some very distinct differences within this country, and I think that the very best way to consider applications and consider funding is through a much more proportionate representation of population.
I do remember a distinct circumstance. When I was already working in Alberta, I sat on a jury where there were some applications from the Maritimes, a lot of applications from Ontario and from Quebec, a few from Manitoba, almost none from Alberta and a few from B.C. It was a very interesting conversation. Despite people's best efforts, it was very hard for them to understand the context within which these applications were being submitted.
Really, that's the extent of what I would like to present today. I'm happy to take questions later.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Let me read something for you:
By 2021, Canadian artists and arts organizations will share their work with a larger and more diverse public, including youth — in person, in print, and online.
Artists and arts organizations will have more resources to experiment and take artistic risks to create excellent work that is shared across the country and around the world.
Further on it is stated:
Canada’s major arts organizations will be models of diversity and innovation. They will contribute to the quest for excellence and renewal in their artistic practices, and to the vitality of their cities and communities. Their programming and institutional decisions will reflect Canada’s diversity – including its cultural diversity, Deaf and disability communities, and official language minority communities. They will flourish and reach more Canadians than ever.
Madam Chair, members of the standing committee, my name is Jon Jackson, and I am the executive director for Theatre Calgary. Thank you for the opportunity to address you today on the Canada Council for the Arts and how they are managing their increased budget.
What I've just read to you is an excerpt from Canada Council's vision for 2021. Theatre Calgary and arts organizations across the country embrace this vision and applaud the council's incredible ambition. We fully support the Canada Council's commitment to creating more opportunities for artists across our country, as well as expanding and diversifying the number of artists and arts organizations receiving funding.
Unfortunately, I am here today to discuss with you that these efforts are not being provided equitably across our country, particularly in Alberta. With the federal government providing the Canada Council with increased funding to invest in the arts, it is also the time to change the system and make it fair and equitable for all Canadians to not only create art but engage in it as well.
In 2017-18, artists in Alberta received $11.2 million in funding from the Canada Council for the Arts, for artists, arts organizations and projects. Alberta received $991.30 per artist. This is the second lowest in the country, despite being home to the fourth highest number of artists of any province.
In spite of that, Alberta is creating some of the best art in Canada and showcasing it for international audiences. For instance, Theatre Calgary has made a point of partnering globally over the years, from the development of the world premiere of The Little Prince with Lamplighter Drama in London to our ongoing co-producing relationship with the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, which most recently resulted in the theatrical adaptation of A Thousand Splendid Suns; and our most recent collaboration with New York artists Bobby Cronin and Crystal Skillman on the world premiere of Mary and Max—A New Musical, which will make its European premiere this fall at Austria's Landestheater Linz.
Alberta Ballet is the only ballet company in the world to which Elton John, Joni Mitchell, k.d. lang, Sarah McLachlan, Gordon Lightfoot and The Tragically Hip have entrusted their music to create ballets.
Alberta is also home to Indefinite Arts Centre, Canada's oldest and largest disability arts organization. They currently have an exhibition in Dubai and enjoyed great success in Hong Kong last year.
Every artist and arts organization in Alberta is producing incredible work like this while receiving inequitable funding from the council. We are helping them fulfill their commitment to raising the international profile of Canadian art and artists without the support that Alberta artists and arts organizations deserve.
The Canada Council has indicated that they have decreased the proportion of funding to arts organizations from 67% to 50%, with more funding being allocated to projects and individual artists. While we applaud and support an increased investment in artists, giving them more flexibility on where and how they create the art, we would like to take this time to remind the council that arts organizations employ those artists and provide them with stable income and the opportunity to take risks and showcase their work to broader audiences.
Over the last five years alone, Calgary Opera, Theatre Calgary, Alberta Ballet, and the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra have employed 5,135 artists. Without our companies, many of these artists may have to leave Alberta to find work. On top of that, each of us is supporting and encouraging new artists. Over the last three years, our organizations have invested over $2.6 million in our emerging artist and mentorship programs.
These initiatives provide new and developing artists paid opportunities to work, furthering the development of their art and their knowledge of the professional world. Without equitable funding from the council putting Albertans on a par with our peers across the country, we will not be able to continue these programs, which will have a lasting negative effect on the Alberta art sector.
While we are excited that the Canada Council utilizes a peer system for their investments—after all, who better to judge artistic work than artists?—this is another example of inequity. In 2017-18, the council utilized 624 assessors from across Canada. The Atlantic provinces had 62, and despite having twice the population and almost twice the number of artists, Alberta had only 34. How are Alberta artists and arts organizations from this province able to be equitably evaluated when Albertans do not have a voice at the table?
Mr. Brault has said that the Canada Council is not receiving enough applications from Alberta to provide the council the opportunity to increase funding to Alberta artists and arts organizations. I would ask him what he has done to connect with Albertans to make them aware of the opportunities available and to educate them on the application process.
I would challenge him to ensure that both he and the program officers spend more time in Alberta, meet with our organizations, meet with our artists, especially our indigenous artists, and help them apply. I know for a fact that Calgary Arts Development, our municipal arts funding organization, would be very happy to work with Mr. Brault to facilitate and coordinate this.
My challenge extends beyond simply making Albertans aware of opportunities. I'm also talking about relationship building. While the Canada Council has a mandate for the equitable distribution of information, we in Alberta are continuously challenged in receiving information and connecting with the council.
In the past year, I have spoken with my project officer once; this is despite numerous attempts on my part to connect. Another organization, Wordfest, has had five changes in their project officers in the last two years. Not only do organizations struggle to speak directly with their officers, but they are also consistently advised that feedback calls on recent applications will take weeks and months to be completed. How are we supposed to build a relationship with the council if we don't know who we are supposed to build it with?
We are in the middle of a transformative period. The doubling of the Canada Council's budget is a thrilling and unprecedented opportunity to provide Canadian artists with the chance to ascend the world stage. As a proud Canadian, a proud Albertan and a proud arts worker, I would ask that this opportunity be provided equally to all provinces.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I thank all of our witnesses for being here.
Ms. Préfontaine can understand me well when I speak in French.
Mr. Jackson, you can hear the interpretation.
Ms. Petrov, you understand French, but you can also use the interpretation to English, no problem.
Ms. Préfontaine, your testimony shows all the importance of the theatre, especially when it comes to children. In addition, you provide surtitles, which is a very good idea. You are engaged in cultural mediation in the country in our official languages.
I must absolutely stop here to share with my colleagues my inability to understand the report on copyright submitted by the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. I will actually move a motion to that effect.