Tuesday, November 02, 2004

More on the Canada Council for the Arts


[ed note: For those of you coming from simpleposie (and elsewhere) if you are interested in more on what I think of the Canada Council's proposed changes, you might want to read what I wrote back in July.]

I just got back from the public consultation by the Canada Council for the Arts about their impending changes in how they fund Visual Artists. Lotsa Fun was had by all.

It was very interesting to see how things played out. First off, I like the proposed changes. Or at least how they have worded the proposed changes in English on the website. Basically, it appears as if they are going to be tossing out 100 grants of up to $5,000 for "first solo shows." Then they are going to be tossing out 75 grants of up to $10,000 for what they call "Exhibition projects," and then finally they will be tossing out 15 grants of up to $50,000 for your basic big shot artists.

As I mentioned I like 'em, it should be pretty obvious to anybody who knows the gallery as to why. For those of you reading long distance, who aren't entirely up to snuff on Zeke's. The mandate here, is "First Solo Show." All I do here is exhibit artist's first solo exhibitions. My first question, upon reading about the changes was "hmmm, I wonder if I will be allowed to score 10% of the budget for first solo shows? Ego aside, it does appear as if the changes will at least attempt to make a difference as to how Canadian artists are dealt with on an international level.

The thing that was most surprising to me (although it shouldn't have been if I had looked even a little bit beyond my nose) was how much the artists did not like the proposed changes. I think I was the only non-artist there. The director of the RCAAQ was there, but I think that by definition he has to be an artist. The director of Artexte was there but I think that the same rules apply to him as well.

There were by my count, 115 people in attendance. The Canada Council folk, François Lachapelle, Michel Gaboury, and Marianne Heggtveit all expressed astonishment at how many people turned out here in Montreal. They made mention in passing, that they were used to doing these presentations in front of as few as two people, and were expecting about two dozen here. The main complaint voiced by the large number of artists was that the new ideas were geared towards exhibitions, exhibiting, and getting scads of people to see art.

As they were artists who were used to being able to get some money (not an awful lot) just for thinking and conceiving art without actually exhibiting it, and that doing the thinking and the conceiving is a valid activity when being an artist (heck, even when not being an artist, although I don't think that being a garbage man requires an awful lot of thought) that there was a collective gasp when the new concept sunk in. What and how things survive we will find out in the future.

Some interesting points were raised and/or mentioned during the meeting.
A) it costs the Canadian Government $1 million dollars to distribute $3.5 million dollars to visual artists, and the guy responsible for distributing it doesn't know how to make it cost less.
B) it cost the Canadian Government $40,000 to send three people around the country to ask artists what they thought about the new proposals.
C) The first place that they are thinking of making significant changes is in the "First Solo Show" part. It should have been self-evident to me (but it wasn't) as they had not solicited any commentary from people who would be eligible for those grants, there wasn't much outcry from the folk in attendance about cutting that section out, and moving the money to "established" artists.
D) the people responsible for formulating the "new" plan had no real goals in mind when formulating the plan. They attempted to synopsize what they had heard the first time around when they sent out personal invitations to about 240 selected people asking them what was wrong with the Visual Arts program of the Canada Council.

My opinion interjection: If they had asked instead "How would you fix the Visual Arts program of the Canada Council?" they would have gotten a completely different set of answers. If they had not handpicked the people who they wanted to hear from they would have gotten a completely different set of answers. Nothing like being able to stack the deck in your favor to start, eh?

Back to your regularly scheduled program:
According to them, there are 15,000 artists in Canada. There are 2,300 applications received in the Visual Arts section. There are 1,500 new graduates in University Fine Arts programs every year. And finally, according to them, there are 300 places to exhibit art in Canada.

Well, as I have a list here of 535 places to exhibit here in Montreal, I would at least question all their other figures. They might say they are using a rigorous definition (the UNESCO definition of gallery) - I just spent 20 minutes searching the UNESCO website, I can't find a definition of the word "gallery." However, they define "Artist" as follows:

‘Artist’ is taken to mean any person who creates or gives creative expression to, or re-creates works of art, who considers his artistic creation to be an essential part of his life, who contributes in this way to the development of art and culture and who is or asks to be recognized as an artist, whether or not he is bound by any relations of employment or association.

My guess would be that their definition of "gallery" would be equally broad.

Now I gotta get back to work on some grant applications.

If you still have some time to kill, they are actively seeking opinions from the public. Feel free to email François Lachapelle, Michel Gaboury, and Marianne Heggtveit or all three of them and let them know what you think.

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