Thursday, July 06, 2006

John Hobday prize in Arts Management


I was invited to the Saidye Bronfman Centre for the launch of the John Hobday prize in Arts Management back on June 20th, sorry for the delay in writing this, but as per normal, I've been busy. It was a swanky do, as I had hoped - hence my glee and happiness at being invited. However, I was sorely disappointed by the reception for a number of reasons. As I knew I was going to be writing this, I offered to send a copy of this before I published it to Carole Breton of the Canada Council, she graciously responded, and I have incorporated her responses in where appropriate.

What really got my goat, was that this was ostensibly a celebration of the arts. It was being held at the Saidye Bronfman Centre for the Arts. However, there wasn't a single piece of art anywhere to be seen. In fact they had actually removed the art from the art gallery the day before.

When I enquired as to why, I was told that if there was art in the art gallery then the guests would not be able to eat or drink. While I was unable to procure the recipe for the chicken salad or the egg salad, I am confident that it must have been spectacular and I am certain that Rhonda Weppler and Trevor Mahovsky, the artists who did not have the opportunity to exhibit their art at this swanky do, would agree that having people eat and drink in the main hallway, as they normally do during vernissages at the Liane & Danny Taran Gallery of the Saidye Bronfman Centre for the Arts would have not been a good thing. I'm not entirely certain who was the person responsible for the evening, however I'd consider that one major brain fart.

Carole Breton writing on behalf of the Canada Council said "the absence of art in the gallery during the reception was a policy of the Saidye Bronfman Centre, and the Canada Council respects the policies of the organizations with whom we partner on these types of events." Although the Saidye Bronfman Centre currently doesn't have a director and the director of the art gallery was not there either, so I'm not so certain that there was anyone in charge enough to set policy, and there was a third organization organizing the event.

Besides myself, I counted exactly 13 other people who were not dressed in a standard business issue suit and tie. I haven't quite decided if that was a good thing, or a bad thing. It could have been a good thing, because I can't imagine all these business folk actually getting out to look at art unless it was a swanky do. It could have been a bad thing because all those business folk did not actually get to see any art.

I think this was the first time I'd ever been at a Canada Council function where they were handing out copies of the Annual Report. I guess it must've been because of all the business folk in attendance. I scooped up a copy for myself (there were only about half-a-dozen available) and it came in handy as I used the fancy slipcover to take notes (full disclosure, I asked Carole Breton of the Canada Council if I could borrow a pen in order to take said notes, I also told her that she could get an advance look at this post in order to fact check it). My memory is a little sketchy, which might have been due to the wonderful wine, but at night's end there appeared to be two or three copies of the Annual Report left. All those business folk must've already have downloaded their copies as pdf files.

Speaking of them all, including the 13 other people, there were about 75 people in total. I was pleasantly surprised to realize that I knew a bunch of them, and some of them in fact are really and truly very nice people.

There were three of them that spoke, Laurent Lapierre, Stephen Bronfman, and John Hobday. (Full disclosure, I went to high school with Mr. Bronfman). I asked if it would be possible to get copies of what they said, and was told 'yes' by a woman who's name escapes me (I think it might be Danielle Sarault, but I'm not sure, I told you my memory was a little sketchy) that she would be able to get me M. Lapierre's and Mr. Hobday's. I then asked Mr. Bronfman himself. He told me 'no,' and I ended up with only M. Lapierre's. Pity. I would have loved to know if the word "architected" which was used in reference to the work that Phyllis Lambert had done on the Saidye Bronfman building had been written down originally or was just an off the cuff slip of the toungue.

Anyhow's one of the other things that I found entertaining was that Mr. Bronfman's young son, got a louder round of applause than anyone else (except, phew, for Mr. Hobday). They then went on about Arts Management and how Mr. Hobday was a wonderful arts manager. I'm not going to discuss that right now, I will save my analysis of Mr. Hobday's skills as an arts manager for sometime later.

Personally though, and this is spoken as an arts manager (which is what I think I do 24/7) the skills required are highly overrated. Why anyone would want to go to university to learn how to be an arts manager is beyond me. But then again, some people I know and care about an awful lot like black licorice. There's no accounting for taste.

But the thing that got me most annoyed, is that if this is supposed to be prize to celebrate the accomplishments of Mr. Hobday and "contribute a great deal to the vitality and sustainability of Canadian arts organizations," and the Bronfman family kicked in a cool million bucks to do so. Why then are they being so cheap as to only toss off two awards of $10,000 each?

If I were to go into a bank tomorrow, I could get 4% guaranteed interest on a deposit without even trying. If I had a million dollars I'm certain that I could get a little but more, without any increase in the risk. Heck, if I was feeling just a little frisky, I could stick it in an S&P 500 index and get me at least 10% from now until the end of time.

$20,000 is 2% of one million. Last I heard $10,000 (the value of one of the prizes) wouldn't do an awful lot for the vitality or sustainability of just about any Canadian Arts Organization. My votes or nominations for the first winners of the prize would be Rene Angelil and Guy Laliberte, but I would guess that both of them use $10,000 as walking around money. On the Canada Council's website it says that the awards can be used "to pass their knowledge on to the next generation by acting as a mentor for a young arts administrator outside their own organizations." I think It would be tons of fun to get schooled by either one of them. But somehow I don't think it is going to happen in my lifetime. If they are planning on using the money to foster a 'mentoring program' what organization can continue to function if it's administrator is away at camp?

In his speech, M. Lapierre made reference to the awards contributing "a great deal to the vitality and sustainability of Canadian arts organizations." However, to big organizations like the Saidye Bronfman Centre for the Arts, $10,000 represents less than 1% of their annual budget. A one percent increase in a budget won't make anything more 'vital.' To the smaller organizations, $10,000 will be a significant increase in their annual budget, that they then will not be able to have ever again, because it is a prize (unless the Canada Council has written someplace that you will be able to win the prize more than once). A one-time boost in a budget doesn't help sustainability. After the initial rush everybody and everything comes down to earth again.

And then what happens to the extra money made off the investments? Does the Canada Council get to keep it? Does it go back to the Bronfmans? Is there anything in the gift that stipulates what should be done? Most importantly who gets to decide where and how and when it gets invested? And while I'm at it, what are the tax benefits of making a donation to the Canada Council?

Carole Breton writing on behalf of the Canada Council said:
Whenever the Canada Council receives an endowment, one of the priorities is allowing the endowment fund to grow and any endowment revenue above and beyond the cost of the prize (which includes the cost of jurying the prize and other administrative costs) remains in the endowment fund, which is invested as part of the Council's larger investment portfolio.

The Council's endowment funds are overseen by an Investment Committee headed by a financial expert (for example, the former chair of our Investment Committee was John Crow, former head of the Bank of Canada). Given the unpredictability of the economy, it is important that the fund be allowed to grow regardless of what happens in the financial markets. If the fund grows sufficiently over the years, the Council may consider increasing the value of the prizes or creating additional John Hobday prizes (i.e. three instead of two) within the endowment. But that is, of course, something to be considered for the future, not for a brand-new endowment fund.

As for the tax benefits of donating to the Canada Council, the Council has charitable status and the tax benefits are the same as they would be for donations to any charitable organization.
As soon as I hear any new details about the way to apply, win or anything else I'll let you know.

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