Image design by: Clayton Windatt
With the newly elected Canadian government making big promises for the arts ecology of Canada, it would appear that opportunities for First Nations, Inuit and Métis artists and organizations will increase by 2017. The new Prime Minister has given some tall orders to Canadian Heritage including increasing funding to many areas that were previously cut. They have also stated that the Canada Council for the Arts (CCA) will have their budget doubled over the next few years and given a huge increase immediately. The Government is prepared to go into deficit to make the changes they’ve promised, but it is unclear whether this increase to the CCA will contribute to the projected deficit, or if the funds are coming from other programs that have been, or will soon be, cut.
On December 4th, quick on the heels of the Government’s announced increases to the arts, the CCA unveiled their new funding model which has been in the works for over a year. Since it was first publicized in January, the new model has been highly anticipated by artists from across Canada anxious to find out what would change and what would remain the same when the CCA “drastically reduced” the number of programs and adopted a “non-disciplinary” approach. Their recent announcement answers those questions by presenting the six new funding programs that will replace all current application processes in 2017. The first of the new programs, Creating, Knowing and Sharing: The Arts and Cultures of First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples, outlines some pretty exciting opportunities for Aboriginal artists and arts organizations.
The mandate for the new Creating, Knowing and Sharing program and the Aboriginal Arts department consists of five objectives: 1) To support the creative capacity and professional development of First Nations, Inuit and Métis artists and arts organizations. 2) To facilitate the reclamation, retention, renewal and transmission of First Nations, Inuit and Métis cultural knowledge and creative practice. 3) To support exploration, creation and production of customary and contemporary First Nations, Inuit and Métis arts practice. 4) To support the presentation, exhibition, and sharing of works by First Nations, Inuit and Métis artists in Canada and internationally. 5) To strengthen and support the presence of First Nations, Inuit and Métis arts in communities. All in all, it’s a pretty sexy, all-inclusive series of statements that could fund almost anything imaginable within the contemporary arts sphere while respecting the need for the transmission and respect of customary practices and generational knowledge.
The Creating, Knowing and Sharing program has also been modified from almost twenty grant applications pools to five: Small-Scale Activities, Travel, Short-Term Projects, Long-Term Projects and Indigenous Organizations. The full details each new “Program Component” have not been released, but a brief description of each can be found on the CCA’s website: www.newfundingmodel.canadacouncil.ca. The grants for Small-Scale Activities provide funding for up to $3000 a year for artists, cultural professionals/carriers, groups or organizations to conduct activities with the goal of advancing their careers. These micro grants are new to the CCA, and will allow more applicants to access funding for specific actions to increase their capacity than was available under the current system. Another important development with this component is the eligibility for “aspiring” artists to apply and the emphasis on impact and feasibility rather than artistic merit, allowing emerging artists to build their careers up to the level of “Professional” so they can compete in the larger funding pools.
Travel grants under the Creating, Knowing and Sharing program are similar to the existing grants for travel and collaboration, but they have been increased to a maximum of $15,000. The emphasis for assessment also seems to have shifted from artistic merit to impact on the applicant’s practice, which makes sense if the goal is to grow the arts sector and increase the amount of developing professionals overall. The Short-Term and Long-Term Project components are designed for larger-scale activities that can span up to 18 months (short-term) or up to 36 months (long-term). The two programs are very similar in that they both emphasize artistic merit and a healthy budget that includes additional revenue sources aside from CCA funding, but the long-term grants expect greater impact from the project and higher participation from First Nations, Inuit and Métis people in key roles within the project. The information online states that both individual artists and arts groups/organizations can apply to either of these components, significantly increasing the potential funding that an individual artist could receive. What is not clear, however, is whether an individual artist’s creation project is likely to receive the maximum amount when competing against an organization with access to more resources and potentially a greater audience.
The final component of the Creating, Knowing and Sharing program is Indigenous Organizations, which provides core funding for non-profit First Nations, Inuit and Métis controlled arts organizations. This is an important new program for the Aboriginal arts sector, as the only operational funding available specifically for Aboriginal arts organizations up to now was in the dance sector. Other grants were available, but they were focused on capacity building and organizational development rather than programming. Many Aboriginal arts groups have set roots down over the past 5-10 years without any real hope of securing operational dollars from federal sources. This new program opens the door to operating funding for those groups ensuring that stable infrastructures can finally be established.
After decades of hard work and determination by many talented and passionate people contributing to the developing relationship within the Canada Council for the Arts, the Aboriginal Arts Office has taken some real steps forward under this new funding model. The increased opportunities for First Nations, Inuit and Métis artists and arts organizations will help to strengthen the Aboriginal arts sector and ensure that both customary and contemporary artistic practices are widely presented and disseminated across Canada and around the world. Prime Minister Trudeau’s commitment to re-establishing a Nation-to-Nation approach coupled with the increased support to the arts and the CCA’s new funding model has given many a renewed sense of enthusiasm and vigor. It truly feels like there are meaningful opportunities for Aboriginal artists on the horizon and it will be exciting to see how the future unfolds.