Presentation to the Standing Committee on Finance

Shannon Litzenberger, Canadian Arts Coalition
November 20, 2012

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. I am a Toronto-based dance artist and Innovation Fellow in Arts Policy at the Metcalf Foundation. I’m here today as a volunteer member of the Steering Committee of the Canadian Arts Coalition. We are Canada’s largest group of arts, culture and heritage supporters. We are non-partisan, pan-Canadian, 100% volunteer-led, and receive NO government funding.

In response to the government’s framework for Budget 2013, the Coalition is proposing specific measures that address economic recovery, job creation, skills development and enhanced productivity. We recommend that the government renew investments in the Canada Funds that it announced in 2009, including the Arts Training Fund, the Arts Presentation Fund, the Cultural Spaces Fund and the Cultural Investment Fund. Of the $120 million or so that the government invests in these programs annually, nearly $80 million (or 2/3 of the total) is coming up for renewal and we believe it is critical that this level of investment be renewed.

This suite of programs play a critical role in supporting the arts and culture ecology, and represent investments that are not in the scope of what the Canada Council for the Arts supports.

We further recommend that the government, at minimum, maintain funding levels to the arts through the Canada Council for the Arts at $181 million and that consideration be given to raising this investment to $300 million per year as circumstances permit.

I’d like to first acknowledge that in Budget 2012, the government maintained funding levels to the arts through the Canada Council for the Arts through 2015. The arts community is deeply appreciative of this step. Last year that enabled the Council to support arts activities in 1,900 Canadian communities. The Canada Council is regarded by both the government and the arts sector as the most effective deliverer of public investment in the arts.

I often hear the government say that it is investing in arts and culture at record levels and around this table today, I’d like to give you some perspective on how the Canada Council for the Arts specifically, has been funded over time. As you may know, the Canada Council was created in 1957 as a result of recommendations made in the Report known as the Massey-Lévesque Commission[1]. Thirty years after the Massey Commission, the government commissioned the first Federal Cultural Policy Review Committee to report on the state and progress of all the main cultural programs of the federal government. When the Report of the Federal Cultural Review Committee (known as the Applebaum-Hébert Report) was published in 1982, the report called for a significant increase in funds allocated to the Canada Council for the Arts (a doubling, in fact).

In the years that followed, recommendations for new investment in the Canada Council were not implemented and the Council’s appropriation was actually cut quite brutally in the mid 1990’s, causing a major administrative downsizing for the institution. Since that time, investment has grown incrementally and modestly, in particular under our current government, but the fact remains that today in 2012, the per capita parliamentary appropriation to the Canada Council for the Arts is still slightly lower than in 1990.

The impact of this long-term investment trend has resulted in the Canada Council for the Arts having less capacity that it did more than 20 years ago, relative to the growing and changing demographics of the Canadian population, and relative to the available talent and potential of the arts sector itself. As a practitioner in the field, I can tell you that this is an experienced reality.

Yet, we are a booming sector, growing faster than financial services, the biomedical industry and the food and beverage industry. We are capable of producing great returns, both economic and social for Canada.  You know all of the stats. We employ over 600,000 people, we contribute $46 billion to the Canadian economy and we return over $25 billion in taxes to all levels of government (more than 3 times what is invested).

We are also a sector undergoing unprecedented transformation. Artistic innovation is blurring the lines between disciplines and genres, new technology is challenging traditional modes of presentation and changing patterns of audience engagement in cultural experiences have broadened the scope and nature of artistic offerings in public demand.

So while maintaining investment through a challenging financial climate has allowed the cultural sector to avoid the major downsizing that we’ve seen in the arts in other countries, there is still an entire generation of diverse and talented creative innovators waiting in the wings – waiting for the investment that will allow them to make their mark on the identity of our nation. These new generations and the work they produce represent today’s Canada – one that speaks over 200 languages, that embodies values of equality, tolerance, social responsibility and civic pride, and one that is poised to lead the world in creativity and innovation. We are foolish to hold back the relatively modest investment that will leverage our creative talent.

We are proud that our government understands the value of the arts to our economy and to our society, and as Canada sees positive economic growth, now it’s time to make investments commensurate with this value.

When the government makes decisions regarding arts and cultural agencies, programs policies and initiatives, its decisions directly impact the jobs of hundreds of thousands of Canadians like me, and touch the lives of families in communities throughout the country. New generations of Canadians want to see their experiences reflected in the contemporary cultural expression of our nation and new investment is needed to nurture the future development of our artists, the creative work they produce, and the communities they serve.

As Members of Parliament, I ask you to resist getting caught up in the politics of the debate at the moments when real decisions need to be made about how we invest in Canada’s future and the quality of life of its people. What is the cultural legacy that we are building? How will we know ourselves and how will the world know us?

“Do not wait for extraordinary situation to do good; try to use ordinary situations”.  Jean Paul Richter (German Writer)


[1] Canada.  Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences, 1949-1951. Report of the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences, 1949-1951. King’s Printer.

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