Interview with Simon Brault of the Canada Council for the Arts

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“We’re able to take many more risks.”

To foster artistic experimentation, begin recognizing Indigenous culture, support emerging talent, treat artists less prescriptively – these are some of the new guidelines for the Canada Council for the Arts as it emerges from years of austerity and undergoes a “historical moment,” in the words of director Simon Brault.

Taking stock halfway through his mandate at the head of the CCA, which he has directed since June 2014, Brault highlights the following achievements: adopting of a new funding model, an Indigenous arts funding program, and the “CCA’s big comeback on the international scene, with a much more active presence.”

Speaking of the new funding model, he stresses “a more strategic approach focussing on the ambitions and desires of the artists themselves and not on what the CCA expects of them.” According to Brault, former director of the National Theatre School of Canada and chairman of Culture Montréal, this approach is much less prescriptive, more open to new modes of artistic expression and more capable of responding to needs without delay.

Creativity First!

Brault emphasizes the “total reconfiguration of 157 programs into six overarching ones that are clearer and more transparent and will meet the CCA’s expectations where impact is concerned.”

He cites the eligibility criteria for grants as one of the major changes. “Before, we’d make a decision based on the candidate’s profile and eligibility before we even looked at the project. Now, we’re focussing on the artistic project itself, regardless of the candidate’s CV.”

For the implementation of this new funding model, Brault is announcing a system of proposal submission via a new portal. This cost around $1.5 million and was subject to some technical problems at first, but will be ready by June 5, capable of managing grants totalling $310 million.

Transformation

Simon Brault, Photo: Tony Fouhse

Simon Brault, Photo: Tony Fouhse

The director also discusses the recently launched Digital World Fund, intended for stakeholders not necessarily connected to the CCA, such as “private stakeholders and universities, and not just the usual CCA partners […] The CCA should provide more active guidance for those involved in the arts as they adapt to the digital world. But this work should above all be seen as a sociological change.” He explains that the new Digital World Fund, with a four-year budget of $88 million, aims “to transform the organizational models of arts institutions, models which still date from the second half of the 20th century.”

The New Chapter program was launched on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Confederation. Endowed with a $35 ­million budget, it constitutes “a historic reinvestment in the arts” for the benefit of many stakeholders who are not usually involved with the CCA. “There will be many more applicants than before,” he promises.

Sense of Risk

“We’re now in a position to take more artistic risks, particularly in boosting creative research and experimentation,” says Brault. He adds that the doubling of the CCA’s budget over a five-year period (2016–2021) is “a powerful and encouraging seal of approval on the part of the new government.” “We’re at a historic point,” he enthuses. “Canada is the only country in the world that has seen massive investment in the arts over the last few years. In most countries, arts financing has leveled off or fallen. Most governments throughout the world are choosing to invest more in the culture industry, in the creative and knowledge economies, but not really in the arts.” The author of the widely acclaimed book No Culture, No Future is aware of his duty. “My role is to demonstrate that such investments are wise and have a real impact in the short, medium, and long term.”

25% for Emerging Talent

Brault is fired up by commitments that mark a turning point in the life of the CCA. For example, allocating 25% of additional money (around $125 million) by 2021 to artists and organizations receiving CCA support for the first time. “This is a massive investment in emerging talent, a truly historic moment in the life of the Council,” says this officer of the Order of Canada and of the Ordre national du Québec, distinctions he received for his commitment to the social recognition of the arts and culture.

Cultural Genocide

Brault is passionate about support for Indigenous arts. “The message the CCA is sending to institutions and organizations is that they have a public responsibility to respond to the reality in our country, i.e. to support Indigenous arts and include more members of Indigenous peoples in their programming, in their hiring and on their boards of directors.” He adds that he is deeply aware that for over 100 years Canada has practised “a system of cultural genocide, a policy of colonization and denial of Indigenous culture.”

Translation: Cecilia Grayson

www.conseildesarts.ca

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