Because the Globe and Mail's archives are moneywalled, Kevin Temple has granted his permission for the reproduction of his article on the proposed changes to the Canada Coucil. It was first published in the Globe's Review section (p. R5) on February 21 2005, and presented here courtesy of

Related Links:

Blogs (the artist's side):
Is the Horse Dead Yet?
Chris Hand, AA Bronson, Jennifer McMackon, and Timothy Comeau discuss the proposed changes (Nov 2004)

Sally Mckay's first posting on the subject, and another refering to the 'Dead Horse' one above (Nov 2004)

Chris Hand on the Consultations (Feb 2005) with a response to a comment

Art Heist Solomon Fagan's article (March 2005) from Toronto's Now Magazine on the proposed changes

The Canada Council's side:
Letter from the Canada Council (Nov 2004)
Letter from the Canada Council (Jan 2005)

National Consultations with Visual Artists
on the Canada Council website
Related quote:

"Frulla's vision in multipronged. She plans a review of the Canada Council for the Art. 'Poor Canada Council,' she sighs. 'When they were founded - it's going to be 50 years ago in 2007 - they were supporting 29 institutions. Now, they support more than 2000. In the 1990s, they had to support the new media, they had to support new communications, multiculturalism. They increased their responsibilities so much that they, of course, had to chose new priorities, which makes it that the big institutions are not funded well enough. We are really looking at this .... We're trying to help them out and work in conjunction with the department,' she says, adding that there is some duplication of effort she wants to eliminate. Currently, Frulla is holding round-table discussions with museums to understand their sustainable infrastructure needs, among other issues."

-Interview with Liza Frulla, Minister of Heritage, by Sarah Hampson, The Globe and Mail, Saturday Feb 19 2005, page R3.

Marketplace will dictate Canada Council funding, artists say

By Kevin Temple

Nothing puts knots in the smocks of the country's artists like messing with the Canada Council for the Arts. The current twist - a proposal from the visual-arts section of the Council that fundamentally changes the way it funds individual artists - caused confusion last fall and set off an outburst of blogging, e-mailing and petition-signing in the art community bumptious enough for the Council to reconsider its plans.

Applications for visual arts grants aimed at the April 2005 deadline still fall under the old rules, but changes will be announced soon thereafter and likely will be instituted by September.

The proposed changes depart from the Canada Council tradition of supporting the creative process of artists through peer assessment, to providing support to artists who will produce work specifically for exhibition. If the new plan is instituted, artists would only be eligible for funding if they had an exhibition booked in a "recognized art institution," a move that limits the number of eligible applicants, favours commercially viable art and paints artists who work outside the gallery system completely out of the picture.

According to François Lachapelle, head of visual arts at the Canada Council, the original plan had been to present the proposal to the Council in December, but they postponed the presentation until the March 2005 meeting, in part for financial reasons, but also due to the tremendous response to the proposal from the art community. "The nature of the reaction," he said, "was vibrant." He’s referring to the many critical responses from the art community that exposed the significant issues of the proposal. The Pacific Association of Artist-Run Centres (PAARC) sent out a stern letter [PDF 33K] drawing attention to the philosophical shift that many believe the proposal represents: "The introduction of preselection vetting by venues, and tampering with the spirit of peer assessment can be seen as the beginning point of an extremely troubling trajectory: the entrenchment of top-down management of individual artistic practices by visual-arts institutions and/or commercial dealers."

In December 2003, Winnipeg writer Siegfried Dahl attended one of the Council's nationwide discussion groups about the coming changes. While the meeting's expressed goal was to gather information on the needs of the artists, Dahl claims, "questions were being asked to elicit certain answers." The focus, she adds, was less about the artist's role in society and more about commercial success, despite the relatively small art market in Canada. "Turning [artists] into quasi-businessmen and then turning them loose is not a good option."

On the phone, Lachapelle reiterated that in response to concerns, the next phase will involve the establishment of a special advisory committee of "arts professionals" who will look at all the responses from the art community and will adjust the proposal, albeit behind closed doors. Names of committee members will not be revealed either.

While Lachapelle admits that the proposal may go too far, he adds, "some elements of the proposal will be maintained."

One of the major factors by which he judges the efficiency of the program is by the success rate of the applicants. When the policy was established 45 years ago, there were far fewer artists. Today, with many more artists applying, many more are being turned down. Lachapelle receives 2,400 applications for only 220 available grants totalling $3.5-million each year.

From his own estimates, Lachapelle would need about $17-million in order to match the efficiency of the program 20 years ago. Instead, by letting the galleries decide who can apply, he will be significantly limiting the number of eligible applicants and increasing his efficiency without spending a dime.

On top of that, says Lachapelle, he has added pressure of increased accountability for public spending that simply did not exist 20 years ago. Although he admits that the board loves to see a material outcome from its expenditures, he insists, "this does not reflect a move toward market-based art practice." Clearly tying grants to confirmed exhibitions will result in "qualitative and quantitative outcomes," but he adds that this consequence "in no way comes from political pressure."

Resisting political pressure, of course, is one of the Canada Council's cornerstones. In the preface of Money Value Art: State Funding, Free Markets, Big Pictures, by Sally McKay and Andrew J. Paterson, Paterson notes that from the Council's inception, "Grants to individual artists as well as to arts organizations were awarded ..... at arm's length from the government and its employees. If the fine arts ..... were to remain autonomous from the pressures of the marketplace, then they, at least in theory, had to be safeguarded from any possibility of state coercion or invective."

Money Value Art co-editor McKay also sees the hidden threats behind the proposal. But for her the problem is systemic and larger than the Council. "Free-market concerns have way more sway than they used to, but it would be nice to see the Canada Council take leadership in getting more money as part of the solution. ..... Perhaps the public is actually more open to the idea of public funding than we think."

Lachapelle puts his faith elsewhere. Canada, he says, has the world's biggest network of artist-run centres, which serves as one of the premises on which he based the proposal. These centres, which also receive funds as institutions from the Canada Council, exhibit "a development of excellence" that he claims is especially strong in showing emerging and mid-career artists. He argues that therefore the responsibility of preselecting artists for eligibility for grant money would be in good hands.

Kim Simon, director of programming at Toronto’s artist-run Gallery TPW, disagrees. She finds Lachapelle both "charming and disarming," and claims that the centres today tend towards showing mid-career artists. Moreover, it's important to note that artwork is usually complete by the time an artist secures a show in a gallery. This result, she notes, directly contradicts the Council's own stated policy of not funding visual artists for work retroactively. "I can't believe they think [the proposal] won't affect the production of art," Simon says. Ultimately she suggests that the Canada Council should drop the rhetoric of maintaining their core values and acknowledge the new centrality of the marketplace in their policies.

If she's right, the nation's artists can expect to be increasingly exposed to the demands of the commercial art market by the very institution set up to protect them from it. If she’s wrong, we can hope that Lachapelle still has a few more colours to mix on his policy palette.