Funding boost gives Canada’s arts community ‘oxygen’


[Canada Council for the Arts director and CEO Simon Brault/Radio-Canada]

The Liberal government’s $1.9-billion investment in Canadian arts and culture over the next five years as outlined in the federal budget signals a commitment to maintaining the sector, the head of the Canada Council for the Arts says.

Director and CEO Simon Brault told Yahoo Canada News that an announcement like this has never happened for the arts community.

“Normally you don’t see the word. You try to find numbers in the annex of a budget,” Brault said. “It’s a major signal and a major reinvestment. And for the Canada Council it’s really the means to have a much more profound and sustained impact on the arts in Canada.”

The council, which helps funds the arts across the country, will receive $550 million over the next five years, including $40 million in 2016-17.

It will release its strategic plan in mid-April, Brault said, with the new money helping address the future of the arts.

The council wants to improve the digital sector and help major institutions reflect the diversity of Canadians. It also hopes to open the system to emerging artists, he said.

Another critical area is to find better ways of supporting First Nations, Inuit and Métis artists, he said.

“This injection of money will be a way to give more oxygen and more capacity to the Canadian arts sector so it can perform even better in the near future,” he said.

A CBC win

The CBC was another benefactor of the funding boost. The public broadcaster will receive an additional $75 million this year and a total of $675 million over the next five years.

“This stability means we can continue our digital transformation and invest in the programs and services important to Canadians. We can build for the future,” president and CEO Hubert Lacroix said in a statement.

Lacroix said the broadcaster plans to create more original programming, expand its digital presence and coverage of “signature events,” such as the 150th anniversary of Confederation and the Rio Summer Olympics.

The CBC will also aim to improve its digital coverage in smaller communities and create international “pocket bureaus” for enhanced world coverage, Lacroix said.

“And there will be new jobs for people who can help us create that new content,” he said.

The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) was also pleased to receive a funding boost of $13.5 million over five years after working with budgetary cuts and restrictions since 1996, said the NFB’s communications director Lily Robert.

“It allows us to create our innovative work and hopefully enhance our presence for the Canadian public and around the world,” she said.

The NFB will use the funding to reinvest in production, improving its digital platforms and aiming to increase and sustain its audience, she said.

“This announcement confirms that culture and creativity are a priority for the government,” Robert said.

Brault said the funding is a “strong commitment” to the arts.

“We feel at the Canada Council, it puts a responsibility on us to really invest that money carefully and to have an impact for a generation,” he said.

He hopes that with more funding, the arts in Canada can succeed at attracting a younger, more diverse audience.

Aaron Wudrick, executive director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said arts funding is good, but should be about priorities.

“When we face a massive deficit can we afford to give $675 million to the CBC over five years? Is that the highest priority we have right now?” he asked.

Wudrick added that the increase in arts funding comes from a budget that didn’t include a lot for the military and not as much for infrastructure as expected.

The rising 2016-17 deficit of nearly $30 billion also makes the federation question arts funding boost.

“I don’t know if people look kindly on funding these initiatives when there’s difficulty making the books balance,” Wudrick said.