On Thursday November 4th, members and supporters of the Canadian arts sector came together in Ottawa to participate in over 100 scheduled meetings with MP’s across all parties. The Canadian Arts Coalition – the largest-ever consortium of artists, arts workers, supporters and volunteers in the country – coordinated Arts Day as a part of a larger strategy to galvanize the sector and advance two key policy and investment priorities. They are: to increase investment to the Canada Council for the Arts by $30M annually over 4 years and to invest $25M in new market access and development initiatives. The Coalition’s full position is outlined in our brief to the Standing Committee on Finance.Participants of Arts Day came from all parts of the country and met bright and early the morning of to hear a briefing session by Will Stuart and colleagues of the public relations firm Ensight Canada. The Coalition engaged Ensight to help us ground our strategy and messages in sound government relations expertise, in order to ensure a successful day with maximum impact. Ensight walked us all through our key messages, positioning, strategies and protocols for the meetings, equipping participants with the information they needed to navigate their day. By 8:30am, participants were off to the Hill. Scheduled meetings included MP’s from ridings in every province, as well as several Cabinet Ministers including Minister of Heritage James Moore. As the day unfolded, many participants were reporting positive exchanges with MP’s from every party. There seemed to be a buzz on the Hill about the arts meetings and after the fact, many MP’s made positive mention of their interactions with the arts sector to Minister Moore. I, along with my Steering Committee colleagues Eric Dubeau and Bastien Gilbert had the opportunity to spend over an hour with Moore to discuss our two priorities. In my assessment, the meeting was very productive. Moore praised our efforts to unify our message and take action by building support across the House for our issues. He noted that these kinds of efforts go a long way in building support for the cases he will need to make internally, within government process. In the course of our discussion, he was receptive and open to new ideas. He reiterated that there’s no money to spend given the country’s deficit position, though advancing ideas and building support for future investment as well as broader policy goals were welcome. In particular, he was keen to consider a revitalized, multi-faceted strategy on cultural diplomacy – an issue that is of great concern to the sector and an area where future investment in market access and development initiatives might be considered. As November 4th was the final day of the recent parliamentary session, most meetings concluded by 4pm as many MP’s were heading back to their ridings. However, the Coalition’s work doesn’t end here. While there will be a fuller report on the learnings of Arts Day that take into consideration the feedback from each meeting, what I can glean at this stage is the following: Arts Day was an important launch to the Coalition’s renewed effort to rally the sector around key priorities. We had impact because we offered a unified message on two key consensus issues affecting the sector. We were thoughtful in our approach, which was strategic, constructive, non-partisan and a positive attempt to unite support across all parties. Though, where there is work to be done is at the local level. Several MP’s were not very aware of the arts activity in their ridings and noted that arts groups don’t often meet with them at home, or engage them in their events and activities. It’s clear that advocacy in the ridings needs to be a high priority going forward. Organizing a day of this kind is no small feat and there were many volunteers who contributed to the logistical planning beyond the core Steering Committee. It’s fair to say that going forward the Coalition will need more financial support and volunteer help from the sector in order to build on our positive momentum. It’s likely that we could be facing an election as early as the spring, and so our election strategy planning must start now.
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