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Tuesday October 23rd marked the Canadian Arts Coalition’s annual Arts Day on Parliament Hill. Building on four years of positive momentum, Arts Day 2012 welcomed over 130 arts supporters from across the country – converging under the banner of the Canadian Arts Coalition to advance a common message. The Coalition’s membership includes artists, arts organizations, business leaders, volunteers and audience members from all corners of the country – effectively the largest consortium of arts, culture and heritage supporters in Canada. The Coalition is non-partisan, 100% volunteer-led and receives no government funding – important features that have contributed to the Coalition’s reputation as a credible arts policy advisor. It is led by a dedicated Steering Committee that includes Co-Chairs Katherine Carleton (Orchestras Canada) and Éric Dubeau (Fédération Culturelle Canadienne-Française), as well as Melissa Gruber (CARFAC – Canadian Artists Representation – Le Front des artistes canadiens), Sarah Iley (Canadian Arts Summit), Bastien Gilbert (Regroupement des centres d’artistes autogérés du Québec), and myself (Business for the Arts).

Arts Day briefing session

Arts Day participants shared a common goal and strategic message, carefully crafted by the Coalition and focused on consensus issues within the sector that are reasonably aligned with Government interests and priorities. This year’s message focused on two key policy priorities, the first of which was to ensure critical program renewals at the Department of Canadian Heritage. A suite of programs re-packaged by the Conservative Government in 2009 is set to expire in 2015. These programs are currently under review by the Department and include the Canada Arts Presentation Fund, the Canada Arts Training Fund, the Canada Cultural Investment Fund and the Canada Cultural Spaces Fund. A total of $80 million is up for renewal.

The second priority is one that has been championed by the Coalition since its inception in 2005: continued and increased support for the Canada Council for the Arts. Given the government’s careful management of economic recovery at this time, our message was framed around sustained support with consideration for increased investment as the Canadian economy continues to recover. Last year the Coalition’s Arts Day helped to protect the Canada Council from potential cuts, in a context of spending reductions across all departments as part of the government’s Deficit Reduction Action Plan.

Arts Day participants

A record number of 115 meetings were scheduled this year with MPs, Ministers, Senators and senior officials from all parties. Key meetings included Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Heritage Paul Calandra, Official Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair, Liberal Leader Bob Rae, and senior officials at the Department of Finance. Heritage Minister James Moore was unable to meet with us this year, as he was at home in his riding. Moore has been an important champion of the Coalition and our work, mentioning us recently on the George Stroumboulopoulos show as effectively advocating for sustained investment in the Canada Council for the Arts. Moore tweeted supportively during #artsday and commended the Coalition for our friendly and productive approach. Watch his impromptu speech from the 2011 Arts Day reception here.

Sarah Iley, Dorothy Dobby, Jean Giguere, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, myself and Éric Dubeau

Arts Day participants were prepared with MP biographies, notes from past Coalition meetings with the MP, and profiles of arts activity in the MP’s riding. With the help of Government Relations firm Ensight Canada, attendees were also briefed on the politics and protocol of Arts Day. They were encouraged to frame key messages in the context of their own work, illustrating the impact of investment through personal stories and narratives that connect to the MP’s local constituency. For some MPs this is an important educational piece and for others a chance to express pride for the artistic activity taking place in their home communities.

Deputy Speaker Joe Comartin

Arts Day closed with a lively reception hosted by Deputy Speaker Joe Comartin. The room was beyond full and many MPs who were unable to meet with us during the day made brief appearances. Canadian actor and Queen’s University Political Science grad Graham Abbey of The Border offered a few compelling words on the importance of government investment in the arts, following an equally supportive and impassioned speech from Deputy Speaker Comartin.

The strategic approach to advocacy employed by the Canadian Arts Coalition has paid dividends over the years, as we are now recognized as a credible and respected representative of the arts sector across all parties, able to offer sound policy advice to Government and elected officials. Following Arts Day, the Coalition received an invitation to lend our “expert point of view” with the Standing Committee on Finance during their upcoming cross-country pre-budget hearings. I will be appearing in front of the Standing Committee on Finance in Ottawa on November 20th along with the Coalition’s Co-Chair Éric Dubeau.

With Coalition Co-Chair Éric Dubeau

Looking ahead, the Coalition continues to grow as an effective and strategic advocacy body for the national arts sector. We aim to maintain our focus on a small but effective complement of signature activities, including our pre-budget brief to the Standing Committee on Finance and our annual Arts Day. To continue this work, the Coalition is relying on contributions of time and financial resources from its members. Consider making a contribution to the Coalition – helping us strengthen our collective voice on behalf of the arts from coast to coast to coast. http://www.canadianartscoalition.com

Coalition Co-Chairs Katherine Carleton and Éric Dubeau

Sarah Iley and Jean Giguere of the Canadian Arts Summit

Dance artist Jordana Deveau and TAPA Advocacy Chair Brad Lepp (Luminato)

Actor Graham Abbey addressing the Arts Day reception

Actor Graham Abbey with MP Justin Trudeau

MPs Pierre Jacob and Jean Rousseau

With Melville-Yorkton MP Garry Breitkreuz

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Where do governments obtain the information that fuels their policy and investment decisions? If you look too closely at this question, you might start to cry. Political decision-making is indeed a complex game with many motivations and agendas at play that are not always grounded in ethics and professional integrity. But after someone hands you a tissue, you might start to think about what information is available to decision-makers in the process of considering new investment and policy initiatives.

I would venture to say that most information that informs government decision-making remains a mystery to the average citizen. Meaning that when governments engage in decision-making process, citizens are not privy to most of the information that is considered. We don’t know who politicians are meeting with on any given issue (except registered lobbyists who must log their interactions with decision-makers), what research they’re consulting, how analysts and policy advisers are interpreting the information, what agendas are at play or what courses of action are being contemplated. This information is highly confidential, and governments do not have to disclose how they arrive at their decisions.

Flash back to August 2008 when the federal Conservatives cut funds to international touring and market development programs, ProMart and Trade Routes. These program cuts were the result of a government-wide strategic review process that deemed the programs to be ‘administratively ineffective’. The infamous report produced in the process of the strategic review – the one that no doubt explains in detail the alleged ineffectiveness of these programs – is not in the public domain. It was never released, nor does it have to be as the information it contains is protected.

While the average citizen is not privy to government intelligence, we do, in our fair democracy, have a right and duty to contribute to government decision-making by expressing our views. And we do. Well, some people do. Sometimes.

In the arts, we tend to participate by joining organizations like unions, coalitions, alliances, service organizations, assemblies or associations. These groups are at times industry-based and at times issue-based. Usually we belong to more than one of them…because we have a lot of them in the arts! Through these vehicles, we have a chance to engage with other members, express our views, debate relevant issues and (hopefully) arrive at a position that can be presented to decision-makers on our behalf.

Experience tells us that politicians are influenced when citizen groups have at least one of the following:
1. strong political capital (votes),
2. the ability to sway public opinion (influence votes), or
3. a compelling case that aligns with government agendas.

I would argue that the arts sector (broadly speaking) does have political capital based on the sheer size of our industry. But in a party-based system, we are generally predictable voters and let’s face it, a right-winged government or politician is not going to advance an arts agenda because they think they’re going to win the arts vote.

In the second case, the 2008 federal election proved that we have some ability to sway public opinion and influence other voters. This is perhaps most obvious in Quebec, where the cultural agenda is not sector-specific, but an expressly important issue to a broad base of citizens, for obvious reasons. The reaction in Quebec to Harper’s dismissive attitude toward the arts during that campaign is perhaps still the reason why today the arts have not seen further cuts by his government.

But in the third case, the arts sector is struggling to deliver the goods. While we have made many arguments and presented many cases, some more compelling than others, we are lacking in several ways. The first is that we don’t always align our positions with the goals of Government. In our current environment federally, this can be a considerable challenge. But, without mutual benefit for the sector and Government, there’s no way to move forward.

The second is that we’re more divided than united. We’re improving in this regard (the recent Arts Day on Parliament Hill organized by the Canadian Arts Coalition was a big step) but we have a long way to go to really find common cause. When we don’t unite around a position, we leave it to politicians to decide (ahem, copyright bill, anyone?).

The final challenge for us is that we are lacking solid, objective and credible research to really support our case. And here I return to my title question – does Canada need an arts research think tank?

One of the gems of information that I hear politicians cite often is that the arts and culture sector contributes over $46 billion to Canada’s GDP. With the airtime it’s had, you’d think that this golden statistic came from a study initiated by the arts sector. But no, it came from a report produced by the Conference Board of Canada. An independent source not connected to the arts sector or to Government. Sort of like the kind of report that might be produced by an arts policy research centre perhaps?

The kind of centre that I’m contemplating is one that exists independently from government or citizen-based interest group agendas. A place where the best and brightest thinkers would take stock of the ecology of the arts in Canada and assess whether the public and market-based systems that help to keep it healthy and vital are working optimally. Where are the weak links? What policy initiatives could strengthen us? Are current policies reflective of current practice? Where could new investment be best placed? What are other countries doing?

I am curious about such centres that exist outside of Canada. There are many of them. In the United States the Aspen Institute, Princeton’s Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies and Bill Ivey’s Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy, at Vanderbilt University are among the most popular. The UK has several university-based research centres as well as Demos – a political think tank driven by international thought-leader John Holden. In Germany there is ERICARTS – European Research Institute for Comparative Cultural Policy and the Arts and Australia has the Cultural Development Network and the Centre for Cultural Research at the University of Western Sydney. I could go on.

These centres are adding high quality research to the information pool that, I imagine, contributes greatly to the understanding of the arts sector in those countries, for the benefit of the public, government and for the sector itself. Credible studies, free of political and even industry motives are integral to good decision making for all potential stakeholders.

Over the next year, I hope to investigate this question more deeply, researching models of such thinking centres, understanding their impact and the role they play in public policy discourse. Stay tuned to hear about what I discover.

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Pierre Brault and David Leighton off to meet Patrick Brown.

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.

Will Stewart and Jackie Laroque from Ensight Canada

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.

Samantha Fox, Lucy White, Christina Loewen and Caroline Miller in front of the Confederation Building.

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.

The Canadian Arts Coalition Steering Committee, Shannon Litzenberger, Melissa Gruber, Katherine Carleton, Eric Dubeau, Bastien Gilbert (missing: Sarah Iley)

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.

Rowena House and Justin Ford from the Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association with April Britski from CARFAC meeting with Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq.

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:

Daniel Roy et Gilles Savary en route pour leur reunion avec Bernard Genereux.

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.

Taking notes!

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.

If you or your organization would like to get involved, contact us at info@canadianartscoalition.ca. When we do a little for each other, a lot happens for all of us.

Coalition Co-Chairs Katherine Carleton and Eric Dubeau

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