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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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