Monday, August 18

Canada’s New Government’s Approach to Participaction

The latest round of cuts to arts funding programs administered by the Department of Canadian Heritage did not even merit a press release, let alone public consultations with stakeholders. I guess various arts organizations are now clearly on their toes, watching for what might be in store for them next. And speaking of stretching from the tip of your toes to your head, perhaps the intent of these cuts is to actually get bums out of seats because chances are good that we’ll be seeing orchestras, dance companies, theatres, and film festivals folding thanks to cuts to the Stabilization Program and Capacity Building initiatives. Further down the road, the odds are that we won’t have developed talented writers, directors and producers who can spin a good Canadian tale into movie magic. And you better not count on watching any retrospective presentations of past works either without the A/V Trust.

Part Two – A/V Trust, Independent Film and Video Fund, National Training Program, Capacity Building and Stabilization Program

From the August 15, 2008 Globe and Mail Article
Ottawa to axe five more programs:

The Stabilization Projects, to be shut down in April, were established in seven cities from Victoria to Charlottetown to provide financial and administrative support to arts organizations. Capacity Building is a companion program to provide similar assistance to organizations with no access to a Stabilization Project. Capacity Building has given aid to 347 arts and 214 heritage organizations since 2002, but will be cut in 2010.

The department also plans to end its annual contributions of $300,000 to the A-V Presentation Trust, $1.5-million to the Canadian Independent Film and Video Fund and $2.5-million to the National Training Program in the Film and Video Sector.

Just a point of clarification, the Canadian Independent Film and Video Fund is a different program than the National Training Program in Film and Video. I should also add that the G&M got the title wrong on the A/V Trust, which is a program in support of “preservation” (not presentation) of our audio-visual archival heritage. (Why can’t the corporate media reinstate fact checkers?)

The A/V Trust has restored archived Canadian films, TV and radio productions, and sound recording works. The restored works are presented in public forums and usually accompanied by material and guest speakers to give historical context of their significance.

As for the NTP program, the 2.5 million is spread across four long-standing film training institutions whose alumni include highly successful film and television writers, directors and producers. Federal support has allowed these institutions to provide top-notch training with little cost to potential talent in Canada. Here are the four:

Canadian Film Centre (CFC), (Toronto)

Canadian Screen Training Centre (CSTC), (Ottawa)

National Screen Institute - Canada (NSI), (Winnipeg)

Institut national de l’image et du son (INIS), (Montréal)

I’ve only attended parties at the first, trained with the second, worked for the third and wish I had strong enough French language skills to have attended the fourth. Makes me wonder whether the Harpercons will also cut funding to the National Theatre School as well.

A thorough and positive program evaluation was conducted by the Department in 2003. I don’t know how Canadian Heritage Minister Josée Verner could claim that these four training institutions failed to demonstrate that they were providing sufficient returns for the dollars invested. In fact, in preparing Annual Reports for the National Screen Institute, I remember our alumni survey results indicating that over 80% of their program graduates were working professionally in the industry in their chosen fields.

The Arts Stabilization Program was designed to encourage and reward fiscal management, basically an attempt to appease those voters who felt that arts organizations were fiscally irresponsible and not to be trusted with taxpayer funding. Ditto for the Capacity Building initiative that encouraged a more commercial outlook (or “more bums in seats” as we used to say). Arts organizations had to focus on administration and marketing to get federal support as opposed to creative and innovative programming. These changes to the traditional approach to arts funding were introduced in the late 1990s as a method for restoring earlier Liberal funding cuts in a fiscally responsible way.

These are not arts welfare handouts as the Harpercons like to imply. If anything, it’s amazing that any thinking out of the box gets accomplished with the constraints imposed by the current programs about to be axed. These cuts do not bode well for the Canada Council for the Arts. Add to that the recent appointment of investment banker Joseph Rotman as the Chair.

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