Monday, September 15, 2008

Futher on funding cuts

Been having a conversation with a fellow artist about the funding cuts, and I thought I'd share some of that here. I was answering this question:
It's also a question of budget management: the arts councils at all three levels of government haven't been cut and in fact are reportedly pretty flush at the moment, and general project funding, not to mention travel grants, come primarily from the councils; so I don't quite understanding why, for modest-scale projects at least, touring can't be financed via arts council contributions and however else the project in question is being funded, perhaps through private fundraising and box office income.I may be missing an important consideration, but I can't grasp why a program designated for touring...could be considered absolutely, unassailably essential.

As far as I can tell, the arts councils' mandates are to promote work within their purview, whether it's federal, provincial, or municipal. So for international export, that doesn't fall under their mandates unless it involves creation with international partners or advanced training abroad. The arts councils also don't have the expertise to be able to evaluate the merits of various international opportunities which is why international touring has always been under the external affairs purview. Prom Art was used to tie arts in with larger trade objectives, which is why it mostly benefited individuals (easier to have a musician or writer perform/read after a long day of business meetings than to have to set up a stage for a theatre or dance performance), who were chosen to enhance the business relationships being formed. If you have arts councils starting to fund this activity, this means less funding for creation and less interaction with other sectors of the economy.

One thing you are missing is that you're falling into the general presumption that the government is totally funding these endeavors, which is not true. Mostly they're providing travel costs, leaving the production costs to be funded by the company, either through corporate sponsorship or fundraising within the company. With touring, the first international performances are at arts markets (where you have to provide a 20 minute excerpt of the work) or festivals (Edinburgh is a popular jumping off point). In these cases, the companies are not getting a guarantee. The idea is to parlay this into further bookings, where the presenter provides the guarantee. At this point, the guarantee covers all costs and the government is not needed.

Every industry gets this leg up.

In Australia, AusTrade promotes the arts the same way it promotes wine, mining, and other industries. Artists are treated no different. And maybe that's what we're trending towards. But even there, the government has given the industry two key supports to that end - a website (OzArts) that lists all the Australian companies that have tour-ready shows that presenters can look up easily and find out all the details they need to book a show, and a website (fuel4arts) which provides a mountain of information for artists about touring, audience development, marketing, promotion, international trends - anything that can help their artists position themselves for success. (Thankfully, this site is not limited to Australian artists - I'm a member.) They also sponsor a lot of trade markets and invite international presenters, recognizing that they need to make an extra effort because of their geography. Australia doesn't put huge amounts into creation, but they promote the heck out of what they do create.

New Zealand went one step better, identifying arts as one of their key export sectors. Their arts council created a crown entity, Creative New Zealand, which has an international team who's responsible for identifying and promoting their artists abroad. They concentrate on getting their artists into residency and participate in arts markets heavily. They regularly update their site to list the latest accomplishments internationally. They also have teams who are involved in audience and market development, and in advocacy and research. I personally think Creative NZ is an excellent model of arts support, one that came out of strategic thinking from the highest government levels. Arts are celebrated in New Zealand, not marginalized.

Arts is an industry and expansion of markets is essential for an industry to survive in a global marketplace. Quebec has been really good at this. They created CINARS in the early 80s (the private sector drove this) to promote Quebec artists on the world stage, and it's now expanded to become one of the international hubs for promotion. Yet it has virtually no ties with the English-Canadian theatre community. There's a huge disconnect between Quebec and the rest of Canada in terms of international promotion and touring. Magnetic North was born to try and address some of these issues but it's still a minor player in the international arts marketplace. I'm not sure if the conferences received funding out of Trade Routes, but I do know they both get funding from Canadian Heritage and DFAIT, which is where the funding cuts have come.

I'm looking at this as an opportunity to rethink how we promote our artists internationally because we've done an incredibly poor job of it for the English-speaking artists. PromArt mostly benefited musicians, writers, and visual artists while Trade Routes benefited performing artists. (I'm working on a blog post talking about this.) In a fiscally conservative environment, we have to think of ourselves as an industry. This is not to devalue the need for our work to be good or to dismiss the role we have in creating a working society. But it's been too easy to dismiss artists as non-productive members of society and as I see it, that's what we need to be fighting for. That's more than fighting to change the government. It's a start, but we can't stop there. We need to be part of the larger conversation.


And as I was writing, Darren O'Donnell posted this. It makes a good argument.

1 comment:

Catherine said...

Absolutely EXCELLENT post.
Thank you for such a well-written, thoughtful piece!

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