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Ontario Arts Council

Guide to OAC Operating Programs

This Guide to OAC Operating Programs provides important information about Ontario Arts Council’s (OAC) operating programs.

The OAC operating programs support Ontario-based, not-for-profit organizations and for-profit book and magazine publishers that meet the assessment criteria for on-going support.

The OAC’s acceptance of an organization’s application is not a guarantee of funding.

An organization that has received funding in the past may be denied the following year.

Program-specific eligibility criteria and addition requirements are available on the OAC website. You can search by discipline, activity and/or OAC Priority Group to find additional information.

The guide includes the following:

For information

An OAC program officer is the primary contact for any questions related to operating program eligibility, OAC policies on operating programs and its peer assessment process.

Please refer to OAC staff list for contact information.

For assistance with technical issues you may encounter while using Nova, contact technical support:

The OAC is committed to providing services in French according to the requirements of the French Language Services Act.

Eligibility Requirements

To apply for operating support your organization must:

  • be an Ontario not-for-profit corporation,


    be a federal not-for-profit corporation with the head office in Ontario;

  • be led by professional personnel;

  • have completed at least two years of sustained, regular, ongoing programming in its community as of the application date. (An organization that does not meet this requirement may instead apply for project funding.);

  • have a range of revenue sources such as private and government;

  • be governed by a board of directors or an advisory body solely responsible for the organization;

  • have community support and involvement demonstrated through one or more of the following: membership, fundraising and volunteer involvement;

  • have proof of sound financial management;

  • be registered through the Canadian Arts Database/Données sur les arts au Canada (CADAC);

  • submit verification of financial results of the last completed fiscal year with its application. If you do not provide the type of financial statement required, OAC will reduce your grant request to an eligible level. The type of financial statement we require depends on the amount of your grant request and the size of your annual budget, as follows:
    • requests over $30,000: audited financial statement;
    • requests $10,001-$30,000: review engagement (or, if available, audited financial statements);
    • requests $10,000 and under, for organizations with revenues $100,000 or over: review engagement (or, if available, audited financial statement);
    • requests $10,000 and under, for organizations with revenues under $100,000: unaudited financial statement (or, if available, review engagement or audited financial statement). Unaudited financial statements must be prepared using the format of the CADAC accounting template, which is to be found at www.thecadac.ca/cms/en/guides.html, along with a guide to its use.
If you do not provide the type of financial statement required, OAC will reduce your grant request to an eligible level.

Eligibility criteria that differ from the above are used for for-profit book and magazine publishers. Refer to the Publishing Organizations: Operating program webpage for details. 

In addition to the above criteria, all operating program applicants must meet the program-specific criteria. Refer to the program webpage for details.

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New Applicants to an OAC operating program

New applicants are:

  • first-time applicants to an OAC operating program,
  • returning arts organizations that did not receive an operating grant in the previous three years,

and must:

  • have at least $75,000 in total revenues for the last completed year, and in projected revenues for the current and request years, and

  • meet the program-specific criteria outlined on the program’s webpage.
New applicants:
  • may only request an annual grant;
  • may only apply in the first year of a multi-year cycle, and
  • must consult with the program officer before submitting an operating application.

​Deadline details for new applicants are available on the program-specific web pages.

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Applicants supported through OAC’s operating program’s annual stream must be:

  • new applicants to an OAC operating program;
  • arts organizations admitted to an operating program as a new applicant in the last two years of a program’s multi-year cycle, and
  • arts organizations who received a reduction to their OAC funding as a result of the previous or current year’s assessment.
An arts organization that received a multi-year grant is invited to apply for a multi-year funding stream at the next application deadline. An arts organization in the annual stream will be invited to apply for multi-year funding at the next Year One deadline if their grant was not reduced as a result of assessment in the previous year.

Applicants supported through OAC’s operating programs’ multi-year stream funding must have:

  • received operating funding from OAC for the past two consecutive years;

  • stable artistic, organizational and board leadership with plans in place for any transition;

  • a long-term plan;

  • a balanced budget,

    if the organization has an accumulated deficit greater than 10% of their last year’s budget or an unrestricted net asset deficiency greater than 25%, the arts organizations must have a deficit reduction plant that reduces the accumulated deficit over the next three years.

In the case of an organization in substantial flux, the applicant may be moved from the multi-year stream to annual by OAC to be assessed by an advisory panel.

The OAC will not accept applications to an operating program from:

  • organizations whose reports for previously awarded OAC grants are overdue or incomplete; and

  • municipalities, universities or colleges, school boards, First Nations or schools administered by a First Nation or an Indigenous administered school.

An organization may only receive one OAC operating grant. An organization cannot apply to another OAC operating grant program unless the organization has been notified that their application was not successful.

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Restrictions to Operating Programs

The OAC will not release any grant cheques until you complete all changes to your organization's financial and statistical reports, and financial statements as required by CADAC and OAC, and submit other additional information requested.

You are not eligible to apply to any OAC program if you have an overdue final report in any OAC grant program.

All arts organizations receiving operating funding may apply to the Compass and Touring Projects programs, and may be eligible to apply to other project programs. Refer to the project programs’ webpage for details.

Operating grant recipients may receive a maximum of two project grants in a year. Check program-specific guidelines for more information.

  • If you submit two applications during the year, you cannot submit a third until you have received notification that one of your applications has not been successful.

  • If you have already received one project grant in a year, you may apply for only one other project grant at a time.

Applications to the Creative Engagement Fund to Stop Sexual Harassment and Violence in Ontario program do not count toward this total.

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Application Deadlines

All OAC operating applications will be accepted until 1 p.m. ET on the deadline date.

  • Organizations that are required to submit financial and statistical reports, and financial statements through Canadian Arts Database / Données sur les arts au Canada (CADAC) must complete and submit the report and financial statements by 1 p.m. ET on the deadline date.

  • Applications, as well as financial and statistical forms, will go forward to assessors exactly as they appear at the deadline.

  • Applicants to OAC’s Publishing Organizations: Operating and Édition – fonctionnement programs do not use CADAC but must submit financial and statistical information and financial statements through NOVA by 1 p.m. ET on the deadline date.
Deadline extensions are only granted for extenuating circumstances and cannot exceed ten business days. An extension request should be made to the program officer no less than five working days in advance of the deadline date. The OAC may require documentation in some circumstances. Extension requests require Director approval and some may not be approved.

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Nova Online Application System

To provide better service to OAC applicants, as of 2017, all operating program applications are submitted online through OAC’s online application system (Nova).

Nova is browser-based. You can access it from anywhere. There are instructions available on OAC’s website to walk you through the Nova system, from setting up your ‘Profile’ through to submitting an application.

You can begin an application two months before an operating program deadline. Once the operating program is open in Nova, our bilingual technical support staff will be ready to help with any technical issues.

Paper applications will no longer be accepted. However, OAC is committed to having an accessible application process, so certain accommodations will be made. These will be outlined in our Accommodation Policy which will be released early in 2017.

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Operating Applications

The OAC operating programs applications include questions common to all operating programs. Some programs have specific writing tips attached to some questions to assist you in your answers. In addition, many operating programs require specific information about your organization, e.g. a work plan, a list of staff and board members involved in your organizations.

All applicants must submit their financial and statistical reports, and financial statements through the Canadian Arts Database / Données sur les arts au Canada (CADAC) must complete these reports.

Remember, the assessors only know what you tell them. You cannot assume that they will know your work, your community or your cultural context, so be sure in answering the questions that you let them have all the information they will need to understand and assess your organization.

Assessors use the financial and statistic reports to assess an organization’s application.

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Canadian Arts Database/Données sur les arts au Canada (CADAC)

The OAC collects all financial and statistical information through the national database, CADAC. CADAC is a web-based application dedicated to the collection, dissemination and analysis of financial and statistical information about Canadian arts organizations (www.thecadac.ca).

CADAC’s role is to reconcile the financial statements for an organization’s last completed year with the financial data in CADAC. CADAC will contact the organization directly if the figures do not match. The OAC will contact the organization about all other financial and statistical questions and required changes.

Other funders to whom you may apply will also have access to financials and statistics through CADAC.

There are extensive help functions on the CADAC website, including a Quick Start Guide and a Video Tutorial. You may also call their help line: 1-866-249-0296.

Applicants to OAC’s Publishing Organizations: Operating and Édition – fonctionnement programs do not use CADAC.

Guide to entering financial and statistical information

The CADAC Accounting Template is a tool that can help you align your chart of accounts, internal financial reporting system, CADAC financial report, and financial statements.

The OAC requires only one year of statistical information for your “last completed/audited” year. We use actual (not projected) statistical data to track trends for individual organizations, as well as at an aggregate level in research and advocacy.

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Support for Deaf Persons or Persons with Disabilities

Organizations that have a mandate to serve Deaf artists and artists with disabilities and are disability-led (e.g. board/staff who are Deaf or identify as having a disability) who receive an operating grant may also include the cost of any anticipated accessibility expenses for the organization’s request year.

  • Eligible expenses include costs for making the organization’s artistic programming accessible to audiences, participants or learners, but do not include capital costs or accessibility supports needed for day-to-day living.
  • Requests for these funds can be made after the point of application if needs change. Please contact the program officer who administers the program if you have any questions.

The OAC identifies Deaf artists as distinct from artists with disabilities based on the Canadian Hearing Society’s definition of “Culturally Deaf,” a term that refers to individuals who identify with and participate in the language, culture, and community of Deaf people.

The OAC identifies artists with disabilities as people who have physical, mental or learning conditions with long-term, temporary or varying effects that may be apparent or not.

For information about OAC’s Accessibility Standards for Service to the Public Policy, please click here.

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Assessment and Decision Making Process

The OAC’s operating programs are assessed by advisory panels. The program officer recommends grant allocations to the Director & CEO (for grants $30,000 and under) and to the OAC board of directors (for grants over $30,000) based on the:

  • advisory panel’s assessment and recommended funding priorities;

  • OAC’s Strategic Plan and funding policies, and

  • program budget.

The OAC’s operating programs are based on criteria in two categories:

  • Artistic and/or Service Quality & Contribution

  • Organizational Effectiveness

Each of these two categories has equal weight in their assessment.

Organizations are assessed using a 5-point rating system:

  • 5=excellent, 4=good, 3=average, 2=below average, and 1=serious concerns.

​Your organization will be evaluated in the context of its request level, stated mandate, the scale of its operations and the aesthetic, geographic and/or cultural environments in which it works. In addition,assessors will evaluate how your organization’s activities address OAC’s priority groups.

Assessors are provided the Guide to OAC Operating Programs Assessment Qualifiers to assist their evaluation of the application. For more information, see Guide to OAC Assessment to assist their evaluation of the application.

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Assessment Criteria

Artistic and/or Service Quality and Contribution

Artistic Quality (25%)

In assessing an organization’s artistic quality, assessors consider:

  • the vitality of the organization’s mandate and vision

  • the relationship of the mandate and vision to the organization’s achievements, initiatives and goals

  • the levels of artistry achieved through the organization’s artistic activities, which may include creation, production, presentation, performance, design, writing, exhibition, programming, publication, etc.

Contribution to artists, the art form and the artistic community (15%)

In assessing an organization’s contribution to artists, the art form and the artistic community, assessors consider:

  • the support the organization gives to Ontario artists by providing opportunities for performance, exhibition, screenings, readings, publication or networking;

  • the level of commitment to Canadian artists through financial compensation and professional development opportunities;

  • the level of commitment to the development of Canadian work through creation, production, presentation, exhibition, publication and/or programming;

  • the level of commitment to artistic activities that reflect the artists and community the organization serves;

  • the organization’s role in the development of its artistic field;

  • the organization’s relationships with the larger arts community. This may include resource-sharing, creative collaborations and opportunities for networking.

Artistic Contribution to the OAC’s Priority Groups (10%)

In assessing an organization’s artistic contribution to OAC’s priority groups, assessors consider:

  • the level of commitment to the OAC’s priority groups as reflected in programming and artist selection.

Organizational Effectiveness

Public Impact (20%)

In assessing an organization’s impact on the public, assessors consider:

  • the organization’s knowledge of its audience/participants, and the effectiveness of its marketing plans or outreach activities to sustain them;

  • the organization’s commitment to develop audiences/participants that reflect the community it serves, and the effectiveness of its marketing plans or outreach activities to develop new audiences/participants;

  • the level of commitment to and range of arts education programs for learners from all age groups in the organization’s community. These programs may include artists’ talks, question–and–answer sessions, pre- and post-performance talks, lectures and demonstrations;

  • the organization’s ability to gain support from the wider community in the form of sponsorships, partnerships, volunteers and funding.

Administrative and Financial Viability (20%)

In assessing an organization’s financial and administrative health and operations, assessors consider:

  • the board’s reflection of the community served by the organization, and its commitment to the well-being of the organization;

  • the appropriate allocation of human and financial resources to fulfil the organization’s annual and long-term plans;

  • the well-being of the organization’s staff, demonstrated by its retention of staff, opportunities for professional development and strategies for ensuring effective succession planning and leadership continuity;

  • a budget that is realistic and shows a range of earned, private and government revenues;

  • a demonstration through past performance of the organization’s ability to obtain the resources, financial or otherwise, necessary to carry out its work and respond to changes in circumstances;

  • the effectiveness of the organization’s plans for deficit reduction (if the organization has a deficit).

Organizational Contribution to the OAC’s Priority Groups (10%)

In assessing the organizational contribution to the OAC’s priority groups, assessors consider:

  • the level of commitment to OAC’s priority groups as reflected in audiences, administrative staff and board composition, collaborative activity, organizational plans and allocation of resources.

​Assessors’ ratings are converted into combined scores out of 100, and into 5 groups:

  • A = 90 -100, B+ = 80 - 89, B = 70 – 79, C = 60 - 69, D = <60.

  • New Applicants: In order for a new applicant to receive operating funding it must be assessed in at least group B in the Artistic and/or Service Quality & Contribution category, and in at least group C in the Organizational Effectiveness category.

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Grant recommendations: 2017-18 Funding Policy

The OAC’s acceptance of an organization’s application is not a guarantee of funding. Grant recommendations are based on OAC’s operating program funding policy.

Organizations assessed in Year 1 of a multi-year cycle:

  • Groups A and B+ applicants will receive the base grant, with the possibility of being increased beyond the base grant.

  • Group B applicants will receive the base grant.

  • Group C applicants will receive reduced support as follows:
    • ​5 – 20% reduction depending on whether the applicant has received no, one or two reductions in the past 5 years.
  • Group D applicants will receive reduced support as follows:
    • ​15 – 100% reduction depending on whether the applicant has received no, one or two reductions in the past 5 years.

Organizations assessed in Years 2 or 3 of a multi-year cycle:

  • Organizations awarded a grant in Year 1 of a multi-year cycle may receive their base grant awarded in Year 1.

  • Organizations in the annual cycle that are assessed by an advisory panel in the A and B+ grouping, may be eligible for increases according to OAC operating program funding policy in Years 2 or 3 of a multi-year cycle.

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Finding out about a grant decision

The OAC will inform you by e-mail whether or not you have received a grant. Notification will be available once decisions are made, approximately four months after the deadline.

If you get a grant

If you are awarded a grant with no conditions, your cheque will be included with the notification letter. Some grants are awarded with conditions. The grant notification will describe conditions that may apply to your grant. It is your responsibility to share application results with your board of directors or governing body.

After grant notification, you may request the OAC program officer to provide your organization with a verbal summary of the assessment.

If you receive an operating grant:

  • You must report on the grant by answering questions in your next operating grant application.
  • You must also report your OAC grant in your financial statements. Your OAC grant must be specifically identified in your financial statements, either in the body or in the notes to the financial statements.
  • You must acknowledge the support of OAC. Use the OAC logo in all forms of communication related to all your activities. This includes advertising, informational documents, websites and other electronic communication.

Frequently Asked Questions

Our organization is applying for the first time. Should we contact OAC prior to submitting our application?
Yes. Contact the OAC program officer as far in advance of the deadline as possible to discuss your eligibility, application and appropriate request level for funding.

As a first-time or returning applicant, can we apply for an operating and project grant in the same granting section in case the operating grant is not successful?
No. You can only apply to one program in any granting section for an activity that occurs in the same fiscal year.

Does our organization need to receive revenue from a variety of sources before applying to OAC?
Yes. An OAC grant cannot be the sole source of revenue of any applicant. The OAC expects an organization to have other financial supports. These may include other government contributions and/or self-generated income. If your organization has an accumulated deficit, you must discuss your financial viability with the program officer before applying to the program.

How do we submit financial and statistical information?
Except for publishing organizations, you must submit your financial and statistical information to OAC through the Canadian Arts Database / Données sur les arts au Canada (CADAC). No hard copies of the financial or statistical information are required with your application.

Applicants to publishing operating programs submit their financial and statistical information by uploading an OAC-provided Excel spreadsheet file to NOVA as part of their application.

If my organization is not a publishing organization, why do we have to submit financial and statistical information?
The financial and statistical data provides important information for the assessment of your application. It also provides funders with information to help them advocate effectively on behalf of the arts.

If our organization is denied an operating grant, how can OAC support our programs?
If your organization does not receive an operating grant, you may continue to seek and receive project grants for which your organization is eligible.

An organization may apply to only one OAC project program for a specific activity unless the organization has received notification that its first application was not successful.

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Can we receive the program guidelines and form by fax or email?
All program-specific information about operating programs is available on the program’s web page only.

Can we send our application form by mail, fax or email?
No. All operating applications must be submitted online through Nova.

What if I miss the application deadline date?
You will not be able to submit an application after a deadline has closed. If you require an extension due to an emergency, contact the program officer .

Can we send extra documents to OAC after the deadline?
No. We do not accept supplementary material after the deadline unless requested by the program officer.

Will you notify us if you have received our application?
No. The status of your application will change from ‘Draft’ to ‘Preliminary Review’ on your ‘Profile’ in Nova.

Can our organization submit our application in French?
Yes. The OAC is committed to providing services in French according to the requirements of the French Language Services Act.

Applications submitted in French other than to the Francophone Arts section are translated into English by accredited translators prior to assessment. The OAC does not translate works of art (e.g., film scripts) or written material not required in the application.

Advisory panel meetings in programs outside the Francophone Arts section are held in English. If there are French-language applications in those competitions, at least one assessor is francophone.

You may request in writing the English translation of your submissions in French, for information only, after results have been announced.

The multi-year application 

Our small organization does not have detailed long-term plans, nor are we proposing much growth in operations or programming. Will this have a negative effect on our assessment?

Your planning will be assessed according to the goals you set for your organization. For example, you may decide that your three-year plan will centre on a single goal, such as adding only one more staff position or adding only one more play to your theatre season. If so, explain what your organization must do to realize that goal.

If your organization is in the middle of a long-term plan when you are filling out your OAC multi-year application, state (1) where your organization is in that planning process, (2) what you have accomplished to date, and (3) what targets have not been met.

How do we summarize the changes planned during the three years if we are not planning any changes?
Your plans may not mean doing more or making changes, but may be about improving on what you already do.

Example: We are not planning to change our activity or structure in the next three years. However, we plan to have professional development for our two staff members, including mentoring, so that we’ll be better at what we do.

Financial statements 

What is the difference between an audited financial statement, a review engagement and an unaudited financial statement?

An audited financial statement is the process of engaging an independent public accountant to examine the accounting records and other evidence supporting the financial statements; to prepare financial statements; and to render a professional opinion that the financial statements present a fair picture of the organization’s financial position and its activities during the period in which the audit was carried out.

A review engagement is the process of engaging an independent public accountant to prepare financial statements on a review basis. The accountant will not express an opinion on the fairness of the financial statements, but will only provide a limited assurance that the financial information is plausible and conforms to generally accepted accounting principles.

Unaudited financial statements lack this testing and certification but will include a statement of net assets, revenues and expenses, and other statements as requested by the organization.

The costs are variable for each type of financial statement; an independent public accountant’s rates differ between audited financial statements, a review engagement, and unaudited statements.

All financial statements must include net assets, revenues and expenses, and other statements for the organization’s last two years of annual operations.

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