On September 30, many artists and arts organization representatives came out to greet the Honourable Michael Coteau, recently appointed Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, at an OAC-hosted reception in his honour at Artscape’s Daniels Spectrum. This spectacular new building in Toronto’s Regent Park neighbourhood is home to several OAC-funded arts groups, including Native Earth Performing Arts, Collective of Black Artists and the Regent Park Film Festival.
The event also featured performances by Urban Non-Violent Initiatives Through Youth or, as it is more commonly known, UNITY. This organization engages and empowers youth through urban art forms, helping young people tell their stories and go on to become leaders in the community.
For us, this fall began in earnest with the launch of Vital Arts and Public Value, OAC’s new strategic plan, which will provide a values-based blueprint for OAC from now to 2020.
What a pleasure to visit many Ontario communities from late October to early December to present the plan! Carolyn Vesely, Director of Granting, Kirsten Gunter, Director of Communications, and I held a series of province-wide town hall meetings to begin a conversation about the plan and answer questions. We kicked off in Sudbury, followed by Nipissing First Nation, Windsor, London, Kitchener-Waterloo, Six Nations, Hamilton, Kingston, Thunder Bay, Mississauga, Barrie, Peterborough, Ottawa (two sessions) and Toronto (three sessions). Stay tuned for a webinar in January for anyone who was too far or otherwise unable to attend any of these sessions.
We were warmly welcomed everywhere we went, not just at each community information session but at many other arts venues, when time allowed us to squeeze in a visit, including a memorable tour (complete with secret tunnel) of the Olde Walkerville Theatre in Windsor. This former vaudeville theatre has been closed for decades but is now in the process of being reborn as a 21st century arts venue.
As suggested by its title, Vital Arts and Public Value focuses on the twin themes of OAC’s mandate: to serve both the arts community and the public. While strategic plans are always aspirational, the consultation process that went into our plan yielded some very clear directions. In particular, the word “vital” was chosen to reflect the qualities OAC considers most essential to a healthy arts sector, including artistic merit, relevance, impact, risk-taking and effectiveness.
“Vital” is not meant to signal a new direction for OAC – indeed, we will continue with essentially the same assessment criteria most people are already familiar with. But a new focus will help guide us when difficult decisions are required. For operating grant programs, for example, we will, over time, increasingly emphasize those organizations that are most vital and begin to de-emphasize those that are less vital. For further information, please speak with your Program Officer.
PDF and ASL and LSQ versions of Vital Arts and Public Value are available on the OAC website.
But after several years of stopgap measures, such as the use of reserve funds that are now depleted, we are out of options. If OAC grants were to continue next year at the same level as this year, we would have an unsustainable $1.6 million gap between revenues and expenditures. To address this, OAC plans to reduce all operating grants, and all project program budgets, by five per cent starting in 2015-16.
For all of the approximately 550 organizations that receive OAC operating grants, including the major organizations that receive the largest support, these five per cent reductions will be across the board and in no way related to assessment. Commencing April 2015, 95 per cent will be the new base funding level for all organizations. A personal letter was sent in October to organizations that receive operating grants, outlining this in more detail.
For project programs, we don’t know who will be affected because no one has applied yet. But unfortunately, it means that each program will be even more competitive next year than this year.
We recognize that this is not welcome news for many people, but we believe this is the only fair and equitable way for OAC to deal with fixed revenues, rising costs and increasing demand, while continuing to make room for new artists and arts organizations and beginning to address funding imbalances that have crept in over time.
And there is some good news: for the first time in six years, $500,000 will be set aside starting next year for modest funding increases to a small number of the most highly assessed operating organizations when they are in Year 1. Another $500,000 has been set aside specifically to fund new and emerging arts activity. Again, please check with the relevant OAC Program Officer for more details.
Finally, I would like to end this message by thanking Claudette Jaiko, Franco-Ontarian Arts Officer, who will be leaving us in February to explore new options and possible film projects. We wish her well in this next phase of her career. The search for a new Francophone Arts Officer is well underway.
We also look forward to welcoming our new Touring and Audience Development Officer, Noora Sagarwala, who is joining us in January upon finishing her MBA and with years of experience in the festival and performing arts world. I would also like to acknowledge Cross-Sectoral Associate Officer Jessica Deljouravesh, who stepped in to manage our touring programs while we conducted a search for the new Touring and Audience Development Officer.
Best wishes to all for a healthy and happy new year.