First and foremost, I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge Martha Durdin, whose unprecedented three terms as Chair of the Ontario Arts Council (OAC) concluded on February 9, 2015. For all of us at OAC, board and staff, it has been a tremendous privilege to work with Martha over the past decade – she is an inspirational leader who cares deeply about Ontario’s artists and arts organizations.
My congratulations also to board member Judith Gelber, who was appointed Vice-Chair on March 4. Judith will helm the board until a new Chair is appointed by the Government of Ontario later this year. And I would like to acknowledge and thank Albert Alexanian, our board member from Hamilton, whose second three-year term ended on February 4.
Following my last e-newsletter message, in late December, we were able to tape the presentation that Carolyn Vesely and I gave about OAC’s new strategic plan, Vital Arts and Public Value, during our fall 2014 tour of Ontario. Opting for a video recording, rather than a webinar, allowed us to provide a version with French subtitles as well as an American Sign Language (ASL) version. I confess that the final result isn’t the most exciting video I have ever watched, but for anyone who was unable to attend one of our 18 community meetings, it contains very useful information. It’s also a good way to hear our complete message about the new multi-year strategic plan first-hand, as well as the reasons for our 2015-16 funding framework, which includes five per cent across-the-board reductions to all project program funding envelopes and all operating grants.
One of the recurring questions we received on tour was the use of the term “vital” in our new strategic plan. As Carolyn and I pointed out at every opportunity, this does not signal a change in what OAC considers important or a change in our assessment processes. Instead, the notion of “vitality” – and the accompanying concepts of artistic merit, relevance, impact, risk-taking and effectiveness – is a tool that will help us assess and compare all grant applications and guide us in making difficult decisions in the years ahead. For example, when our peer assessors have to choose between projects that are competing for the same funds, the ones that are considered the most vital will be funded.
I would particularly like to reassure organizations that receive OAC operating funding that we do not equate vitality with “newness” and, indeed, some of Ontario’s most vital arts organizations aren’t new at all. Over the years, the groups that are most successful have worked hard to remain relevant to their audiences and respond to the ever-changing needs of the arts community and the public – including demographics and technology.
This leads to another issue that came up in some of our community meetings: the question of “risk-taking,” which our strategic plan includes as one element of vitality. We believe that it’s impossible to evolve and thrive without taking risks – growing, pushing the boundaries, trying new things. But risk-taking is all about context. In some cases, it might have to do with an organization’s programming decisions, but it could just as easily mean new marketing initiatives, new types of fundraising, reaching out to new audiences and promoting increased collaboration and cooperation as resources become more scarce and competition for people’s time and attention becomes more fierce. That said, we know that risk-taking often doesn’t pay off immediately, and sometimes it means trying again and again, using different approaches. But we hope that it is always a learning experience for Ontario’s artists and arts organizations.
With our new strategic plan, OAC now has six priority groups: Aboriginal artists, artists and arts organizations in regions across Ontario, artists of colour, Deaf artists and artists with disabilities, francophone artists and new generation artists. OAC remains strongly committed to supporting artists from all communities and to funding vital arts created and produced by all Ontarians. Our programs cover a wide range of artistic practices and serve the needs of professional artists, regardless of background.
On February 6, 2015, we released our new video, Boundless: Deaf Artists, Artists with Disabilities and OAC.
Unfortunately we have encountered some technical difficulties with the program guidelines and application forms for our new Deaf and Disability Arts Projects program. We hope they will be posted in early May. As a result, we are delaying the program deadline until September 15, 2015, to give people more time to prepare their applications.
In addition to this new program, we offer support for the costs to prepare applications and support for accessibility costs for funded projects.
We have renewed the search for a new Francophone Arts Officer and hope to announce the successful candidate later this spring.