This guide provides information about the Ontario Arts Council’s (OAC) process for evaluating applications and making grant decisions, including the roles and responsibilities of assessors in this process. Be sure to review it prior to each application or assessment process, as information and policies are updated regularly and subject to change.
The OAC uses a peer assessment process to make grant decisions in most programs and operates at arm’s length from the Government of Ontario. Every year, OAC invites hundreds of artists and arts professionals in Ontario to serve as assessors, directly involving the arts community in evaluating grant applications and making recommendations on grants. The composition of assessment panels reflects the diversity of the applicants applying for grants, as well as OAC’s priority groups.
The guide includes the following:
OAC uses three peer assessment models to review applications and make grant decisions.
- Juries are composed of assessors who are professional artists and other professionals in the field. Juries assess grant applications in project programs, determine which applicants should receive grants and decide on the amount of each grant in programs that do not have pre-determined grant levels. A new jury is formed at every application deadline.
- Advisory panels are composed of assessors who are professional artists and other professionals in the field. Advisory panels assess grant applications in operating programs and some project programs. Advisory panels provide advice and help to set priorities for funding – they do not make final decisions on grant amounts. The program officers make final grant recommendations to the Director & CEO (for grants of $30,000 and under) and to the OAC board of directors (for grants over $30,000). Recommendations are based on advisors’ assessment, OAC’s strategic plan priorities, policies, the program’s budget and the number of applications to the program.
- In operating programs, advisory panels may also include volunteers with direct experience working with arts organizations in their communities. Panels may include one member from the previous year’s panel. A new advisory panel for operating programs is formed every year.
- For project programs assessed by an advisory panel, a new panel is formed for every application deadline.
- Third-party recommenders are organizations in the artistic community designated by OAC to receive and assess grant applications in certain project grant programs, and to make recommendations for funding to OAC.
While peer assessment is the basis for the majority of OAC’s funding decisions, OAC uses an internal evaluation process for a few micro-grant programs. The programs that use an internal review process are: Compass (Professional Development micro-grant component only), and Market Development Travel Assistance.
Assessment of project grant programs
OAC’s project programs are assessed on artistic merit, or on artistic merit/merit, impact and viability. Assessments are based on answers to the questions in the application, artistic examples, support documents and a project budget (if applicable).
For programs that include artistic examples, the examples are an important part in the assessment of artistic merit. For programs that include budgets, the budget is an important part in the assessment of the viability of the project.
Applications are assessed using a five-point rating system:
- 5 = excellent
- 4 = very good
- 3 = good
- 2 = fair
- 1 = poor
Applications must be evaluated at a rating of “good” or higher to be considered for a grant.
Assessors are provided an evaluation rubric to guide them in rating applications. See the program web page for a link to the applicable rubric. Here is a sample of an evaluation rubric.
Assessment of operating grant programs
See the Assessment and decision-making process section in the Guide to Operating Programs.
Role of assessors
Assessors are professional artists and other arts professionals who:
- represent a diversity of artistic and cultural practices and expertise
- represent the diversity of the province, e.g. race, age, region, language, gender, ability as well as Indigenous and Francophone perspectives
- bring vision, open-mindedness and generosity of spirit to their deliberations
- provide fair and objective analysis, based on assessment criteria
- treat applications equitably, without prejudice, in accordance with the principles of the Ontario Human Rights Code, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and OAC’s Equity Statement and Vision
- are able to work collaboratively
- are willing to express their views while respecting and listening to the views of others
Responsibilities of assessors
Before the assessment meeting assessors must:
- become familiar with the granting program, its assessment criteria as well as OAC’s Strategic Plan, and OAC’s priority groups
- read all the applications, review artistic examples and support documents, and make notes about each application based on the assessment criteria, granting program priorities, and OAC priorities
In project grant programs, assessors are required to pre-score the applications before the meeting. At the meeting, based on the results of pre-scoring, assessors:
- determine the applications that will not be discussed or considered for a grant
- discuss and rate the applications that will be discussed and considered for a grant
In operating grant programs, assessors are required to make a preliminary score on each application before the panel. At the meeting, assessors:
- discuss and rate all applications
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Responsibilities of OAC program officers
Assessors are chosen after considerable thought and research by program officers. The program officers gather information about potential assessors through ongoing, regular contact with their fields. Arts professionals from all cultural communities and regions of the province are encouraged to submit their names as potential assessors. Recommendations from applicants, assessors and other professionals in the field are added to this list on an ongoing basis. Recommended assessors need not be former grant applicants or recipients.
The program officers compose assessment panels that reflect the range of applications, including professional artists and arts professionals representing a diversity of perspectives and expertise. Proposed assessors are approved by the Director of Granting, and the Director & CEO.
Prior to the assessment meeting, the program officer:
- ensures that assessors understand the materials provided and the assessment process, and addresses questions that may arise
At the assessment meeting, the program officer:
- chairs the meeting, facilitates discussion and ensures that each applicant is treated equitably, without prejudice in accordance with the principles of the Ontario Human Rights Code, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and OAC’s Equity Statement and Vision
- ensures that there are no direct conflicts of interest, that indirect conflicts of interest are declared, and appropriate procedures are followed
- reminds assessors of OAC priorities, program priorities and the budget context
- ensures assessors share a common understanding of the assessment criteria
- serves as a resource person and provides information and historical context in operating grant programs
- oversees and records the rating/ranking process
Conflict of Interest
The OAC has exacting standards in managing conflict of interest for all its stakeholders – staff, board and assessors. We pay attention to this issue to ensure that we are transparent and that our assessment process is understood by our applicants and they feel their application was considered fairly, even if it was not successful. To maintain public confidence in our assessment process we must be fair and impartial.
In considering conflict of interest, we identify direct, indirect and perceived conflicts, and manage them differently.
A direct conflict of interest occurs when an assessor or an immediate family member (spouse or partner, parent, child, sibling, or member of the immediate household) will benefit financially from the success of an application.
For organizational applications, this would include:
- Staff members
- principals in the organization or principals to the application;
- any person with an ongoing paid or unpaid relationship with the organization;
- regularly employed or contracted artists who are part of the core of the organization
- Board members.
A participant in an application, or a major partner necessary to the activity and its staff and board members, also has a direct conflict of interest.
- An assessor’s spouse is on the board of an applicant organization.
- The parent of an assessor is an individual applicant to the granting program.
- An assessor is an incoming board member of an applicant organization.
- An assessor is a curator who will be contracted for an exhibition by a group that is applying for a grant for the exhibition.
Individuals who are in direct conflict of interest with any of the applications being assessed cannot serve as assessors. If a direct conflict of interest becomes apparent at any time before or during the assessment process, the assessor will be immediately released from their duties.
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Indirect and perceived
Indirect and perceived conflicts of interest occur when some factor may make it difficult for an assessor to evaluate an application objectively, or when it might appear that an assessor could not evaluate an application objectively.
Indirect conflicts can occur in cases where an assessor is in one of the following, or similar, circumstances, although they are not in direct conflict:
- they have a temporary paid relationship with the applicant – an artist hired to take a particular role in an activity, but with no control over the activity
- they are a former board member or staff of an applicant organization who has left their position with the organization within the past two years
- they have a family member involved in the application or organization – as a non-principal artist or arts professional
- they have a more distant relationship with an applicant or a principal to an application (e.g. in-law, cousin)
- they have a significant personal relationship with an applicant or a principal to an application, either supportive or adversarial
- they have a past personal or professional relationship with a principal to an application, or a member of their immediate family has an ongoing personal or professional relationship with a principal to an application
- they or their artwork appears in the artistic support material for an application
- they have written a letter of reference for an applicant
- they previously had a very close relationship with an applicant, but are no longer involved
- a perception of bias, or a preconceived opinion for or against an individual, organization, art practice or activity
After two years, former staff and board members have no conflict of interest with an organization unless there is an ongoing relationship. For example, a member of an advisory council that is not a decision-making role would have an indirect conflict of interest.
- an artist will be contracted for the activity the application references, e.g. an actor hired for a role, a musician to be included in a back-up band
- an assessor was involved in the initial stage of a project, and appears in the video documentation shown to the assessors
- the cousin of an assessor is an applicant or a principal in an application
- an assessor was on the opposite side from an applicant or a principal to an application in a vigorous and public debate in the relevant artistic community about a contentious issue
- an assessor is one of the founders of a collective or organization, although they have not had an ongoing relationship for two years
The following are not considered conflicts of interest, unless the assessor feels that they are unable to be objective:
- membership in a professional association that is an applicant
- former employees and board members who have left an applicant organization two years ago or longer
- having a current or past personal or professional relationship with an applicant or a principal to an application that is disinterested enough not to affect objectivity
- being mentioned as a potential participant in the activity of an application, without having been contacted
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Policies on assessor dismissal
An assessor is dismissed from their responsibilities if they:
- have a direct conflict of interest that precludes participation
- have not read all the applications and materials, and reviewed all artistic examples, e.g. audio/visual or digital examples and/or documents, made notes about each application based on the assessment criteria and pre-scored each application no less than two working days before the first day of the assessment panel
- are unable to attend all required days of the assessment meeting
- obstruct or disrupt the assessment process or are disrespectful of OAC staff, other assessors or particular applicants or groups of applicants
- discriminate against applicants, other assessors or OAC staff
- do not comply with the Agreement for OAC Assessors
When an assessor is dismissed from an assessment panel for any reason, they will be paid for their work up to and including the day of dismissal.
All discussions and decisions in which assessors are involved, and any information, application materials or audiovisual, digital or other documentation that assessors receive or to which they have access in their role as an assessor are confidential. Assessors have no rights whatsoever with respect to this information; all intellectual property rights in the materials provided by the applicant for the purposes of assessment are held by the applicant.
Assessors agree to maintain the confidentiality of OAC Confidential Information and:
- will not disseminate, distribute, copy or otherwise reproduce OAC Confidential Information in any manner or by any means
- will use OAC Confidential Information solely for the purpose of serving in their role as an assessor, and not for any other purpose
- securely maintain OAC Confidential Information to protect it against loss, theft, unauthorized access, modification or destruction
Upon completion of their role as an assessor and the assessment panel, assessors agree to:
- securely destroy all OAC Confidential Information and any and all of the personal notes they recorded for use as an assessor
- delete any and all information on their personal device(s) that they have downloaded from the Nova assessor portal
Assessors have an obligation to maintain the confidentiality of OAC Confidential Information. This obligation continues to survive the expiration of their role as an assessor and participation in assessment.
Assessors’ names and locations (i.e. city/town/First Nation) will be posted on OAC’s website and in OAC’s Annual Report Grants Listing, and may be published in other OAC communications as well as part of the Government of Ontario Open Data initiative. Assessors agree that their name and location may be made public in these or similar circumstances.
The OAC observes and upholds the Ontario Human Rights Code. All staff, board members, assessors, consultants and volunteers, when working on behalf of OAC, are expected to respect and follow the letter and spirit of the Ontario Human Rights Code.
The Code requires equitable treatment in areas such as employment, contracts, goods, services and facilities.
These are the prohibited grounds of discrimination under the Code: race, ancestry, place of origin, ethnic origin, citizenship, sexual orientation, sex, gender identity, gender expression, disability, colour, creed, age, marital status, family status and receipt of public assistance.
The OAC supports and protects the dignity and worth of everyone and the rights of all. We provide equitable access to opportunities for all employees, applicants and volunteers. Policies, programs and processes are reviewed to ensure OAC addresses, prevents and eliminates discrimination in all aspects of our employment and services.
We do not tolerate harassment or unwelcome comments and actions. We take prompt action if such problems occur.
Rights of Indigenous Peoples
In 2010, Canada formally endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration affirms that Indigenous cultural knowledge is the intellectual property of Indigenous peoples, and its use is controlled by Indigenous peoples. The following excerpts are especially helpful to guide the assessment process:
Indigenous peoples have the right to practise and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs. This includes the right to maintain, protect and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures, such as… artefacts, designs, ceremonies, technologies and visual and performing arts and literature.
Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures.
Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their… cultures, including… oral traditions, literatures, designs, sports and traditional games and visual and performing arts. They also have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over such cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions.
OAC Equity Statement and Vision
In fulfilling its mandate, OAC serves one of the most diverse cultural, racial, linguistic and Indigenous populations in Canada. Through its programs and services, OAC supports artists, organizations and communities across Ontario, and welcomes all forms of artistic expression and practice.
The Ontario Arts Council has deepened its commitment to serving the diversity of Ontario artists, organizations and communities by developing an equity vision and plan. The following vision guides OAC in its equity work:
- We are inspired by and value Ontario’s artists, who help shape our thriving and diverse society and express the richness of our stories, histories and cultures. Therefore, as a public agency, funder and employer, OAC will lead and be responsive and inclusive in supporting diverse artists, artistic practices, arts communities and our own organization.
OAC’s equity plan
OAC has further identified groups historically underserved and excluded from arts funding and developed specific inclusive strategies for these groups. Some of these priority groups have a unique history, identity and status in Canada, some have faced historical and/or systemic barriers, others reflect OAC’s province-wide mandate and all are essential to the future of the arts sector.
We ask applicants and assessors to consider who is telling whose story and who has the right to develop and share cultural expressions and knowledge from any community, particularly marginalized groups or individuals.
In the assessment process, assessors may consider the applicant’s social, economic and physical barriers, whether historic or continuing, in accessing opportunities to producing and participating in the arts.
Accommodation for Deaf persons and persons with disabilities
An assessor who is Deaf or a person with a disability may request accommodation in any stage of the assessment process by contacting the program officer as soon as possible to discuss options.
OAC provides written information in alternative formats when requested. Most assessment meetings are held in person at OAC’s Toronto office, which is accessible by stairs and elevator. OAC’s hallways, doorways and rooms accommodate most mobility devices. Accessible gender-neutral washroom facilities are available in addition to women’s and men’s washrooms. OAC also provides a wellness room with a cot for use by assessors.
For more information, see OAC’s Alternative services and processes for Deaf persons and persons with disabilities and the Accessibility Plan.
Assessment of French language applications
The OAC is committed to providing services in French according to the requirements of the French Language Services Act.
In programs outside the Francophone Arts section, assessment panels are held in English. If there are French-language applications in those competitions, at least one assessor is Francophone. The OAC provides translation services for all French-language applications submitted to non-Francophone programs. If a competition receives enough French-language applications, a separate meeting with francophone assessors is convened.