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Guide to OAC Operating Programs

Ontario Arts Council (OAC) operating grant programs support Ontario-based, not-for-profit organizations and for-profit book and magazine publishers that meet the assessment criteria for ongoing support.

This guide provides essential information on all OAC operating grant programs, including eligibility, the assessment process and granting policies. Be sure to review it prior to each application as information and policies are updated regularly and subject to change.

Further details on the eligibility for specific operating grant programs are available on each program’s web page.

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 the peer assessment process. For help with questions you may have while preparing an application in Nova, contact the program administrator

You will find their names and contact information on each operating program web page.

Eligibility requirements

To apply for operating support your organization must:

  • Be an Ontario not-for-profit corporation or 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. The type of financial statement we require depends on the amount of your grant, as follows:
    • Grants over $50,000: audited financial statements required
    • Grants over $25,000: review engagement (or, if available, audited financial statements)
    • Grants of $25,000 and under: unaudited financial statements (or, if available, audited financial statements or review engagement)
      • Unaudited financial statements should 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 web page for details.

In addition to the above criteria, all operating program applicants must meet the program-specific criteria (see the program web page for details).

Note: Applicants must meet all eligibility criteria at the time they submit the application.

Annual and Multi-Year funding

OAC operating grant programs provide Annual and Multi-Year funding. Applicants to both funding types are assessed by an advisory panel in year one of a three-year funding cycle. In years 2 and 3, applications for multi-year funding are reviewed by the program officer. Applications for Annual operating grants are assessed each year by an advisory panel.

An arts organization that received a multi-year grant will be invited to apply for multi-year funding at the next application deadline. An arts organization receiving annual funding may 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.

In order to apply for multi-year funding, an arts organization 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 an organization applying for multi-year funding has an accumulated deficit greater than 10 per cent of its last year’s budget, or an unrestricted net asset deficiency greater than 25 per cent, the organization must have a deficit reduction plan that reduces the accumulated deficit over the next three years.

If an organization receiving multi-year funding is in a state of substantial flux, OAC may move it to annual funding status. The program officer considers whether significant changes to an organization’s artistic, financial and/or organizational plans threaten the stability of the organization. If so, the organization is moved to annual funding and the application is assessed by an advisory panel.

The following applicants must apply for an Annual operating grant, and are not eligible for multi-year funding:

  • 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
  • Arts organizations that were assessed as a C or D in the previous or current year’s assessment

Program Transfers

  • OAC may decide that an organization should be transferred to a different operating program.
  • OAC will consider any developments or changes to an organization’s mandate and programming to determine if a transfer is appropriate.
  • Organizations may request a transfer to a different operating program. Such transfer requests should be made more than two months before the deadline of both your current and proposed programs.
  • Generally, OAC will transfer an organization to a different program when that program is in Year One of the funding cycle of the new program.

New applicants

New applicants may only apply in the first year of a program’s multi-year cycle and are eligible to apply for an annual grant. The year in which new applicants can apply is indicated on the program web page.

Organizations are considered “new applicants” if they are:

  • First-time applicants to an OAC operating program
  • Returning arts organizations that did not receive an operating grant in the previous year

New applicants must:

  • Have at least $75,000 in total revenues for the last completed year, and in projected revenues for the current and request years
  • Meet the program-specific criteria outlined on the program web page
  • Consult with the program officer to ensure they are eligible, and be invited to apply

Operating program restrictions

  • The OAC does not accept applications to an operating program from municipalities, universities or colleges, school boards, First Nations or schools administered by a First Nation or an Indigenous administered school
  • Arts organizations are eligible to receive only one OAC operating grant. An organization cannot apply to another OAC operating grant program unless they have been notified that their application was not successful.
  • Operating grant recipients may apply to the following project programs: Arts Response Initiative: Project Grants for Ad Hoc Groups, Collectives and Organizations, Arts Response Initiative: Project Grants for Organizational PartnershipsCompass, Touring Projects, Market Development Projects and Market Development Travel Assistance. They may also be eligible to apply to other project programs. Refer to the project program web pages for details.
  • Operating grant recipients may receive a maximum of two project grants in a year. The two-grant limit is based on the date of the application deadline, not on the date the grant payment is received.
    • Check project program web pages for more information on project grant eligibility for organizations that receive operating grants.
    • If you submit two project 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.
    • Market Development Travel Assistance grants awarded in the 2019-20 program counted towards a recipient’s two-grant limit for 2019.
    • Grants awarded through the Arts Response Initiative and through Accessibility Fund: Project Support do not count towards a recipient’s two-grant limit.

Operating grant online applications

Grant applications are submitted through OAC’s online granting system, Nova. Approximately two months before an operating program deadline, applicants will receive an email from Nova inviting them to complete and submit an application. All application material and related subsequent documents/information must be submitted in Nova unless otherwise requested.

Your application includes:

Note: To work on an organization’s application, an individual must create a Personal Profile in Nova, and link it to the organization’s profile. See the Nova User Guide for step-by-step instructions on how to set up profiles, start applications, and more.

Financial and statistical application information

Applicants must submit financial and statistical information, and upload their financial statements, through the Canadian Arts Database / Données sur les arts au Canada (CADAC). CADAC is a national web-based database for the collection, dissemination and analysis of financial and statistical information about Canadian arts organizations (www.thecadac.ca).

Note: Applicants to OAC’s Publishing Organizations: Operating and Édition – fonctionnement programs do not use CADAC. They upload financial and statistical information directly in their application in Nova.

New applicants must register for an account in CADAC. You can do this only after you have discussed your eligibility with the program officer and have been invited to apply.

The financial and statistical portion of the application includes:

  • Financial information for your organization’s:
    • Last completed fiscal year
    • Current year
    • Request year
    • Request years 2 and 3, if applicable
  • Financial statements for the last completed year
  • Statistics for the last completed year

Note: Current and Request Years Financial Reports and statistical information must be updated in CADAC no earlier than 60 days before the deadline.

Financial statements

  • If an applicant’s financial statements are not available on the deadline, they must be uploaded to CADAC as soon as possible, and no later than six months after the organization’s year-end.
  • Your OAC grant(s) must be listed separately in your financial statements or in the notes to the financial statements.
  • Financial Statements of not-for-profit applicants must be signed by two members of the Board. Financial Statements of for-profit organizations must be signed by the appropriate signing authority

New applicants:

  • May wait until they are notified that they are awarded an operating grant before undertaking an audit or review engagement. At the deadline, they must submit, at minimum, unaudited financial statements.

OAC staff may contact the organization to follow-up on financial and statistical questions and required changes. This may include cases where significant and material errors or omissions are discovered.

CADAC’s role is to reconcile the financial statements for an organization’s last completed year with the financial data in CADAC. CADAC staff will contact the organization directly if the figures do not match.

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

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

Application deadlines

Operating grant applications are accepted no later than 1 p.m. ET on the deadline date.

  • This includes all components:
    • Completed application and support material in Nova
    • Financial and statistical forms in CADAC (or in Nova, for applicants to the Publishing Organizations: Operating and Édition – fonctionnement programs)
  • Nova will prevent you from submitting an application after 1 p.m.
  • Once an application is submitted, no updates, changes or additions can be made, unless requested by OAC or CADAC.
  • Applications, as well as financial and statistical forms, will go forward to assessors exactly as they appear at the deadline.
  • Under extenuating circumstances only, OAC may consider requests from operating program applicants to submit an application after a deadline. Requests should be made in writing to the program officer. The OAC may require documentation in some circumstances. Extension requests require Director approval and may not be approved.

Withdrawing an application

Reasons for withdrawing an application

  • The applicant does not meet the program eligibility.
  • The application is incomplete.
  • The applicant has requested that the application be withdrawn.

Timing for withdrawing an application

  • Applications will only be withdrawn after a program deadline has passed.
  • Applications can be withdrawn at any time in the assessment process.
  • It may take up to five business days for OAC to respond to a request for withdrawing an application.
  • Applicants will be notified by OAC if their application is withdrawn.

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 more information, see OAC’s Alternative services and processes for Deaf persons and persons with disabilities and the Accessibility Plan.

French language services

 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.

Assessment and decision-making process

Organizations are assessed on the following criteria:

Artistic and/or Service Quality & Contribution

  • Artistic Quality (25%)
  • Contribution to artists, the art form and the artistic community (15%)
  • Artistic Contribution to the OAC’s Priority Groups (10%)

Organizational Effectiveness

  • Public Impact (20%)
  • Administrative and Financial Viability (20%)
  • Organizational Contribution to the OAC’s Priority Groups (10%)

Applicant organizations are evaluated in the context of their request level, stated mandate, the scale of operations and the aesthetic, geographic and/or cultural environments in which they work.

Assessors are provided the Evaluation Rubric – Operating Programs based on the assessment criteria to assist in their evaluation of the application.

Applications are assessed using a five-point rating system:

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

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

       A = 90 – 100, B+ = 80 - 89, B = 70 – 79, C+ = 65 – 69, C = 60 – 64, D = <60

New Applicants: For a new applicant to receive operating funding it must be assessed in at least group B in both the Artistic and/or Service Quality & Contribution category and the Organizational Effectiveness category

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

Grant amounts for new organizations are determined based on the following:

  • If a new applicant has received an OAC operating grant within the last three years, its base grant will not exceed the last operating grant awarded, and may be a lower amount based on the program budget.
  • If a new applicant has not received an OAC operating grant within the last three years, its grant will be established without reference to historic funding levels.

See the Guide to OAC Assessment for information on the role and responsibilities of assessors, conflict of interest policies, etc.

Finding out about a grant decision

When grant decisions are made, approximately four months after the deadline, OAC will inform you by email that the results of your application are available in Nova. Applicants must log in to their profile in Nova to view and acknowledge the grant notification letter. Please do not call or email OAC for this information. It is your responsibility to share operating grant results with your board of directors or governing body.

Grant notification letters include, as applicable:

  • Status of the grant: Awarded, Denied or Withdrawn
  • Recommended grant amount
  • Assessment rating group
  • Awarded grant cycle (e.g. annual, multi-year)
  • Conditions that must be met to release the grant payment(s), including a deadline for meeting conditions

If you are awarded a grant, you must complete the following tasks in Nova:
  • Verify the organization’s mailing address
  • Acknowledge the notification letter
These must be done before the grant cheque can be issued.


  • To avoid unnecessary conditions, make sure you have entered all required financial and statistical information in CADAC, including any changes requested by CADAC and OAC staff.
  • Your grant will be conditional if your financial information for your last completed fiscal year has not been reconciled by CADAC.

Grant payment

The payment of the grant will be held if the organization has a final report for a previous grant in any of the following statuses:

  • Overdue
  • Revisions required
  • Not approvable
  • Submitted
    • Submitted reports have not yet been reviewed by OAC staff and this may take a number of days. In this case, no action is required from you.

The payment will be released shortly after you acknowledge the notification letter, unless it is blocked by conditions or final reports.

The OAC sends grant cheques by regular mail.

  • If conditions are not met, the organization’s operating grant will be forfeited and not paid.

Assessment feedback

All applicants should request a verbal summary of the organization’s assessment from the program officer.

If you get a grant

If you receive an operating grant you must:

  • Acknowledge OAC support by using the OAC logo in all forms of communication related to all of the organization’s activities. This includes advertising, informational documents, websites and other electronic communication
  • Produce financial statements based on the grant amount awarded (see Eligibility Requirements)
    • Your financial statements must specifically identify the OAC grant, either in the body or in the notes
  • Complete and submit an operating application at the next year’s program deadline; the application includes a report on the last completed year

See the Terms and Conditions for receipt of OAC operating grant funds

Frequently asked questions

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.

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.

Multi-year applications

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 where your organization is in that planning process, what you have accomplished to date, and 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.


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 vary 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.