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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
    • Note: For 2021, in recognition of COVID-19 circumstances, this requirement may be waived.
  • 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
    • Note: For 2021, in recognition of COVID-19 circumstances, this requirement may be waived.
  • 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

For 2021, the OAC has put a pause on the multi-year cycles of all operating programs. All current operating grant recipients will need to submit a streamlined application that will be assessed by a panel of peers. 

The application asks for less detail than a standard Year 1 or annual application, and multi-year projections are not required. Organizations in Year 2 or 3 of a multi-year cycle will need to supply more information than would normally be required in a mid-cycle report. The application gathers the essential information peer assessors will need to understand an organization’s situation.

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

The OAC will not be accepting new applicants to any operating programs in 2021. Once it is confirmed when a particular program is accepting new applicants, it will be noted on the program web page.

Operating program restrictions

  • The OAC does not accept operating grant applications from the following organizations:
    • municipalities
    • universities and colleges
    • school boards
    • First Nations
    • schools administered by a First Nation and Indigenous administered schools
  • Operating grant recipients may apply to the following project program: Artist-Presenter Collaboration Projects. 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.
    • Grants awarded through Accessibility Fund: Project Support do not count towards a recipient’s two-grant limit.
  • OAC operating funds cannot be spent on major capital expenditures, including buying, leasing or renovating buildings and purchase of major equipment.

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 and information must be submitted in Nova unless otherwise requested.

Your application includes:

  • Answers to standard questions related to the program assessment criteria 
    • Important: The application questions have been revised for 2021 in response to the pandemic.
  • Staff and board/governing body lists
  • Lists of programming activities for the current and request year
  • Support material
  • Financial and statistical information (see below)

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.

The financial and statistical portion of the application includes:

  • Financial information for your organization’s:
    • Last completed fiscal year
    • Current year
    • Request year
    • Financial statements for the last completed year
  • Statistics for the last completed year

Note: Current and request year financial 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

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.

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

All applications will be assessed by a panel of peers. 

Organizations are assessed on the following criteria:

  • Artistic and/or Service Quality (25%)
  • Contribution to Artistic Field and Role Within Community (30%)
  • Contribution to OAC Priority Groups (25%)
  • Administrative and Financial Viability (20%)

Important: The assessment criteria have been revised and simplified for 2021 in response to the pandemic.

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. 

Important: The Evaluation Rubric has been revised and simplified for 2021 in response to the pandemic.

Applications are assessed using a five-point rating system:

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

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

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

The program officer recommends grant allocations to the CEO (for grants $30,000 and under) and to the OAC board of directors (for grants over $30,000) based on the:

  • the advisory panel’s assessment and recommended funding priorities
  • OAC’s strategic plan and funding policies, and
  • program budget

Note: As in most years, OAC will learn of its 2021-22 budget allocation in the spring when the provincial budget is tabled. After that, our 2021-22 funding framework will be determined and shared with applicants. 

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 five 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
  • 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


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.