Developing a new way of thinking – arts funding

In November 2015, I was invited to Montreal along with many other delegates for the National Young Professionals Summit for the Arts, hosted by Business for the Arts . A one-day summit to bring together cultural workers, artists and young professionals to discuss topics ranging from philanthropy, art collecting, to the struggles of being a young independent artist. The summit was also a forum to develop ideas for a proposal to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary next year. A few reflections after I’ve settled back in Vancouver.


  • Exploring the regional divide:
    At the Summit, the majority of delegates, speakers, panelists and sponsors were from the Toronto and Montreal region. It might not seem substantial at first but when you think about how accessible these arts organizations, administrators and artists are to large corporate sponsors and funders, it makes me realize how difficult it is for arts organizations west of Toronto to gain access to these individuals and companies and overall to build meaningful relationships. The prairies are an economic asset for the country’s agricultural agenda and identity, but it is our biggest (physical) barrier to building an audience of supporters/funders. Historically speaking, the largest sponsors will always and forever be headquartered in Toronto and Ottawa. With corporate headquarters also comes philanthropists also known as “old money”. So how can a major visual art institution on the west coast embarking on building a new facility in the next five years, reach these philanthropists without maxing out their frequent flyer card? Perhaps we need to develop a new model of philanthropy, one that doesn’t rely on large corporate sponsors but actually a new way of investment for those arts organizations not connected to headquarters on the east. We need to build relationships and develop a new way of thinking to create “new money”. Building partnerships from our core supporters is one route this Toronto group is undertaking.

    Partners in Art, a volunteer-run paid membership organization based in Toronto, with fees of $375+ per year, has raised $1.2 million for arts organizations in Toronto alone in the past 12-years.

    What this does is empower the indiviudual donors to make lead decisions instead of corporate or government agencies.  We need to step away from the old guard and build a new system. Overall, we need to develop new sources of supporters that can cross the regional divide.

  • What’s wrong with Anniversary funding:
    I didn’t realize this until the end of the summit but the entire summit was actually a platform to get together professionals and artists together to build a proposal for Canada’s 150th Anniversary  in 2017. There were many ideas put forward in the break out sessions. To celebrate our nation’s birthday is quite nice and putting forward funding up to 100% towards your project is quite a friendly gesture. But what is the legacy of these projects?

    A similar funding scheme was developed for Vancouver’s 125th Anniversary in 2010, a total of $911,000 was allocated to be distributed through the City of Vancouver. Many organizations just developed projects just to fit the criteria to receive funding, some as large as $40,000 per project.

    Vancouver Review magazine received $25,000 for a publishing project and dialogue series. The print publication shut down in 2011.

    The overall goal should not just be to fund “celebratory” events and “contribute to building a sense of pride and attachment to Canada” but to develop an infrastructure for these organizations, collectives, artists and writers to build projects and create a sustainable future. There should be funding for projects, opportunities for next generation of leaders to be mentored, young artists to gain exposure and celebrate our country’s richness of culture —- for 2017 and beyond.

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