Funding for the arts in Canada


TAC, OAC, CCA, CADAC: in the 3 years I spent in Canada, I have accumulated a nice collection of new arts acronyms. Now that I’m back in the UK, I want to spend some time reflecting on what I’ve learned, as I already started in a previous post on shared spaces and coworking, and I’m following up with an overview of the funding landscape. This is not exhaustive by any means, and it’s based on my personal, Toronto-centric experience of researching funding sources for various projects and organisations, mainly in music, media arts, community arts and multidisciplinary festivals.

– – –

At a glance

3 different levels of government funding: one federal granting agency, Canada Council for the Arts; one funding body for each provincial government (full list); and several separate municipal Arts Councils (such as Toronto, Montreal and Edmonton).

A vast range of foundations: their status varies from government agencies (like Ontario Trillium Foundation), family foundations, corporate philanthropy funds or community foundations. They must be registered charities. Some clearly display their remit and assessment process, others don’t even have a website and don’t accept unsolicited requests; some operate on a national scope, others have a provincial or local focus.

– Registered charities can also conveniently receive tax-deductible donations through online platform Canada Helps (at a credit rate of up to 29% of the gift depending on the province).

– – –

Three levels of Arts Councils

Municipal level

Toronto Arts Council is a not-for-profit organisation that distributes public funds under a Grant Agreement contract with the City. Its two key operating principles are arm’s length funding and peer review.  It is governed by a 29-strong Board of Directors, 5 of whom are City Councillors, and draws on the expertise of 54 volunteer committee members who advise on grants for theatre, dance, visual arts/film & video, music, literature and community arts. Grants are assessed by a jury or committee of artists and arts administrators specialised in the relevant discipline.

TAC only funds artists and organisations based within the limits of the City of Toronto, or projects with a Toronto-based lead applicant, with an emphasis on partnerships & innovation (e.g. collaboration with other arts organisations) and public impact (outreach, audience development, participatory elements, especially outside the core & youth audiences). Funded organisations also must receive significant ongoing support from other sources, public or private. 75% of all support from TAC is for amounts less than $10,000, and ⅔ of grants are reserved each year to new projects and individuals.

TAC’s budget is currently set at CAD $16 million for 2014 and growing year on year, as the City of Toronto has committed to increase arts funding per capita from $14 to $25 by 2017 (via additional revenues from the billboard tax).

A parallel organisation, Toronto Arts Foundation, raises funds from donations and sponsors to further the goals of the Toronto Arts Council, through research, strategic networks and awards. It also manages an Arts Volunteer Network.

– – –

Provincial level

Ontario Arts Council celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013. An arm’s-length agency of the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, OAC supports artists and arts organisations through 65 different granting programmes in arts education, Aboriginal arts, community arts, crafts, dance, Franco-Ontarian arts, literature, media arts, multidisciplinary arts, music, theatre, touring and visual arts. A board of 12 volunteer directors, appointed by the Government of Ontario for a three-year term and representing communities throughout the province, is responsible for setting OAC’s policies and oversees the organisation’s operations.

OAC’s strategic priorities are to support the lives, careers and work of individual artists, especially Aboriginal, francophone, culturally diverse, new generation (ages 18 to 30) and regional artists; enabling people of all ages and in all regions to actively engage and participate in the arts; and ensuring that the creativity, innovation and excellence of Ontario’s artists and arts organizations in all their diversity are seen and acclaimed locally, nationally and internationally.

In 2012-2013, OAC funded 1,793 individual artists and 1,076 organizations in 232 Ontario communities, for a total of $52.1 million. Grants, both operational and project-based, are allocated through a peer assessment process.

Some granting programmes, such as Writers’ Reserve and Theatre Creators’ Reserve, are administered by third-party recommenders – publishers, literary organisations and theatre companies who may have an interest in publishing or developing the submitted proposals.

Additionally, OAC manages private donations and bequests that fund awards and fellowships; it also administers the peer assessment process of several awards, prizes and scholarships on behalf of the Ontario Arts Foundation, a public foundation with assets of $62 million.

– – –

Federal level

Created in 1957, the Canada Council for the Arts is “Canada’s national, arm’s-length arts funding agency”. They provide funding to individual professional artists and arts organisations through a peer assessment process, award fellowships and prizes (from private donations and bequests) to about 200 artists and scholars and conduct research to further their mandate to support, promote and celebrate the arts.

CCA also operates the Musical Instrument Bank, a collection of close to 20 historical stringed instruments worth a total of over $36 million that musicians have to compete to borrow, and the Art Bank, “the world’s largest collection of contemporary Canadian art”, available for private space rentals, public loans and outreach programmes.

Peer assessors – nominated by other artists, arts organisations, the public or themselves – can normally only participate in review committee once every 24 months. The selection and assessment process is detailed at length on CCA’s website.

A few figures taken from the 2013 annual report:

– $181.2 million as total parliamentary appropriation
– $153.4 million allocated to grants, prizes and payments
– 629 peer assessors
– 11-member Board from across Canada

– 20,355 artists awarded $32 million to support a wide range of activities, including research, creation, professional travel, market development and payments for the presence of books in public libraries.
– Approximately 1,000 arts organisations received $93 million in operating grants, representing approximately 66% of the Council’s total granting budget.
– 1,704 organisations received $28 million in project funding, 20% of Council’s granting budget.


A dynamic sector that drives change

These are a few examples of interesting initiatives – active, recent or with a lasting impact – again based on my own experience, with no pretension to accurately reflect a whole national sector.

Governmental level

At federal level: CCA just released a paper and launched a blog to open up dialogue on public engagement in the arts. They also provide a Leadership for Change funding stream (previously Flying Squad) to enable organisational change.

At provincial level: OAC runs Compass, a programme that supports both organisational and professional development.

At municipal level: TAC is piloting new initiatives, such as Space for Art (spaces for administration, programming and exhibition at below-market rent), special grants for projects in selected heritage sites and libraries, and a partnership with the Toronto District School Board to to provide opportunities for artist residencies, mentorships and performances in school as part of a new festival.  TAC also supports a Research Fellow, currently Jinni Stolk from Creative Trust.

Online reporting

All governmental arts funding bodies have teamed up to create a shared online reporting platform, the CADAC, for financial and statistical information on operational grants. Since 2008, instead of reporting separately for each governmental grant they received, organisations can upload their audited statements and enter their budget projections; funders have access to this information to assess funding bids and are now able to analyse sector-wide data.

Arts service organisations

Creative Trust was a capacity-building organisation that wound up its operations in 2012, when its mission was achieved. Over 10 years, they ran the Working Capital for the Arts programme, assisting over 50 mid-size and small companies to eliminate deficits, create working capital reserves and improve their governance, planning and management skills; helped companies undertake capital projects to upgrade and repair their aging facilities; and engaged companies in a comprehensive audience development programme.

Business for the Arts – “Canada’s national association of business leaders who support the arts since 1974” – runs ArtsVest (a “matching incentive and sponsorship training program”), ArtsScene (a “network of leading young business professionals who support the arts through volunteerism and patronage”) and boardLink (“a  matching program connecting business professionals with volunteer board and committee positions within the arts organizations in their cities”).

Agenda-setting foundations

Metcalf Foundation supports capacity-building and organisational innovation in the performing arts (as well as projects and initiatives in the environmental and local economies realm). Through the Creative Strategies Incubator programme, it supports 3-year development plans to address self-identified issues on a theme changing every year (in 2014: engaging audiences and building communities around your work). It also funds full-time internships to support the next generation of arts managers. Professional development grants from $500 to $10,000 are available for performing arts professionals (who have to be affiliated with a registered charity), and selected Innovation Fellows can propose and develop the research of their choice. Recent Fellows include Jane Marsland, examining fiscal sponsorship models in her Shared Platform report, and Shannon Litzenberger, dance artist and author of Choreographing our Future.

– As well as providing funding for what they call Vital Initiatives, Toronto Community Foundation publishes an annual Vital Signs report and recognises Vital Ideas and Vital People. Donors can choose the field of interest or even designated charities they want to invest in.

Ontario Trillium Foundation, “Canada’s leading grantmaking foundation”, is a government agency that works with over 300 community volunteers to review more than 3,000 grant applications each year, of which about half are successful. Their focus in the arts cover heritage, participation, leadership and social and economic change. Through their granting priorities, they encourage collaborative projects and youth engagement.


A wide range of corporate foundations

Operational funding mainly comes from governmental sources, and while some foundations support organisational development, others, especially corporate philanthropic bodies, are solely focused on providing financial support to projects that match their specific remit – “signature cause”, target demographics, type of impact.

Here are three examples of philanthropic foundations from the financial sector:

Royal Bank of Canada runs an Emerging Artist Project, providing “sponsorships and donations with organizations whose programs bridge the gap from academic excellence to professional careers in all forms of art.” Their commitment is mainly for the visual arts – for example with a nationwide painting competition in partnership with Canadian Art Foundation – and film – their support of TIFF is highly visible in Toronto.

–  Scotiabank’s Bright Future programmes cover education, health, social services and arts & culture in 29 countries. They are title sponsors for the municipally-run Nuit Blanche and the CONTACT Photography Festival in Toronto, and nationwide for the 20-year-old fiction award Giller Prize.

Manulife Financial has chosen volunteerism as its ‘signature cause’ and fulfills its CSR in three different ways: by providing financial resources to volunteer programmes (Luminato Festival is a recipient); by encouraging its employees at all levels to volunteer, with paid community hours (not restricted to the organisations it funds); and by running a matchmaking website for individuals looking for a volunteer opportunities and organisations,