Canada’s artists are mostly rejects

Kerri Breen talks to a rep at the Canada Council for the Arts and local artist Liz Pickard about the realities of arts funding, and how to get a project grant.

Each year, hundreds of millions of dollars are devoted to sustaining Canada’s artistic production and its artists. But despite some increases in government funding, accessing grant money is still fiercely competitive, and for some, receiving publicly funded support is getting more difficult.

In fact, most arts funding organizations accept less than half of the applications they receive.
According to Carole Breton, public relations officer for the Canada Council for the Arts, the national funding agency accepted 6,700 of 16,000 applications they received in 2007-2008.

“It’s an absolute rat race,” says Liz Pickard, a 25-year performance veteran, multi-disciplinary artist, and founder of the Independent Artists’ Co-operative. “It’s a very, very painful, difficult way to live and a lot of artists do live that way. It’s hand-to-mouth.”

“A lot of people are not happy,” says Breton. “[Rejected applicants] might be new at the process also—like up-and-coming artists. But they have to learn how the process works and how to present their project to the jury members.”

Although the organization has no appeals process for grant denials, Breton says they routinely provide artists with the reasoning behind the jury’s decision.

“Their process is respectful, but it’s extremely competitive,” says Pickard.

As Canada’s largest artist funding body, the Council is projected to award almost $200-million in grants this year to provide funds for artists in all disciplines, at all stages of the creative process. A lot of their funds go to non-profit artist organizations.

Increased funding, but in the right places?
The Council received a $30-million boost from the Department of Canadian Heritage last year.
“We’re very happy with the funding we have right now, but of course the more we receive then the more grants can be given and it can have more impact on different communities,” says Breton.

Pickard says the Canada Council is better equipped than local organizations to look at new media and interdisciplinary applications. Although she has received just four Canada Council grants in her entire career, she is very positive about the organization, as, she says, it is artist-friendly and will fund a project in full.
“All of that funding has totally been representative of pivotal points in my career,” she says. “It has shifted my direction, educated me, showed me the world. That’s the good side of arts funding.”

Though Pickard can also appreciate the strategy of the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council (NLAC), which, she says, rarely gives artists the amount of money they are looking for, but approves more applications.

In its last two budgets, the provincial government has dedicated an extra $800,000 to NLAC, with a commitment to doubling its funding in three years.

Pickard says a lack of funding for artistic development, and a tendency to fund more commercially-viable projects is a big concern.

“It’s a great thing to have support to market your CD, but it’s very difficult to get to the point where you have a CD without having support to create it,” she says.

“A lot of funding currently available now is really focused on product, export, tourist dollars, that kind of thing,” she says.

Though funding has increased since the 80s, Pickard says in some ways the situation was rosier than it is today.

“There was a much greater focus in the 80s and early 90s, both federally and provincially, on promoting the health of the arts.”

And that included more money for the creative process, she says.

Areas of concern
The federal government in particular has recently come under fire from artists organizations for attempting to exert ideological control through its funding choices.

This year, for example, government passed Bill C-51 C-10, which allows the heritage minister to deny tax credits for unsuitable and offensive films. Critics argued the credits are essential to securing other types of funding, and therefore important to sustaining the industry.

As well, Canadian Heritage recently announced it will no longer be funding Trade Routes, a program which helps arts organizations export and sell their product internationally.

Also this month, the federal government discontinued an artist travel program called PromArt, which was operated by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

An anonymous government official told the National Post the $4.7-million program was axed because most of the money “went to groups that would raise the eyebrows of any typical Canadian.”

“One of the artistic entities they didn’t like was Holy Fuck, which our own Brad Kilpatrick plays in,” says Pickard.

“They say it’s in the public interest, but it becomes very dangerously close to saying ‘we don’t want to fund anything that doesn’t suit our agenda.’”

Breton says in her personal experience, Canadians seem to support the idea of the Council and what it does.
“There are a few projects that raise eyebrows, I guess—that people don’t really understand or appreciate for themselves—but with over 6,500 grants given every year it’s few and far between.”

Though it does fund some controversial art, Breton says that the extra support the organization has received is in part a testament to the organization’s positive perception within the federal government.

How to get a grant
In addition to her extensive history with applying for grants, Pickard has also been a member of funding juries for organizations such as NLAC, FACTOR, and the Canada Council.

Both Pickard and Breton agree that the artist jury assessment process, at work at many public funding organizations, is a good way of deciding where grant money goes.

At the Canada Council, these juries have to be diverse in terms of language, geography, and gender, and other factors.

“All that in five people,” says Breton.

Pickard says being a jury member is a difficult task.

“Decisions are very difficult to come by,” she says. “Most of the time I think… the juries want to fund everyone. There’s very few you want to eliminate, because you know, we’re all artists.”

What a jury wants depends on the organization and the artistic discipline. The best advice is to provide exactly what they ask and present it in the most accessible way possible.

“They want to know clearly what you’re going to do, and how you’re going to do it,” Pickard says. “No B.S. Be straight about what you’re doing, and clear and concise.”

“You want to have a clean application with all of the information required,” Breton says. “We might ask for a CV, a one-pager bio, a list previous exhibitions or recordings or plays that were produced.”

But be prepared—having all the right information won’t guarantee a positive response.

“One thing you have to get used to if you’re going to be applying for grants is rejection,” says Pickard. “Because that’s going to happen over and over again.”

Funding Opportunities

The Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings (FACTOR)
Provides support for English language album production, videos, domestic and international touring.  It also funds Canadian record labels, distributors, recording studios, and other music industry professionals.
Next deadline:  Depends on program.
Maximum grant: Unavailable. The 2008 average for Independent Artists Recording funding is over $13,000.
Assessment process: Applications reviewed by a jury of music industry professionals, including musicians.
Total Awarded: Over $12-million in 2007, with $81,660 for NL musicians.

Music Industry Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (MusicNL)
Provides funding for demo production, sound recording, marketing outside the province, and professional development.
Next deadline: No upcoming deadlines.
Maximum grant: $7,500.
Assessment process: Decisions made by Peer jury consisting of unbiased industry professionals. Some grants have a government liasion as part of the committee.
Total awarded: Unavailable

Supports music video and web projects based on creative presentation and financial requirements.
Next deadline: September 4
Maximum grant: $25,000 for a music video.
Assessment process: Applications reviewed by a board of directors consisting of industry and Much Music/Musique Plus representatives.
Total awarded:  Unavailable. Total operating budget in 2006-2007: $5.3-million.

Cultural Economic Development Program
Designed to stimulate economic activity by providing financial support for professional arts and heritage projects in all disciplines.
Next deadline: November 14
Maximum grant: Up to $5,000 for individual artists.
Assessment process: Grant recipients chosen by working committee.
Total awarded: $1.2-million projected in 2008.

Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council Professional Grants Program
For creation, production, and professional development in all art disciplines. Separate program for travel.
Next deadline: September 15
Maximum grant: $7,500
Assessment process: Applications reviewed by peer jury.
Total awarded: $496,563 in 2007.

City of St. John’s Artist Grants
Jury considers quality of artistic endeavor and resulting benefit to the community. All disciplines. No travel grants.
Next deadline: January 31, 2008.
Maximum grant: Unavailable
Assessment process: Applications reviewed by a selection jury.
Total awarded: $1 per capita or about $100,000 per year

Canada Council for the Arts grant programs
Funding for creation/production, professional development, residency, travel for professional arts of all disciplines, including inter-disciplinary works.  Provides funding for arts collectives, and other non-profits.
Deadline: Depends on what program you’re applying under.
Maximum grant: Unavailable
Assessment process: Applications assessed by a peer jury of renowned artists.
Total awarded: $140-million in 2006-2007, with $1,693,537 for NL projects and organizations.


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  1. Barry Green · January 3, 2012

    “This year, for example, government passed Bill C-51, which allows the heritage minister to deny tax credits for unsuitable and offensive films.”

    The Bill is C-10 not C-51.

  2. The Scope · January 3, 2012

    Thanks for the correction, Barry.

  3. Cool guy · January 3, 2012

    Many projects are funded and will end up NO WHERE !!

    what a waste of tax payers money !