Report on Equity Sounding Canada Council for the Arts

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Appendix C: Agenda 40

Equity Sounding – Executive Summary
Background and Structure of Sounding

From October 24-25, 2013 the Equity Office hosted an equity sounding at the Canada Council designed to solicit community input on the current ecology, needs and aspirations of artists from culturally-diverse, Deaf, disability arts and official language minority communities. The sounding was intended to explore potential areas where the Canada Council might strategically intervene—through policies, funding programs, mechanisms or partnerships—to assist these equity-seeking groups in realizing their artistic vision. The sounding is part of a larger program redesign process that the Equity Office is currently undertaking in light of the wind-down of the Capacity Building Initiative, the implementation of the Deaf and Disability Arts, Access and Equality Strategy, and a potential partnership with the disciplinary sections on the Roadmap for Canada’s Linguistic Duality initiative.

The sounding brought together a focus group of 27 artists and other arts professionals from the designated arts communities. In forming this group, the Equity Office consulted with all sections/offices at Council and endeavored to represent a plurality of disciplines, practices, regions and perspectives. Through a series of panels, break-out sessions and whole group discussions, the participants were asked to share their expertise, ideas and preoccupations with each other and with Council staff. The participants were extremely engaged in the sounding and the resulting input is deep, varied and far-reaching. Key findings are summarized below. Note that the terms “diverse” and “equity-seeking” are used interchangeably to refer to members of all of the equity communities represented at the sounding.
Summary of Input
Progress towards equity has been made:

  • Diverse artistic practices have proliferated in Canada and more culturally diverse, official language minority and Deaf and disability arts practitioners are appearing on Canadian stages, in galleries and in print

  • Recognition among peers, critics, and the public of the vibrant and compelling artistic works created by diverse artists has grown

  • Shifting Canadian demographics have increased audience demand for diverse works

  • Alternative presentation networks and specialized festivals are providing new platforms for diverse works

  • Equity-seeking artists are experiencing success on the international stage and linking Canada to emergent markets in South Asia, East Asia, Latin America and the Middle East

  • A new “culture of leadership” is inspiring diverse artists to step into Artistic Director and curatorial roles

  • Arts funders are increasingly recognizing equity as a strategic priority and more diverse artists are accessing public funds, especially individual, travel and touring grants

  • The inclusion of official minority language arts in the equity framework has led to increased investment in these communities

  • Collaboration and solidarity between equity-seeking communities has grown

  • The Internet and social media have created “levelling” platforms and reduced physical barriers for artists with disabilities

Major barriers still exist:

  • Diverse artists face ongoing racism and ableism in the Canadian arts sector in the form of exploitation, tokenism, stereotyping, appropriation, exclusion and isolation

  • Mainstream arts organizations continue to make perfunctory gestures toward inclusion without a deep, underlying commitment to equity or engage in imbalanced partnerships with equity communities

  • Diverse artistic practices are devalued by such labels as “community”, “non-professional” and “ethnic” and romanticization and exoticization continue to affect the selection and reception of diverse works

  • The Anglo-Franco “Two Solitudes” schism that informs much of Quebec and federal politics continues to marginalize or render invisible culturally diverse and Aboriginal communities

  • The Deaf arts community is extremely marginalized in the Canadian arts sector and fragmented by social and physical isolation; Deaf culture is also endangered by public misconceptions and “medicalized” perspectives on deafness; identifying and developing a national network of Deaf artists requires significant effort

  • Diverse artists have limited access to mainstream presentation venues and lack their own cultural facilities, often self-presenting or performing in community settings with low artistic fees

  • Physical access to stages, rehearsal spaces and studios continues to be a major challenge for disabled artists

  • Diverse artists receive lower remuneration for their work than their non-equity counterparts and suffer increased burn-out

  • Diverse arts practitioners are underrepresented in national arts policy and advocacy discussions

  • The artistic staff of mid to large-sized arts organizations, the faculty of training institutions, universities and conservatories, and the pool of Canadian art critics remain predominately white and able-bodied

  • Equity-seeking artists lack culturally-relevant professional, creative development and training opportunities

  • Diverse artists do not have equal or proportionate access to arts funding in relation to their population share

  • Artists with disabilities are frequently unable to receive individual grants without putting their income from provincial disability support programs into jeopardy

  • Diverse arts organizations struggle to attain Canada Council operating funds, despite critical and public acclaim, large and dedicated audiences, operational support from provincial and municipal arts funders, and the same or higher scores in peer assessment committee processes as many existing operating clients

Pressing needs include:

  • Networking opportunities for diverse artists to engage in peer-to-peer learning, collaborate, coordinate advocacy efforts and battle isolation

  • Professional and creative development opportunities to enhance artistic and administrative skills

  • Arts training and education that reflects the histories, aesthetics and values of equity-seeking communities

  • Operational support for diverse arts organizations to recruit and retain qualified administrators

  • Support for the research and development of alternative models of sustainable infrastructure

  • Access to mainstream presentation opportunities

  • Physically accessible art spaces and venues and sign language translation

  • Dedicated cultural facilities for diverse artists to create and present their works

To support the vision of equity-seeking artists it is suggested that the Canada Council:

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