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Canada Council to offer more funds for new applicants, diverse voices

Canada Council for the Arts director and chief executive officer Simon Brault.

Ivanoh Demers/The Canadian Press

New voices and artists from diverse communities stand to get a much bigger share of funding from the Canada Council for the Arts, according to an open letter from council director and chief executive officer Simon Brault.

The letter, which was distributed on Monday, provides the first details of how the federal agency plans to deal with a doubling of its parliamentary allocation by 2021.

Nearly two-thirds of the council's grants are currently locked into long-term operating funds for well-established arts organizations. By 2021, Brault says, those "core" grants will drop to just half of what the council gives out.

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The other 50 per cent of available money will be disbursed through a competitive project-grant process that will be open to anyone, with some priority given to first-time applicants. That should make council support easier to tap for artists and groups who have not been plugged into the system for decades, Brault says.

"Core funding is no longer presented by the council as a nirvana," he said in a phone interview.

His goal is a more responsive set-up, in which the council has a large pool of money that is not "locked in for years," Brault said.

The council has been talking for at least a decade about doing more to reflect the changing nature of art-making in an increasingly diverse Canada. This talk was codified in the agency's latest strategic plan, which called for more access for artists and arts organizations underserved by the old system.

Brault's open letter backs up the new vision with actual cash. It boosts the total for open-competition project grants by 224 per cent, and reserves a quarter of that new money for first-time applicants.

The council will also triple the amount devoted to its programs specific to self-identified indigenous artists and organizations, from $6-million now to $18-million by 2021. Those groups and individuals will also be eligible for the main competition, Brault said.

Funding for international projects will double to $20-million annually, and digital initiatives will receive a total of $88.5-million over the next five years. Digital futures for Canadian artists and media also happen to be a major policy interest for Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, although strictly speaking the council operates at arm's length from the government.

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Most of this year's increased parliamentary allocation of $40-million is going toward New Chapter, a one-time fund meant to produce a bouquet of ambitious projects for Canada's 150th anniversary. Brault said the response has been "enormous," putting an unexpected strain on staff.

Council staff will increase by 12 per cent over the next five years to cope with the increased competition for a larger pool of funds, Brault said.

But a streamlined granting system that will come into effect in 2017 is expected to reduce the bite taken by administration. By 2021, Brault said, 88 per cent of the council's budget will go to artists and their organizations, compared with 83 per cent now.

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About the Author

Robert Everett-Green is a feature writer at The Globe and Mail. He was born in Edmonton and grew up there and on a farm in eastern Alberta. He was a professional musician for several years before leaving that task to better hands. More

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