In a discussion paper released on October 16, the Canada Council for the Arts called for public engagement in the Arts. The publication was made at the Council’s Annual Public Meeting and accompanies the release of its Annual Report. The 29-page document, titled Public Engagement in the Arts, is an overview of current approaches in Canada and internationally to public engagement in arts and culture and a framework for discussion of this topic and its importance to everyday Canadian life and society.
Council Director and CEO Robert Sirman said, “As artists move into new realms of creativity, so must the Council. With stable funding for the next three years, Council has embarked on a significant change agenda, reviewing its programs and processes to ensure that it remains relevant.” The discussion paper represents the launch of the consultation phase, the second phase, laid out in the change agenda from the Council’s Strengthening Connections 2011–2016: Strategic Plan, published last year. The process launched by the Council is “meant to open new avenues of investigation, raise awareness of the opportunities and challenges and highlight possible areas of intervention by the Council.”
Simultaneously the Council’s Vice President Simon Brault published a blog summarizing the principal themes of the paper in relation to engagement in the arts in an era of abundance of artistic choices. In this vein, Mr. Brault suggests that arts funding bodies must focus on demand (and the public) moreso than supply (the art and the artist) when making policy decisions, and fund the arts accordingly. He also writes about the increasing role of technology in experiencing arts and culture and the important role that the arts play in a healthy democratic society.
Tell Me More
The discussion paper presents an overview of the research done by the Council in phase one of their change agenda, which was focused on research and analysis. It points out the recurring theme of “public engagement and cultural democratization” at cultural agencies internationally and includes summaries of current practices of a number of funders around the world, stating, “Common approaches include support to community arts, focus on youth engagement and arts education and targeted funding for audience enrichment programs.” It also gives an overview of Canadian policy and public engagement through the last few decades.
Included in the paper are a number of statistics on participation in cultural activities in Canada from Hill Strategies and other sources but the paper stresses the need to know more about the qualitative impacts of these experiences. As Mr. Brault says in his blog post, “The days of tallying numbers of spectators, tickets or publications are now making way for an era of focusing on the relationship between artists, cultural institutions and citizens.” The paper points to a number of studies internationally for comparison, noting trends in “terms of demographics and the shift towards electronic engagement.”
The paper also examines a number of emerging trends that the Council says are “challenging the arts ecosystem as it currently stands but should also be seen as opportunities to change how the arts and the public interact.” These challenges include aging audiences and changing demographics, suburbanization, equity, technology, and the blurring of lines between amateur and professional practices. Mr. Brault points out in his post that, “In appearance, art is everywhere; in reality, you still have to seek it out.” He says that the Council is aiming to help people “discover, appreciate and assimilate” the powers of art.
Though no formal consultation process was identified for this phase of the change agenda, Mr. Brault concluded his post with a rally for Canadians to join the Council’s discussion regarding arts engagement in the social media sphere.
What can I do?
The Canada Council for the Arts supports, promotes and celebrates the work of Canadian artists and arts organizations.