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January 28, 2009, by

Canada Prizes for the Arts and Creativity

This week’s federal budget contained few surprises, but there was one item that came out of left field, shocking the cultural sector: Luminato founders David Pecaut and Tony Gagliano, pictured above, have been granted $25 Million to create the Canada Prizes for the Arts and Creativity.

A number of artists have expressed ire that this announcement comes on the heels of the cancelation of the PromArt program, abandoning the federal government’s commitment to promoting Canadian artists abroad. This new money will be used to host a pre-Luminato competition, where prestigious panels of judges will adjudicate international competitors in the fields of dance, music, art, and dramatic arts. The winner gets cash and a slot in the two-year-old festival that recently received another unprecedented $15 Million donation from the Ontario provincial government. New Conservative Minister of Heritage James Moore calls The Canada Prizes “the largest cultural prize-giving in the world“.

What do you think? Is this a genius ploy to make Toronto an international hub for arts and creativity? Is this a genius ploy to to fund culture without rewarding Canadian artists for depriving the Conservative government of a majority in the recent election? How the heck do these two dudes get multi-million dollar grants from any level of government that no one else can apply for?

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  1. Murph says:

    The only Canadian entity that benefits these awards is the Luminato Festival. Canadians are spending $25 million to fund an arts award that does not benefit Canadian artists. It’s like foreign aid for arts and culture.

    It stands to reason that countries with exceptionally rich arts and cultural funding will more likely produce exceptional artists because they have access to greater resources and training.

    These are not the people who we should be targeting with this $25 million allotment. I remember a previous post on this blog where Michael (I think…) expressed the sum by considering how many productions similar to UnSpun’s Minotaur the Canada Council could fund giving each project $2000.

    Well, instead of giving $100,000 each to the latest sculpture prodigy from Belgium or the latest violin sensation from Omaha – the Canada Council could fund in the neighbourhood of 12,500 small projects for artists.

    And that would be pretty great to have almost 13,000 Minotaur’s happening across the country.

  2. ben says:

    We ask for a dollar to eat..

    They build a new restaurant.

    I guess it’s just too simple for them to understand…

  3. Anonymous says:

    This just makes the gap between new artists that need funding and those who can afford to travel accross the world to compete in a Culture Contest that much bigger. It’s so exclusive. This seems like a solution that a committee of financial officers came up with in order to apease “… you know those artist types”. Instead of trying to make Toronto an Internatial Cultural Hub why not let Canadians artists make Canada known for its own work. I also don’t understand why does it have to be a contest with prizes. Is that the only thing that draws in an audience? Must there be a loser? I think there are already several of us.


  4. Michael Wheeler says:

    1 – Does anyone else see the irony in the fact that the Conservative government has has spent all its new cultural money on fancy galas?

    2 – Does anyone remember when funds were dispersed based on peer review and not by what minister you had a secret luncheon with?

    3 – Do these guys really think that local artists will be amused that while Canadian funding is hacked away, the government has given them more money than anyone else in the world (this is a quote, not hyperbole) to give to artists from other countries?

    4 -Does anyone think the producers of American Idol, or How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? will sue for these guys ripping off their model?

    5- Who thinks this is a sophisticated ploy to divide and conquer artists by getting us to complain about not getting funding so they can say, “See, look, they don’t care about culture in general, they just want your tax dollars.”

    6 – Does anyone think its a fair analogy to ask what would happen if instead of bailing out the auto industry, the government set up a prize to see what really cool cars auto companies from other countries could show off here at the auto show once a year. Would that make us a hotbed of automotive genius?

  5. bfg says:

    This is a development in arts funding that I find frustrating, which I have blogged about. I agree with all of you–I feel like commenting on it beyond that is preaching to the choir.

    So, I’m new to this, humour me, how do we change things? How do we preach to the unconverted? Lamenting it is one thing, now what are we going to do about it?

    And, Michael:
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Apparently
    4. Hopefully
    5. Probably
    6. And can we turn that into a show?

  6. cttg says:

    Call it a 25-million dollar boondoggle.

  7. Michael says:

    Well, the smart thing here is that the Government has clued into the fact that they have absolutely no idea how to deal with artists. So they have handed that pesky international development issue over to a big monied festival. Follow the money right?

    I have seen how the international development funding the Canadian Government funnels through it’s embassies is used, and at least this might end the foolish habit artists have of approaching our Government directly if they want to have anything to do with Canada abroad. If anyone disputes this rationale, I will happily provide the contact details of several artistic directors in the UK who will tell you why they avoid Canada and Canadian work, and who will tell you how pissed they were the year Canada House declared a $1 million profit while defrauding some of the best theatre companies in London.

    However, Luminato will probably continue perpetrating the same sort of behavior – courting people who get incredible reviews and then dumping them when they are revealed to be the “wrong sort of success.” I know this because I’ve spoken with a couple of their board members: they are not interested in plain art – they are interested in very high-profile talent that can be capitally exploited, and which appeals to influential people. If you tell them you got full-houses as Canadian artist, rave reviews and prizes galore, they will only have one question: “Ah, but WHERE did you get those prizes, and from whom?”

    The money won’t be used to develop anything: it’s a tool to give Luminato – and by association Canada – more cred. They’ll be able to attract talent, and “a better class” of talent at that, which they think will inspire us all. They won’t be giving money to some unknown artist who is brilliant and needs exposure to become the “next Yoyo Ma”, they’ll give it to someone who is already well on the way, and who will make Canada look benevolent by taking our prize and a paid gig. It’s managed culture, and it’s a pretty pathetic way to suggest that “this is how it’s done” by offering the money to non-Canadians.

    You want to reach out to the international arts community? First of all, put back the funding that lets artists go abroad when they are invited to do so. Second: ensure that any artist who wants to make art in Canada can do so without being burdened with the bizarre notion of obligation that we have to deal with (bizarre, because we have still failed to define what “Canadian” means, and we probably never will – I haven’t got a clue how to be a Canadian artist except to not trust my own instincts). That’s it – it’s that simple, but it scares the pants off of any politician because it means giving up control of, and being unable to take credit for (or defend yourself from) what the artist’s work says.

    Canada is renowned around the world as a dilettante – producing technically skilled work with little or nothing of great value to tell the world beyond “look how well it’s been built”. You think that’s unfair? I got 20 comedy sketches and an entire section of a film, all ow which take the Mickey out of us for being a pretentious buch of air-heads. When our art DOES have something to say and catches people’s attention, we try to manage the whole thing politically so we look good, or we shut it down because we think we are making trouble (Guillermo Verdecchia – I heard about you taking Fronteras Americanas to the UK, and how pissed our Government were when they figured out what the play was about. Did they actually say “go home” or was it subter than that?). Everyone’s waiting for us to grow up and put-out, and this prize only tells them we have deep pockets and no new ideas. I have been told so in the last 24 hours by artists from abroad – trust me folks, we do NOT look good right now. We look like fools.

    And it’s not because we aren’t talented – I get monthly emails saying “why don’t you come back here”. I think I might, as soon as I can figure out a way of doing it without coming within 100 miles of our Government abroad. However, in the mean-time I’m looking at some ways of developing a working/funding model that will let me do that here – mainly so anyone who complains about what my colleagues and I do can be told “no government dime here – we don’t care what they have to say – see the show or don’t: it’s up to you.” I’m not interested in having my success or failure determined by some under-qualified goon in a suit who gets to do-so because they got the shittiest, least-respected job available in the Government. Anyone who wants to join me and leave the politicians to their skittles and beer, speak up now.

  8. Michael Wheeler says:

    It’s been 24 hours since I posted my 6 rhetorical questions, and I have talked to a lot of people about this, not really seeking it out, it just is all that is on anyone’s mind it seems. Every artist I have talked to is baffled and disgusted.

    To answer Brittney’s questions, what to do now is still unclear.

    This is a technique ex-Ontario Conservative Premier Mike Harris used all the time:

    Divide and conquer.
    Give some to those that are loyal, and let the rest of the artists, social organizations, etc fight amongst themselves. It keeps us busy and off their case.

    On the other hand it seems silly to give a couple well-connected businessmen a free pass to soak up all of the cultural funding from multiple levels of government for their pet project developing and attracting non-Canadian talent.

    If one thing’s for certain, this is surely not over and we’ll make sure to cover further developments here.

  9. Michael Wheeler says:

    As an FYI, to those still following this conversation: Jacoba Knaapen, Executive Director of the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts – TAPA, has contacted Pecault with a letter of congratulations, and a meeting request hoping to explore how these funds can
    benefit the local artistic community.

  10. Obsidian Theatre says:

    Ah yes…the joys of Canada joining the world stage and hosting our very own International Idol. I think that we as artists here have very few choices. One is to bow down and worship at the feet of our new ghod Luminato “the bringer of light” or to rejoice in our apostate nature and to have nothing, NOTHING to do with them.


  11. Michael Wheeler says:

    Looks like we’re not the only ones calling it an American Idol.
    This article appeared in the french-language Le Devoir today:
    Ottawa finance-t-il un American Idol torontois?
    If you’re not a francophone, or adverse to the extra step of feeding it through babelfish, i can tell you that the final quote, referring to the Canada Prizes as “The cherry on a cake one does not have”, is a pretty darn good line.

  12. daniel says:

    Hi Michael,

    I’d like to clear up a few misconceptions about The Canada Prizes for The Arts and Creativity, AKA The Canada Prizes.

    The Canada Prizes are in no way affiliated with Luminato, and Luminato will not receive any money from this year’s federal budget, directly or indirectly.

    The Canada Prizes is an individual, not-for-profit organization. While its founders Tony Gagliano and David Pecaut founded Luminato as well, the two organizations operate completely independent of one another.

    The Canada Prizes will have its own board members, its own staff, its own operating budget and its own mandate, independent of Luminato.

    While participants in the Canada Prizes may have the opportunity to appear in future Luminato festivals, there is no such guarantee and no formal agreement to that effect has been put into place at this time.

    As well, to your point about Luminato choosing to support high profile artists over local talent, it should be noted that last year’s festival saw the participation of 1,400 local artists and 215 international artists. Further, Luminato continues to commission works from some of Canada’s leading independent theatre companies, including Ex Machina, Sleeping Dog Theatre and TAPA, among others.

    For further information on The Canada Prizes, I urge you to read Martin Knelman’s articles from this week’s Toronto Star, to which I have linked below. The second one in particular deals with the Quebec backlash, as referenced in your earlier comment.


    Daniel Davidzon
    Publicity Coordinator

  13. Michael Wheeler says:

    Hi David,

    Thanks for your response. As someone who is training with Volcano Theatre as an Artistic Producer on the work they are creating for Luminato in 2010, I am well aware that the festival creates some amazing opportunities for Canadian artists, and I have seen firsthand how we can benefit from collaborating with international artists in the right circumstances under the umbrella of one of Mr Pecault and and Mr Gagliano’s many projects they have gained government funding for.

    To your points regarding Mr. Knelman’s articles, I found them disappointing as they did not ask any local artists their opinions on this new funding that will miss them entirely. They also fail to address the key question these announcements imply:

    Why is the government cutting funding to Canadian artists (after being embarassed by them in the previous election) in favour of creating the largest prize in the world for international ones? How will Canadian artists ever be able to win these awards if we don’t have the resources to become, “the next YoYo Ma.” There is something fundamentally wrong with this decision.

    Anyhow, I have 5 minutes before I run on stage to perform in our original adaption of Stranger playing at The Theatre Centre. Today is a matinee of the existential classic for teenagers, followed by a general admission performance this evening. The average artist wage on this production, which contains only conservatory trained professional artists, is $200/week.

    Thanks for taking the time to participate in this conversation.



  14. Michael Wheeler says:

    Sorry, I meant Daniel, excuse me, my mistake.

  15. Michael Wheeler says:

    I just read this article in the Star, which I believe addresses this issue, in a much more macro way than Knelman’s recent pieces:

    Report urges ‘creativity-oriented economy’ for Ontario

    Amongst the recommendations in this $2.2 Million report are:

    — Set a goal of having more than 50 per cent of Ontario’s employment in “creativity-oriented jobs” by 2030. Currently, 30 per cent of jobs are in that category, accounting for nearly half of all wages.

    How will the Canada Prizes work towards this goal? If some of that money was set aside for Canadian artists maybe it could. Please don’t tell me we’re supposed to trust in trickle down economics. Obama pretty much blew that zeitgeist away quite recently.

  16. ben says:

    I think the issue here, is how “top-tier” heavy the arts funding has become lately. Why no money for the fringe festival, small summer Shakespeare festivals, perhaps a new grassroots festivals? This is were real talent is developed. Instead the largest organizations, Soulpepper, Luminato, and now these prizes are taking the lions’ share of the money, leaving more big pay-cheques for fewer workers. If this were a housing issue and the government spent all the money on high-priced Mansion development instead of affordable housing, how would the people react?

  17. Anonymous says:

    1. Why pit art against art?
    2. I agree that local artists should be better funded, but for Canadian artists of international caliber, this is a great chance, not a threat: Key would be the recognition and reward of masterful and meaningful work rather than career criteria.

  18. marketingduspectacle says:

    A Montreal journalist, Nathalie Petrowski from La Presse has discovered that the creators of the prize never asked the organisation they pretend to support them or the organisation never gave their support to the project. Theses organisations are:
    Cirque du Soleil
    The National Ballet
    Montreal Grand Ballets Canadiens
    Montreal Contemporary Art Museum
    Ballet Jazz de Montreal
    Stratford Theater Festival

    The Prizes are supposed to be a separate entity from Luminato, but still, Luminato will provide marketing, web site and space

  19. […] on the Toronto arts community while technically appearing to increase arts funding: In early 2009, The Canada Prizes fiasco was caused by an incredible breakdown in the democratic process when the late David Pecault went […]