Praxis Theatre is currently on hiatus! Please find co-founders Aislinn Rose and Michael Wheeler at The Theatre Centre and SpiderWebShow, respectively.
May 19, 2011, by

Shannon Litzenberger on the financial future of the arts in Canada

by Shannon Litzenberger

With the growth of the arts sector easily outpacing the growth of public investment, we have found ourselves in a difficult situation, asking questions about how to protect and sustain our current assets while nurturing the growth and development of future generations of artists.

The capitalization models that succeeded in past phases of industry growth make less sense today when existing organizations are struggling to find stability and so many new high potential ideas and innovations are left unfunded by government sources.

What are the new business models and resourcing strategies that will provide a platform for the next generation of development in the sector?  How can we better engage the private sector and form new partnerships that will enhance our potential for success?

Beyond lagging public investment, the arts sector is also adapting to other environmental shifts. Previously declining levels of arts education in the public school system have produced a generation of adults entering the work force with little relationship to the arts. The advancement of digital technology, particularly in the last decade has had a profound effect on the creation and distribution of creative content to audiences, presenting both new challenges and opportunities for the sector.

How have these shifts affected audience participation?  How have we adapted? What are the barriers to fully leveraging new digital opportunities?

Click here for the Evite for this Business for the Arts lecture on theses topics and more as the Metcalf Arts Policy Fellow addresses the key issues facing cultural leaders across the country. For more info check out Shannon’s blog: The Arts Policy Diaries

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  1. How about more money going directly to artists and less money going to “protecting” organizations that supposedly support artists? Larger charitable “organizations” have taken to skimming $$$ by using a method called “flow through” – a way for public tax dollars and tax breaks to be funnelled through charities and into private investment. This is the new way of the charitable world: Public $$$ going to propping up infrastructure, paid consultants, and financial skimmers – but a pittance trickling down to actual artists for actual art.

  2. Hey Mark,

    I’ve never heard of “flow through”, but I’m not surprised.

    I’m also glad to bring up the question of “Arts Funding” vs “Artist Funding.” As governments mix tourism, culture and urban development into the same matrix – one seems to be going up while the other goes down.

  3. Individual artists are currently at the bottom of the funding food chain. But we are a useful front for other activities. There will always be that perennial complaint about lack of funding. But it is no longer just about how much money is being poured into the arts – it is *where* that money is going. We need to take a good hard look at that now. To make matters worse there is a strong public perception out there that all artists are swimming in piles of grant money like Scrooge McDuck. It would be funny if it wasn’t so cruel.

  4. Michael Wheeler says:

    Sorry Mark I can’t concentrate – the mint just arrived with fresh $100s for my cash bath and the lazy Tim Hortons swilling suburbanites carting the bills in are making a racket talking about Rock Em Sock Em something or other.

    Also – here’s the Facebook Event for Shannon’s talk:

  5. Ben Chaisson says:

    While I can agree entirely with the article above, I also find that Politicos and governments have a hard time defining “The Arts”. During a mini debate on CBC’s Q program I heard Bob Rae (my MP) refer to the internet as cultural? He was suggesting more arts funding should go to the internet?! I have heard Stephen Harper defend his stance on arts funding by talking about how his children take piano lessons. While I don’t doubt that their piano teacher is a fine person, is she an Artist? I don’t mean this flippantly, I ask is Arts education the same as Arts Funding or the same as Artist Funding?

    Perhaps we need a new funding model. In our Theatre community in Toronto we have many artists. Most shows don’t nor can consider Box office as part of their revenue because they play to such small houses and can only charge so much for sitting on a bench in a BackSpace. With only 50 odd seats at an avg ticket price of $20 can you afford to pay for 3- 5 weeks of rehearsal of a few actors and stage mangers, commission a script, hire designers build a set rent equipment etc? Obviously Not! So we seek arts council funding but we MIGHT not get what we need? I am the proud owner of a lot of equipment because I had to make it happen Council funding or not. We are all doing this and in part devaluing our selves and our art form. I am sure visual artists can say the same as can muscians, dancers, writers etc.

    Perhaps we need a new Philanthropic approach. Increase Corporate Taxes but offer nearly 100% off any Philanthropic donation. As it stands now there is very little incentive for a corporation or even a wealthy person to give to the Arts or Artists.

    Just my 2 pence

  6. Michael Wheeler says:

    Hey Ben,

    I agree with your basic assessment of the economic conundrum facing indie theatre. I’m pretty sure increased corporate taxation just got taken off the table for oh, say, 1/2 a decade though. Increased philanthropy is always a help, but also comes with a whole host of problems.

    I think I Canada in particular with the convergence of media and digital content mega-corporations has increasingly less venues for voices that challenge the status quo. If the ability to green light art becomes more entrenched with those with money and power I’m going to argue that’s a bad thing for freedom of expression.

    Nevertheless, off the top of my head: Moliere, Stanislavsky, Shakespeare, (Maybe time to add Kushner to this list?) all negotiated censorship by powerful funders through creative means and it is a dance we must all dance different moves to to varying degrees.

  7. Mike says:

    Wheels, if you want to succeed in “Indie” Theatre, you are not going to get much funding from anyone Corporate, because “Indie” to them means non-professional. To get Funding, yo need to be established with a proper Business Model, and revenue to show potential investors. Your gonna have to do things a la Bake Sales, door-to-door Canvassing, and most importantly, put on good Plays, that investors will like, and the Media too. You need strong Media Support to show as well. Forget about “basic assessment of the economic conundrum facing indie theatre”, and your comments about the problems of Convergence with digital medium. You need to use and use it well to your advantage. It’s only a problem if you stay behind, and don’t adapt to the state of the World now! Maybe Theatre is suffering the same problems of Symphony Orchestras are having trying to stay alive in a Digital World where I can watch the performance later. You have to Adapt and stop blaming people for not supporting Indie theatre. The Market is based so that it is Free, and what is popular, grows. Make it grow yourself. Best of luck.

  8. Hmmm. Can’t I lament and adapt simultaneously? I can also pay my head and rub my tummy.

    I actually totally reject the – indie artists just need to accept reality and make do with what they have argument though – although I am glad to have more discussion and debate on the blog again.

    If we accomplish one darn thing with this site, I hope it will be promoting the idea that culture and artists are all part of an ecosystem. That indie artists are an integral part of that system – and that if you are truly a believer in culture at the corporate and gov’t level you would obviously support the area where ideas and innovation are born.

    Also a lot of crap is born there too. But it’s a package deal. There will be a lot of failed experiments before they harness solar power efficiently but I have confidence they will get there eventually.