1st Canadian Arts Funders Forum

Sarah Iley

When the Council on Foundations meets in Toronto this April, GIA members in attendance will have the chance to meet a fledgling affinity group of Canadian arts funders that is putting together the 1st Canadian Arts Funders Forum.

The rationale is simple: the model for support of the arts in Canada has always involved a mix of public and private funds, but the funders themselves rarely connect. It is now increasingly obvious that all funders need to understand the role they each play in making art in this country, if our burgeoning arts community is to get the support it needs to reach its potential. As the Canada Council for the Arts approaches its fiftieth anniversary year, the number of arts organizations seeking support continues to grow; Statistics Canada reports that job growth in the culture sector (at 31 percent over the past decade) significantly outpaces that of the overall labor market (at 20 percent).

For this reason, a steering committee has been looking at the feasibility of establishing an ongoing affinity group of arts funders— and the first model the committee looked at was GIA.

There are, at present, nineteen Canadian members of GIA. A few of us had already initiated an informal network for Canadian corporate and foundation funders to meet and share information about private sector giving. A few others had been involved in multi-level government committees that were meeting regularly in a couple of different regions to discuss public sector granting. Then, just prior to the 2002 GIA conference, we decided to test the feasibility of bringing together all public and private funders of the arts in Canada. A convivial dinner in downtown Charlotte that brought together representatives of a community foundation, a public arts council, a provincial department, a couple of private foundations, and a corporate funders' alliance from Vancouver, Winnipeg, Montreal, and Toronto proved to us that everyone would benefit from the richness of such exchanges. That group became the core of the steering committee which now numbers a baker's dozen from every funding sector.

Arts Funding in Canada

The first thing we looked at was the reality of how the arts are funded in Canada. In typically Canadian fashion, our model follows the usual pattern of looking both to Europe and to the US — and then compromising between the two. This fact is demonstrated by a study undertaken by the Arts Council of England in the mid-1990s that looked at arts funding by governments in ten countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Government expenditures on the arts in Canada amounted to $46 per capita, as compared to $85 per capita in Germany and $6 per capita in the US. However, during the 1990s governments at all levels in Canada — federal, provincial, and municipal — reduced their arts funding to the point where there was a 12 percent decrease in real dollars across the board. Since the late 1950s, governments had pro-vided about 35 percent of the operating revenues of performing arts com-panies and up to 100 percent of the funding for art museums. By the end of the 1990s, they were providing about 29 percent of performing arts funding and 62 percent of art museum operating revenues. Into the gap stepped private funders — corporations, foundations, and individuals. Private sector funding increased by 28 percent over the period — to the point that individual donors were providing 6 percent of the total revenues of performing arts companies while the Canada Council for the Arts provided 7 percent.

To some extent, private sector giving had nowhere to go but up. The arts still receive only 3 percent of total donations made by Canadians — a percentage of individual donations that has not changed in the past five years. While two Canadian cities boast large, well-endowed community foundations, the fact is that the majority of community foundations in this country have been created in the past fifteen years. Private foundations have also been rapidly multiplying, but there are still fewer than fifty for whom the arts are a prime focus of their philanthropy. Almost two-thirds of all corporate support — both donations and sponsorships — comes from about 100 companies.

The Need for an Affinity Network of Funders

The facts are that:

  • General government cutbacks in the past decade, coupled with an increasing number of requests for funding, have created heavy pressures on arts funders in the foundation and corporate sectors. However, individual funders are finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with the growing range and complexity of arts and culture issues and needs that are more typically explored by government policy analysts.
  • The evolutionary style of arts funding in Canada has encouraged a broad range of diverse funding approaches that maintain variety, autonomy, and independence of support. This approach, however, makes it difficult for individual funders to see where their efforts fit within the larger picture. It is even more difficult to determine the cumulative impact of arts funding.
  • While the arts community has available to it a variety of funding sources, these sources are not all commonly known, nor do they as a whole meet all of the community's needs, forcing arts organizations to manipulate or change their goals in order to gain access to funds.
  • There is a dearth of data on the needs and priorities of the arts.

Recognizing these facts, the steering committee believed it was imperative to create an effective, sustainable, and well-informed network of public and private arts funders, comprising all levels of government, corporate supporters, individual philanthropists, and public and private foundations. Its purpose would be two-fold:

  • To strengthen the capacity of the arts sector across Canada by improving awareness and access to available arts funding and services and by increasing the knowledge base and effectiveness of funders to more comprehensively meet current and emerging community needs.
  • To encourage greater collaboration among funders to bridge the gap between public and private funders, avoid unnecessary duplication, and enhance the diversity and quality of funding programs offered to the arts sector.

Exploring the Feasibility

The first step was to undertake a feasibility study to research similar affinity groups of grantmakers, both those working in the arts and those focussed on other sectors. The steering committee commissioned consultants Jenny Ginder and Micheline McKay to interview ten such associations active in Canada, the U.S., and Australia. The results of those interviews provided us with a rich array of recommendations for developing membership, structure, governance, annual activities, budget requirements, and funding sources. From there, we sought opinions on the proposal from a wider range of Canadian arts funders. The results of that survey, also undertaken by Ginder and McKay, concluded that such an affinity group must deliver concrete value and outcomes to the sector, outcomes not provided through existing structures. These outcomes were identified as:

  • Improved grantmaking — through enhanced efficiency and effectiveness.
  • Communications and shared learning — strengthening networks and relationships among funders.
  • Utilization of research — better informed and more strategic decision-making in the sector through the improved use of research.
  • Heightened awareness of the importance of arts — through messages that resonate with private and public funders as well as with the general public.
  • Increased resources — expanding the pool of funds available to the sector.

The First Step in Creating the Network

With those outcomes in mind, the steering committee is now preparing the 1st Canadian Arts Funders Forum. The theme is “Building Vibrant Communities through Visionary Cultural Leadership.” The venue is Winnipeg, a city that is not only at the geographic centre of the country but one that exemplifies how public and private funders, working together, can enable a vibrant arts community to flourish. Scheduled for fall 2004, the Forum is, in itself, a model of collaborative funding — the Samuel and Saidye Bronfman Family Foundation of Montreal, the Vancouver Foundation (Canada's largest community foundation), and the Ontario Trillium Foundation (a provincial public agency) have provided the resources. The entire steering committee is involved in developing the program. We welcome the support and advice of our colleagues at GIA in the United States — and look forward to welcoming you to Toronto in April.

Sarah Iley, is president and CEO, the Council for Business and the Arts in Canada, and chair, steering committee for the 1st Canadian Arts Funders Forum.