Reflections from a Canadian Arts Summit Newbie


(Liz Forsberg) #1

This past weekend I attended my first Canadian Arts Summit as a leadership fellow. The annual gathering brings together artistic directors, CEOs and board chairs of Canadian cultural organizations with budgets of more than $3M. The leadership fellow program opens up this by-invitation only gathering to folks working in the culture sector outside of those parameters with the goal of bringing diverse new perspectives to the conversation.

Many arts and culture workers leading small to medium sized arts organizations have concerns around the exclusivity of these conversations given that they tend to shape the landscape of Canadian cultural advocacy (someone once joked to me that it was the Canadian Arts Summit for the 1%). While concerns around who does and doesn’t get to participate in these important conversations are completely legitimate and acknowledged by the organizers at Business for the Arts, I was impressed with the content that was addressed at the summit. The majority of the conversations taking place amongst the so-called “majors” are not altogether that different from those taking place amongst smaller organizations.

Here are some of the key themes that were explored over the course of the 3-day summit:

Social Impact

  • Increasingly funders are requiring arts organizations make the case around the contribution their work will make to their art form AND to Canadian society
  • The preliminary findings of the new Culture Track study commissioned by Business for the Arts shows that Canadians donors prioritize social impact in choosing where to direct their donations
  • We need to build capacity of organizations in order to measure social impact
  • Tension - the argument of intrinsic value of the arts vs extrinsic. Keynote Geoffrey Crossick illustrated that this is a false dichotomy through his AHRC research “Understanding the value of arts & culture”

Inclusion & Centering

  • Aesthetics - the majority of cultural institutions still center Western aesthetics and values despite Canada’s cultural diversity and the increasing recognition of the need to center Indigenous arts within the Canadian arts system
  • To speak of engaging with Indigenous communities as a practice of inclusion is insulting from an Indigenous perspective
  • In order to successfully Indigenize mainstream arts organizations we must create spaces where power is shared
  • Attendees were introduced to the following concepts by keynote Diane Ragsdale:
    ○ cultural equity: “The right to see your own story told and the right to see other people’s stories told.”
    ○ “Illegal” arts organization: A cultural institution that doesn’t really have the right to do the cultural work they are doing (eg organizations holding collections that were stolen from Indigenous groups during colonization)

Succession Planning

  • Recognition of the need to create spaces for leaders that are representative of Canada’s diversity
  • Recognition of the need to create spaces of shared power with Indigenous folks within cultural institutions

Aging audiences

  • The Culture Track study found that millennials prefer more active and novel modes of participating in cultural experiences over the traditional spectator models espoused by older audiences
  • Strategies for re-invigorating attendance were embedded in discussions around equity and inclusion

QUESTION: If you were at #CAS21, what did you leave the summit thinking about? What themes did I miss?