Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

March 27, 2008 08:30 ET

Commissioner Calls on Canadian Heritage Minister for a New Vision for Arts and Culture

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - March 27, 2008) - The Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser, is calling on the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Josee Verner, to outline a long-term vision of the government's plans for the development of the arts and culture in official language minority communities. The Commissioner made this recommendation in a study on Federal Government Support for the Arts and Culture in Official Language Minority Communities, released today.

"Federal institutions that have a mandate related to the arts and culture have made great strides in taking the needs of these communities into account," said Mr. Fraser. "There are more tools and programs available, and more dialogue and more systematic consultations are taking place. Still, the government must have a clearly articulated, long-term vision of how it is going to support artists and their organizations in official language minority communities."

Artists and their organizations in official language minority communities face particular challenges. In Quebec, minority artists have to deal with demographic decline, and many Quebec artists find it difficult to increase their visibility outside of Montreal and in the rest of Canada. For Francophone communities, the main challenges are remoteness, insufficient provincial support and infrastructure, and limited opportunities for cross-Canada visibility. Visibility issues are partly due to a lack of initiatives to foster cultural dialogue between the English and French communities throughout Canada.

"Federal institutions must examine linguistic duality issues, foster understanding between the cultures and suggest how federal programs can better support these objectives," said the Commissioner. "English-speaking and French-speaking artists have something unique and powerful to contribute to the national conversation."

The 2003 Action Plan on Official Languages showed how a coordinated effort by government departments based on well-defined objectives can bring about positive and concrete results for communities. Unfortunately the arts and culture were left out of this plan. "The arts and culture are inextricably linked to linguistic and cultural identity, and should be a part of the comprehensive initiative that will replace the current Action Plan," said Mr. Fraser. "Federal institutions must commit to working together and with communities to contribute to the development of the arts and culture. Injecting new resources into the system and showing a renewed commitment to supporting the arts and culture will help showcase the many talents in Canada's official languages communities and will enhance their vitality."

The Commissioner emphasized the need for stable, adequate funding of the arts and culture and equality of access to federal programs; better community representation in federally-funded organizations and improved infrastructure to support cultural activities. Mr. Fraser issued a total of 17 recommendations to the federal government and to federal organizations involved in the arts and culture to identify ways to improve support to artists in official language minority communities.

Please consult the study and the backgrounder at www.officiallanguages.gc.ca for further details.

BACKGROUNDER

Federal Government Support for the Arts and Culture in Official Language Minority Communities

OBJECTIVE OF THE STUDY

The objective of the study was to assess the support provided to official language minority community (OLMC) artists and organizations by the federal institutions that have a mandate related to the arts and culture. Canadian Heritage, the Canada Council for the Arts, the National Arts Centre, the National Film Board and Telefilm Canada are some of the institutions that were studied. The study also reviewed two independent organizations that have been given a mandate by Canadian Heritage to administer funding from the Canada Music Fund: the Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings (FACTOR) and MUSICACTION.

This study attempts to paint a global picture of the role played by these institutions in the promotion of linguistic duality through the arts and culture and its contribution to the vitality of OLMCs, both of which are objectives of the Official Languages Act. It should be noted that the Action Plan for Official Languages, which was unveiled in 2003 to prompt a renewed sense of purpose and energy in the OLMCs, made no mention of the arts and culture. This omission was very disappointing for Anglophone and Francophone artists and their representatives, who must face the challenges of creating, producing and disseminating work in a minority context.

METHODOLOGY

Two methods were used to gather the information: a literature review and an analysis of the relevant documentation on policies and programs, and interviews with the targeted federal institutions and organizations involved in the arts and culture. The Office of the Commissioner conducted 13 interviews with representatives from seven federal departments and agencies and eight interviews with OLMC arts and culture organizations. The interviews were conducted with the arts organizations to help determine the key issues for these groups and learn about their views on the effectiveness of the federal programs in addressing these issues.

MAIN FINDINGS

Representatives from the arts communities in Anglophone and Francophone OLMCs salute the efforts made by the federal government over the past 10 years to support the arts and culture in OLMCs. The situation has improved and an increasing number of artists and arts and culture organizations have obtained funding because of the changes made to some programs and the creation of partnerships (including the Interdepartmental Partnership with the Official-Language Communities). In addition, other organizations, such as Telefilm Canada, MUSICACTION, the National Arts Centre and the Canada Council for the Arts, have put some positive initiatives in place. Some have increased funding and others have taken special measures, while still others have implemented programs that showcase OLMC artists. Nevertheless, many challenges and obstacles still need to be addressed, including the following:

- Uncertainty of funding: The arts and culture do not benefit from a stable funding policy and, as a result, it is impossible to predict the amounts that will be granted to artists and cultural organizations from one year to the next.

- Share of funding: In most cases, the grants allocated to OLMC artists and organizations represent a small share of the total funding granted to artists and organizations in Canada as a whole.

- Representation in some organizations: Even when they occupy a seat on the board of directors of an organization (such as Telefilm Canada and MUSICACTION), OLMC representatives find it difficult to present their views and express their community's needs.

- Visibility: Artists in Anglophone and Francophone OLMCs find it difficult to gain recognition in the rest of Canada and in Quebec. More specifically, Francophone OLMC artists outside Quebec find it difficult to break through in Quebec and English-speaking Canada, and English language writers in Quebec find it difficult to attain the visibility they deserve in English-speaking Canada.

- Lack of infrastructure: Most OLMCs are located in small municipalities, which rarely possess the physical infrastructure needed for cultural activities. The work of organizations that produce and promote cultural activities in these small communities is further complicated by this lack of resources and the lack of expertise needed to organize these types of activities.

- Marginalization effect: OLMC artists recognize the importance of the programs that are dedicated to them, but they fear the marginalization that may occur as a result. In other words, they have the impression that they are on a secondary road and are not recognized as being equal to their colleagues in the majority communities.

- Barriers to growth: Because funding agencies often allocate grants for one-time projects, arts and culture organizations find it difficult to plan for the long term.

- Market forces: Some small cultural organizations (for example, in the publishing or music industries) could grow if they had access to the grants allocated to the cultural industries, but they are not eligible for these grants because of their economic performance.

CONCLUSIONS

Federal institutions that have a mandate related to the arts and culture have made great strides to take the needs of OLMCs into account: there are more tools, there is more dialogue and there are more systematic consultations. However, these measures are not always effective and the communities do not always see tangible results. More focus must be placed on long-term strategies that are appropriate for arts and culture organizations in the development stage. Federal institutions must provide a coordinated, coherent response to the request for full participation in and equality of access to their programs as best they can. Where necessary, they will have to develop new tools and creative approaches: guiding principles, best practices, performance measures, community vitality indicators, accountability measures and new methods of supporting infrastructure and disseminating work. To go beyond the letter of the Act, the arts and culture must be included in a comprehensive action plan, new resources must be injected into the system and strong leadership must be shown.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Based on the findings in this study, the Commissioner of Official Languages is making 17 recommendations to the federal government (in particular Canadian Heritage and the federal arts and culture funding agencies). The recommendations aim to achieve the following:

Development of a new vision of the arts and culture and OLMC vitality

- Develop a new vision to acknowledge the key role the arts and culture play in the vitality of OLMCs;

- Ensure a long-term funding strategy is incorporated into this new vision that takes into consideration the level of development of community cultural organizations and community priorities;

- Ensure strategies and funding that meet the needs and priorities of the arts and culture sector in Anglophone and Francophone minority communities are included in the initiative that will replace the Action Plan for Official Languages.

A governance structure capable of meeting community needs

- Establish committees (one Anglophone, one Francophone) with government and community representatives to develop and implement a new, shared vision of the arts and culture in OLMCs and to advise the government in this area.

Distinct examination of arts and culture issues

- Ensure that the Francophone Affairs Secretariat at Canadian Heritage examines the arts and culture in Francophone OLMCs separately from the arts and culture in the general Francophone community and that it carries out research and consultations in this area.

Research

- Conduct a targeted research program on the arts and culture in OLMCs to better understand the realities of communities and measure the impact of federal arts and culture programs on these communities.

Program flexibility

- Ensure that eligibility criteria for arts and culture funding programs do not put certain categories of artists or organizations at a disadvantage;

- Ensure issues related to the arts and culture of Quebec's Anglophone community are addressed at the national level;

- Focus funding allocation methods on the real needs of organizations to enable them to advance, grow and reach a level of development that will allow them to make a significant contribution to the vitality of their respective communities;

- Develop performance indicators that take into consideration the specific reality of arts and culture organizations.

- Look for ways to simplify funding application procedures and alleviate the administrative and financial burden on artists and organizations applying for funding.

Performance measurement in institutions

- Ensure Canadian Heritage includes a language clause specifying a minimum percentage of funds to be allocated to OLMCs in agreements governing the transfer of funds to funding administrators (such as MUSICACTION, FACTOR and Telefilm Canada);

- Compile data on the minority status (Anglophone or Francophone) of recipients for each funding program;

- Take the realities of communities into consideration in financial data and avoid using the demographic weight of communities as an ultimate benchmark for funding;

- Compile data to measure and compare success rates for grant applications;

- Review the differences between the acceptance rates of grant applications submitted by OLMC artists in different disciplines and the acceptance rates of applications submitted by artists from other language groups to determine the reasons for these differences, and develop a strategy to correct or reduce them.

Linguistic duality and initiatives for fostering understanding between cultures

- Acknowledge the key role that OLMCs can play in intercultural dialogue and develop a strategy to promote linguistic duality and intercultural dialogue through the arts and culture.

Contact Information

  • Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages
    Robin Cantin, Manager, Media Relations
    613-995-0374 / Toll-free: 1-877-996-6368
    Cellular: 613-324-0999
    robin.cantin@ocol-clo.gc.ca