In 2014, the newly appointed head of the Canada Council for the Arts spoke of the need for the art world to innovate and reach out to younger audiences. "Traditional companies," Simon Brault told The Globe and Mail then, "have to engage a new generation or they will die."
Brault's vision of a modernized, plugged-in arts sector became clearer Thursday with the announcement of an $88.5-million Arts in a Digital World Fund, 2017-2021. The news of the fund coincides with a major arts sector conference being held Thursday and Friday in Montreal.
"It's clear that the new generation, the generation of digital natives, has expectations of how they relate to any experience or any content or any moment," Brault told The Globe this week. "The arts sector needs to master and take advantage of the digital transformation, as opposed to pretend that we are victims of it."
Brault, a former director of the National Theatre School and the author of a 2009 book about the role of the arts in a democracy (translated into English as No Culture, No Future), will be one of the keynote speakers at the Arts in a Digital World Summit, taking place at Montreal's Arsenal. Nearly 300 leaders from across Canada and abroad will take part in an event focused on helping the country's arts organizations scale up their capacities to innovate and to connect with citizens in an increasingly digital landscape.
"The level of digital intelligence is not what it should be," said Brault, who sees himself as a high-profile advocate for the arts, not simply the administrator of a grant-giving body. "The fund is part of a catch-up movement for the vast majority of the arts sector, which is at risk of being less and less visible and less supported by citizens, especially the youth."
Details on specific projects were not revealed by the Council. Set to launch in the fall of this year, the fund will support short-term small-scale projects for less than $10,000, and large-scale initiatives with funding up to $500,000.
Broadly speaking, the fund will encourage initiatives that foster digital literacy though training programs, employ digital approaches to increase public access to the arts and support the technological transformation of the arts sector as a whole.
Asked for examples of the type of projects to be funded, Brault cited Theatre in Paris's introduction of "augmented reality glasses" that display surtitles in different languages on the glasses instead of above the stage.
"We want projects which will help the entire sector or a region," Brault said. The impact should be collective. Facing the digital challenge divided in silos, and in competition, won't work."