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Canadian Conference of the Arts ends 67-year run

The National Ballet of Canada, seen here performing “The Nutcracker” in 2008, is a member of the Canadian Conference of the Arts.

Bruce Zinger/Bruce Zinger

The Canadian Conference of the Arts is folding this week, ending a 67-year run as the country's oldest and largest arts advocacy organization. The official announcement is to be made Tuesday in Ottawa by CCA national director Alain Pineau.

The collapse of the CCA comes in the wake of the Harper government's decision earlier this year not to provide $780,000 the organization said it needed to transition to being self-sustaining. The hope was the self-sustaining model could be fully implemented by mid-2015.

The CCA, which has more than 200 members, had been funded annually without interruption by the federal government since 1965. But in April Canadian Heritage announced that, as part of the Conservative government's ambition to achieve a balanced budget by 2015, it would be terminating the Arts, Culture and Diversity Program through which the CCA had been receiving $390,000 a year -- roughly 75 per cent of its annual operating budget. As a stop-gap, Canadian Heritage did agree to give the CCA $195,000 -- money, it told the CCA, that could be used to help the organization enact a new business plan or to wind up its operations.

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In an interview Monday, Pineau said that the CCA had enough resources, including contributions from members and an unnamed foundation, to keep going to March next year. But last week the organization's board decided "it would be irresponsible to gamble the money we've been able to line up . . . because the perspective beyond that [is] not good enough."

Operations are scheduled to end Wednesday. "However, the silver lining to that black cloud is that we're doing everything we can to preserve the organization as a shell with its charitable status [and eventually a caretaker board] for whomever may feel like picking up the torch and re-launching it," said Pineau.  "We have to stop now if we want to prevent the organization from going bankrupt and losing everything."

The CCA hoped that with its new business model membership fees would account for at least 42 per cent of annual revenue, instead of the 13 per cent they contributed in recent years. Among its members: the Royal Conservatory of Music, the Banff Centre, the Writers' Union of Canada, Business for the Arts, Actors' Equity, the National Ballet of Canada and the National Theatre School.

Never a harsh critic of governments, the CCA nevertheless didn't hesitate to point out what it saw as their errors. Last spring, for example, it made a last-ditch push to amend the Harper government's Copyright Modernization Act, arguing the extant bill benefited consumers more than creators and rights-holders who stood to lose $126-million if enacted. (The act became law in late June this year.)

In a statement Monday, Sébastien Gariépy, press secretary for Heritage Minister James Moore, indicated it was unlikely there would be any last-minute reprieve from government. "For over 35 years this organization has received up to 60 per cent of its budget from the  government of Canada, including this year when funding was provided to give the [CCA] the opportunity to work with individual and groups it claims as stakeholders to develop a new mandate and funding model." Gariepy said the Harper government has delivered "unprecedented" support to the arts and would continue to invest in programs deemed "affordable and effective."

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