Canada's oldest and largest arts advocacy organization, the Canadian Conference of the Arts, has decided to keep functioning, until mid-October at least, even as the Harper government has announced it is ending a 47-year tradition of federal support from Liberal and Conservative administrations for the organization.
Meeting this week in Ottawa, the membership and the board of the CCA, founded in 1945, "all endorsed the concept that we should not give up," said CCA national director Alain Pineau in an interview. "There are enough positive signs coming our way to make it worth continuing," including an application to an as-yet unnamed foundation for "a good injection of money" that, should it be approved this fall, "would greatly help our transition to a new business model.… We're taking this in instalments, living sort of on a quarterly basis at first, hoping to go on a half-year basis next year."
The CCA earlier had asked the federal government for $780,000 to ease the transition to being self-sustaining after "hearing unofficial reports" last summer that the Canadian Heritage department would be killing the Arts, Culture and Diversity Program under which the CCA had been funded to the tune of $390,000 a year. That amount represented 75 per cent of the CCA's annual operating budget. In the wake of these reports, Pineau embarked on a tour of more than a dozen Canadian cities to meet with CCA members and other arts and culture groups to determine if the country still needed "an overarching association" like the CCA. Out of these consultations came the groundwork for a new business plan.
However in April, Canadian Heritage announced it would give the CCA just $195,000, not the $780,000 requested – money, it told the CCA, that could be used to try to put the organization on a new footing or to wind up its operations.
The CCA cut is part of the Harper government's wider strategy to both achieve a balanced budget by 2015 and, according to many critics, defund associations and watchdogs that have criticized the government or have mandates out of step with federal policy. While never a harsh critic of the Conservatives, the CCA – its 200-plus members include the National Ballet of Canada, the Royal Conservatory of Music, ACTRA and the National Theatre School – hasn't hesitated to point out what it sees as the negative consequences of certain policies and positions. In 2011, for instance, it said Stephen Harper's copyright reform bill, C-32, now all but certain to become law by the end of the current session of Parliament, would result in a revenue loss of $126-million to creators and other rights-holders if passed unamended. A report prepared by Heritage bureaucrats and published in January, 2011, however, lauded the CCA for "making valuable contributions to the arts and culture sector and to the government of Canada" while "operating effectively [in] a cost-effective way."
Pineau said the CCA hopes that by 2017 membership fees will account for 42 per cent of annual revenue. Right now it's about 13 per cent. To this end, the organization plans to expand its membership base and possibly hike the dues paid by the larger member organizations while creating a new, non-voting category, "corporate members."
"At the end of the day, through our membership, we reach 400,000 people and that has a market value," Pineau said. In the meantime, the CCA is partnering with the Centre of Governance and School of Politics at the University of Ottawa to prepare, by January, 2013, an analysis of the arts and culture budgets of Canada's provinces and territories.
"The last thing we want to project, quite frankly, is any kind of pessimism," Pineau said. "We're not pessimistic. We have every reason to be optimistic, but without falling into any pipe-dreaming."