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The federal government is taking the controversial Canada Prizes for the Arts and Creativity back to the drawing board, giving new leadership a blank slate to decide how the awards will work.

The Canada Council for the Arts will administer the hotly debated prizes as well as the $25-million endowment the government has pledged to form them. A five-member advisory panel has been created to devise "recommendations and options" for the parameters and structure, with the final decision falling to Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore.

Even the scant details made public when the Canada Prizes were first announced in late January of 2009 have been wiped away, and virtually all options are on the table for the advisory panel, which includes Canada Council chair Joseph L. Rotman and vice-chair Simon Brault; businessman and Luminato Festival co-founder Tony Gagliano, who conceived of the prizes along with the late David Pecaut; Liza Maheu, executive director of Manitoba's La Maison des artistes visuels francophones; and Jennifer Clarke, president of JPC Strategies Ltd. and a one-time board member at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Brault said the advisory panel has some basic guidelines, such as the imperative that the prizes "serve Canadian artists." According to guidelines on the Canadian Heritage website, they are expected to go to individuals or organizations "at the peak of success," but there will likely also be a "mentorship element." Moore said they "may very well be the most generous awards for arts in the world," perhaps topping the $100,000 Canada Gairdner International Award, and he hopes additional funds can be raised privately.

The prizes were a surprise inclusion in the 2009 federal budget, causing a considerable stir in the arts community. They were to be awarded annually to emerging international and Canadian artists in music, theatre, dance and visual art, staged in Toronto with numerous performances by dozens of finalists, and run by an independent not-for-profit administration.

Beyond that, details were scarce and the plan drew widespread criticism for being too Toronto-centric, too vague, and too hastily determined. When a tentative proposal surfaced saying discussions had taken place with domestic and international "partners," many of whom had never been approached, the fledgling prizes' image took a major blow.

Fifteen months later, the requirements that the prizes must be hosted in Toronto and feature an international component are gone, while the Canada Council's broad experience administering juried awards is intended to lend weight and credibility to the new plan.

But the questions to be debated are as numerous as ever: Will it be reserved only for Canadians? Which disciplines will the prizes cover? Will there be lifetime- or youth-achievement distinctions? Should there be anglophone, francophone or aboriginal considerations?

Moore hopes to have a final report from the advisory panel by this summer and to award the first prizes in 2011. The panel will travel widely, and public consultations will be held, he said.