The Canada Council for the Arts is taking a knife to its funding structures, reducing 147 granting programs to just six, to take effect in 2017 when it celebrates its 60th anniversary.
The Crown corporation, which is designed to foster cultural activity, says it wants to broaden and simplify access to its funds for Canadian artists and arts groups. But the organizational change, the biggest in recent memory, is still "a work in progress," says director Simon Brault, who will not provide full details of the new order until November.
The pace of change in the arts, its organizations and the ways in which people encounter art in the digital age has made the current system both outdated and difficult to reform incrementally, Mr. Brault said. Its most diligent critics were clients whose creative and experimental work failed to get support simply because it did not fit the council's allotted categories, he added.
Mr. Brault said he intends to break down the "silos" that divide the council's programs by discipline, excluding many applicants who work across different artistic practices or in emerging ones. The six new programs will be non-disciplinary, he said, and have less restrictive eligibility criteria.
In a phone interview, Mr. Brault said unlike some other arts granting bodies, the council is reorganizing from a position of strength, and relatively stable funding. The organization ran a small surplus in 2013-14 on its budget of $191-million, and the federal government's 2014 budget converted a renewable $25-million allocation to permanent funding.
After consulting artists across the country over the past several years, the council decided to move "from a rather prescriptive model to a more open one," Mr. Brault said. Those discussions will continue as the council measures the reaction to its six-program idea and tries to figure out how it should work, he said.
"We need to make sure that there is support, that there is buy-in," he said, declining to say the council has even a rough draft of how the new system will function. The information released on Wednesday is essentially a broad tentative outline.
A new funding section called Explore and Create will support creation and experiment in all forms, and will dispense most individual grants to artists. Another, called Engage and Sustain, will handle annual and multiyear grants to arts organizations, which absorbed 65 per cent of program spending in 2013-14.
Smaller programs will support touring and exchanges within Canada, arts projects abroad and new strategies for organizational change in the arts. There will also be a section called Creating, Knowing and Sharing Aboriginal Arts, which will use a "self-determined, aboriginal-centred approach." Currently, grants to indigenous artists through the 20-year-old Aboriginal Arts Office account for about 4 per cent of total program spending.
One goal of the new order will be to eliminate redundant administrative effort, Mr. Brault said, by assembling updatable profiles of every applying artist and organization. Another will be to expand and refine the peer-review evaluation system, which he said is in retreat in many other countries.
"All over the world, peer assessment is an endangered species," he said, pointing to Britain as one place where such reviews have been eliminated.
The new system should also have more application dates, he said, to make it easier to apply for funding when, for example, a touring opportunity arises. At present, many grant programs have only one or two deadlines per year.
Mr. Brault said he has no intention of cutting the staff of about 150 people who administer the council's granting programs. "My idea is to rededicate them to more productive purposes," he said.
If the new arrangement works as Mr. Brault hopes, it should provide money to more artists for more kinds of projects, with fewer delays and less red tape. His immediate challenge, however, will be to get through several more months of possibly contentious discussions with artists, and to design a program that he can reveal in its entirety in November.