Common Issues Facing the Arts in Canada and the U.S.
December 16, 2015
Canada does not have an annual gathering of arts funders that embraces private, government and public funders similar to Grantmakers in the Arts in the U.S. Therefore, it is always interesting to monitor the dialogue coming out of the organization’s annual fall conference. At the 2015 meeting, a couple of key themes were tabled that we feel are equally relevant to the Canadian arts sector.
The discussion revolved around actions funders can consider to help arts organizations achieve long-term sustainability, and access capital resources to help weather economic fluctuations in the hopes of achieving stable operating revenue that is close to meeting operating expenses year over year. Many organizations are simply unable to move beyond the annual scramble to fundraise and/or meet earned revenue targets for the arts programs they deliver.
Building sufficient capital reserves is a strategy that is desirable, but seems today to lack the ‘sizzle’ of current themes of funding social enterprise/social impact investing. Practically, raising funds to meet current operations is critical to the delivery today’s arts programming (as well as the employment of artists, delivery of arts education etc.). The allocation of scarce resources is a common challenge. The attention paid by some funders to social impact/ social enterprise initiatives (totally laudable) inevitably means funding for operations gets squeezed.
Allocating funding between established arts organizations and new and emerging organizations is also a common refrain. Where to place funds so that they do the most ‘good’ is a challenge, particularly at the government funding level where demand increases and funding dollars are flat or declining.
The dialogue continues...do we fund the established, well know organizations at the expense of investing in new, often culturally diverse arts organizations, or the reverse – insist on greater financial independence from the larger organizations and help support the next generation of artists and arts organizations? There is no common answer to the issue. Finding a balance between established and emerging is a continuing dialogue. Funding that reflects the cultural evolution and diversity in our communities does seem a reasonable approach.
- Other topics raised at the U.S. conference included:
Tenure – how long should a funder support an organization? Should there be an expectation of achieving financial independence and allow funding to move to a new organization?
Reporting – understanding the effectiveness and impact of grants made to arts organizations. Has the investment generated positive results (a subtext is over what time should that be assessed).
Capitalization – helping organizations establish financial reserves to weather changing times and economic cycles. This is where the topic of endowment plays a role.
Where should the strategic emphasis be? Capacity, sustainability and engagement – what is a reasonable time frame for each?
The GIA website does not have open access to all conference presentations, but there are excellent blog summaries by Barry Hennius and Lara Davis on the conference proceedings. Always worth a read.