Ontario Arts Council/Conseil des Arts de l'Ontario | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Ontario Arts Council/Conseil des Arts de l'Ontario

Ontario Arts Council(OAC)/Conseil des Arts de l'Ontario(CAO) (Province of Ontario Council for the Arts, POCA, 1963-70). An independent body created by the Ontario government to 'promote the study and enjoyment of and the production of works in the arts'.

Ontario Arts Council/Conseil des Arts de l'Ontario

Ontario Arts Council(OAC)/Conseil des Arts de l'Ontario(CAO) (Province of Ontario Council for the Arts, POCA, 1963-70). An independent body created by the Ontario government to 'promote the study and enjoyment of and the production of works in the arts'. Established in 1963 as the Province of Ontario Council for the Arts (POCA), it was empowered to a) assist, cooperate with and enlist the aid of organizations whose objects are similar to the objects of the Council; b) provide for grants, loans, scholarships to persons in Ontario for study or research in the arts or elsewhere, or to persons elsewhere in Canada for study or research in the arts in Ontario; and c) make awards to persons in Ontario for outstanding accomplishments in the arts.

The council is governed by a board of 12 volunteer appointees, all private citizens, and is administered by a professional staff headed by an executive director who is selected by and reports directly to the board.

At its inception the council reported to the provincial legislature and received its annual subvention through the Ministry of Education. It was transferred in 1972 to the Ministry of Colleges and Universities, and in 1975 to the newly created Ministry of Culture and Recreation.

Appointments for renewable three-year terms are made by the Lieutenant Governor-in-Council. The council has been chaired by the the Hon J. Keiller Mackay 1963-9, Anthony Adamson 1969-75, Frank F. McEachren 1975-9, Arthur Gelber 1979-82, Donald W. McGibbon 1982-5, and Sonja Koerner 1985-8, succeeded by Nalini Stewart in 1988. Executive directors have been Milton Carman 1963-70, Louis Applebaum 1971-9, Walter Pitman 1979-86, and Christopher Wootten 1987-8, succeeded by Norman Walford in 1989. Music officers have been Walter Ball (consultant) 1966-7, James Norcop 1967-8, Robert Sunter 1968-76, Zelda Heller 1976-80, and Gwenlyn Setterfield (formerly Creech) 1981-9, succeeded by John Brotman in 1989.

The government's appropriation to the council in the fiscal year 1963-4 was $300,000, which covered the salaries for two staff members and 30 grants to arts organizations of all types. By 1989-90 the appropriation had grown to $33,579,000 and grants to both organizations and individual artists numbered over 3000.

In 1989 the Music Office grants budget was $6,886,194 distributed through nine granting programs to orchestras, choirs, festivals and series, chamber groups, contemporary arts groups, training projects, opera and music theatre development, and the commissioning of new work by Ontario composers. Other allocations meet cross-disciplinary needs in various communities: Touring, Community Arts Development, Arts/Education, and Franco-Ontarian arts. A special three-year allocation from the Ministry of Citizenship was in 1989 directed to multi-cultural activity reflecting the growing cultural diversity of the province.

All granting decisions are made through the process of peer review, by juries, advisory panels, individual advisors, or third party recommendors, eg, publishers are assigned a basic allocation from which they recommend individuals to receive grants according to the specific terms of the program.

Recommendations for grants go to the full council or its executive committee for final approval, except in the case of small awards and those recommended by a jury, which may be approved by the executive director, and sent to the board for information.

When the council began, professional arts activity was extensive, but disproportionately dependent on the talent and inspiration of a few individuals - usually trained abroad - who sought to build in Ontario the kind of stimulating cultural environment that had developed over centuries in Europe.

In its early years the council concentrated its efforts on the survival of these pioneering, professional ventures. Later it committed itself to identifying and nurturing individual talents and supported the establishment and development of professional arts organizations throughout the province which would advance the interests of artists and their publics through opportunities for training, employment, and artistic production and exhibition.

This strategy has produced extraordinary results. By 1989-90 the council supported the following musical activities: 46 orchestras in 36 communities; 31 choirs; 23 music festivals or concert series; 10 musical training programs; 13 opera and musical theatre companies; 18 organizations specializing in the presentation of contemporary music; and 13 folk or popular music festivals.

In addition, by 1991 OAC had provided 2,252 grants to 1,588 individual artists - painters, sculptors, printmakers, craftspeople, writers, poets, playwrights, composers, choreographers, filmmakers, photographers, video and holography artists, resident in an estimated 200 communities - to enable them to create original work. Grants had also been given to 310 communities and a total of 1189 grants had been given to 773 organizations.

Faced with more than two decades of both quantitative and qualitative growth, and a declining ability in real dollars to respond adequately, the OAC initiated in 1987-8 a long range planning process. Involving extensive consultation, the process resulted in the publication in 1988 of Moving Forward, a strategic planning document. It called for an increase in OAC's government allocation to $96 million by 1992-3. The plan was accompanied by a reaffirmation of OAC's guiding principles and a new statement of objectives which reads: 'The objective of the Ontario Arts Council is to make the arts integral to the lives of Ontarians. We seek a society in which a) all artists of talent and desire have full opportunities to create art; and b) all Ontarians, regardless of circumstances or location may share the benefits of the arts. To these ends we seek to play a leadership role in fostering excellence in the arts and in making it available to all' (Moving Forward, p 30).

The four strategic goals identified in the plan were a) to enhance financial stabilization and growth in the arts sector; b) to stimulate increased audiences and community development; c) to increase opportunities for artistic development; and d) to undertake a new role in arts research and promotion.

Although by 1989-90 the OAC's plan had not resulted in substantial new funding, it has continued to provide direction in setting priorities within available resources, and has become the foundation for an ongoing planning process. In 1989, as a result of the plan, the OAC established a Research Dept directed by Robert Sirman.

In 1987-8 the Music Office commissioned an evaluation report on its funding to orchestras. The report, Orchestras Ontario by G. Campbell Trowsdale, celebrated the expansion of orchestras throughout Ontario and urged the adoption of new funding models in order to maximize decreasing resources. Following the report the OAC adopted a policy of new cycle base funding for orchestras which offered stability in terms of three year guarantees in return for evidence of sound planning, artistic progress, and good management.

In 1989-90 the Music Office commissioned 35 new works and expanded support in the areas of opera, festivals and series, and continued its support to the choral community. Both of the major service organizations, OFSO and the Ontario Choral Federation, have continued to be in close contact with the Music Office as plans are made and policies developed.

In addition to the public funds received through the Ministry of Culture and Communications, the OAC administers over $5 million in private endowment funds, the largest part derived from two major gifts from the Floyd S. Chalmers family. Among prizes given through the Chalmers Fund are the performing arts training grants awarded to outstanding young performing artists in dance, theatre, and music to undertake advanced study in their field. The largest number of these awards have been given to musicians, including mezzo-soprano Odette Beaupré, trumpeter Guy Few, violinists Scott St John, and his sister, Lara St John, and pianists Francine Kay and Barbara Pritchard.

Other music-related funds are the Heinz Unger Prize given biennially to an orchestral conductor who shows promise and has already made a contribution to Canadian musical life, and the Leslie Bell Prize for choral conducting.

In 1989 the OAC established the position of director of developmental ventures, to increase the private endowment funds of the council. Gwenlyn Setterfield, former music officer, was appointed to the position. Duties also include the expansion of services to client organizations; one of the first was a project in board development undertaken with OFSO.

Over the years the OAC has developed a reputation for the astute and productive use of its funds and for direct and unbureaucratic procedures. Clients are assured of direct access to the officers in their particular disciplines, and grants, once decided, are processed with dispatch. In 1979, when the Floyd S. Chalmers Foundation delivered over its entire assets of more than $1 million to the OAC for administration, Chalmers said he chose the council 'because we have so much confidence, so much faith, in the judgement and the program of the arts council' (Toronto Star, 3 Sep 1979).

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