Public Funding - Mixing stability and agility

A little twitter back and forth with Praxis folk plus a desire to respond to Shannon Litzenberger’s Metcalf report, Choreographing Our Future: Strategies for Supporting Next Generation Arts Practice has inspired me to post some thoughts on public funding models. I’ve been thinking lots about this and below is an edited version of some writing about this for a funding body earlier this year. I’ll start with operating. In tracking the discussion of the future of operating funds it's clear a mix of stability and agility must be found. “Operating funding forever” is no longer tenable and maybe, in retrospect, not a good idea. I don’t want to see anyone loose their jobs or to increase the precarious nature of contemporary life[1], but a proper mix must be found to allow for renewal and change. Entitlement and expectation of complete funding is not realistic.

Yet Project, even multi-year project, funding is unstable and makes it impossible to plan and difficult to take risks. It also encourages a “giant project” model that will not suit all makers - especially those in marginal practices and companies working with small ongoing or repeating projects.

I have been imagining a 5-year operating grant renewed at the end year 3. This would mean that companies would have 2 years in which they knew the results and were able to plan ahead if the funding was renewed, and to seek other funding or wind down operations if it were not. It also meant the competition for funds would be more open to new or emergent companies and practices.

In the current economic structures and limited funds to art councils, however, it cannot be the Councils job to provide this for artists regardless of effectiveness and connection with (self-defined) community and society.

The issues of infrastructure and shared equipment are important and not entirely addressed by the above proposal. How are the very real needs of space, equipment and skills supported and continued? Again, a mix of stability and dynamism is required and artists need to be involved in creating the structures they need to work.

This is something that has urgency, but also requires fair warning.

There will be heavy lobbying from current operating companies and this must be viewed with an understanding that artists and organizations without operating funding usually do not have the resources or access to lobby in the same way. This imbalance is part of the larger dynamic that keeps the status quo firmly entrenched and brutal ceiling on emerging companies that don’t just want to do the same as the historic mainstream.

  1. It’s a tricky subject since I believe, politically and economically, in a minimum income for all Canadians. ↩