PRINT October 1967

The Canada Council

The Canada Council for the Encouragement of the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, was created by act of Parliament in 1957 on the recommendation of a Royal Commission on the arts and letters in Canada which tabled its report in 1951. The act provides for a full-time Director and Associate Director and for a Council, including a Chairman, of twenty-one members (for 3-year renewable terms) from across Canada which meets five or six times a year; all of these are appointed by the Governor-in-Council.

Most importantly, the act specifies that the Council is not an agent of Her Majesty, which is to say that the decisions of the Council are not directed by the government and the Council alone is accountable for its decisions. This means that while the government pays the piper it does not call the artistic tune. The Council is required to submit an annual report to Parliament and to open its accounts to the Auditor General. In practice, the Council voluntarily answers questions from Parliament and appears from time to time before one or two of its committees.

To give the act some bite, Parliament initially provided $100 million, a neat sum which had just come as a tax windfall on the estates of two extremely wealthy Canadians. Half of this sum was earmarked to be spent on grants to universities for capital projects within a ten-year period, a schedule that has now been met. The other half was to form an endowment fund from which only the interest was to be spent. This amounted eventually to an income of $3.5 million each year and was shared fairly equitably between the arts on the one hand and the humanities and social sciences on the other. The Council also provides for the Canadian National Commission for UNESCO.

This fixed income became increasingly inadequate as the arts developed and there was greater activity in the humanities and social sciences. The government recognized this and in 1965 gave a direct unconditional grant of $10 million to be spent for the Council’s immediate needs. This sum was spent in two years and last year an additional sum of $17 million was approved for the current year, which with income from the endowment and a number of private bequests brought the total available to some $22 million. Of this, approximately $13 million is now spent on the humanities and social sciences and $7.5 million on the arts. It now appears likely that we may expect annual appropriations from the government, with some measured increase.

If Uncle Sam were to consider assistance of a comparable magnitude to the arts, humanities and social sciences of his country (though problems and practices would be somewhat different), he would need to give the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities enough resources to be able to spend $75 million this year on the arts alone and approximately $100 million next year.

AN ARTIST OF MY ACQUAINTANCE has coined the term “artofficial” to describe, in a friendly way, a new class of mandarin which is sympathetic to the needs, ways and aims of artists. An ordinary but perhaps more highly-placed official he calls a “superficial.” Both terms unveil, with a slight touch of malice, the uneasiness that still exists in the relationship between art and government, even though the concern with officialdom reveals the possibility of greater intimacy. Artists fear the intrusion of bureaucratic fingers into the artistic pie and politicians do not like the even tenor of their ways to be disturbed by the arts. Artists tend to believe that public subsidy begets “public” art and governments often believe that art, like everything else, should be subject to “democratic” procedures. This is where the “artofficial,” like an osmotic screen, slides in to act as a filter for the kind of financial assistance the arts need and to make sure also that the government fulfills, at a safe distance, its responsibility in developing a most important national resource. In Canada this process is effected, more or less, by an institution called The Canada Council which is now ten years old, and which provides assistance with public funds to non-governmental bodies. The government provides directly (and generously) for such national institutions as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the National Film Board, the National Gallery, etc.

It should be borne in mind that the Council is not a government department, not a cultural commissariat, not an administrator or producer of any artistic event, and not a landlord for any institutions such as opera houses or academies. It is there to dispense money as wisely as possible to the best artists and arts organizations it can find. It also gives much of its money for research and study projects in the humanities and social sciences. In this article, however, we are focusing on the arts, and among the arts it seems most fitting in this magazine to discuss the visual arts, although the same story might as easily be written for any of our other fields of interest.

The most important person in the field of the visual arts, both in our opinion and in his own, is the individual artist, the one who produces the goods. Consequently, our first concern is for his needs which we meet in a variety of appropriate ways. Foremost among these are fairly sizeable grants we call Awards, for accomplished and well-established artists (up to $7,000), and Bursaries, for artists in the earlier stages of a professional career (up to $3,500 and renewable). Both Awards and Bursaries are for a period of one year, both have a travel allowance if necessary and both must be applied for within an annual competition. For the year just passed approximately 70 Awards and 175 Bursaries were given in all the arts, with approximately 40% of these in the visual arts. For the forthcoming year out of an expected 900 applications, we hope to give 70 Awards and 240 Bursaries if there is quality enough and there has, unfortunately, always been some to spare beyond our resources.

These grants are available for almost any purpose that seems reasonable to the liberal mind and is somehow connected with the artist’s own requirements. The artist may wish to travel abroad; he may wish to stop teaching for a year in order to devote all his time to painting or to experimenting with new materials; he may wish only to read or to look at art; or he may just want to relieve financial burdens while he goes on working. Of the $1.5 million that has gone to painters, sculptors and others in the visual arts in ten years, some of it may have been spent on quiet drinks in a Paris café, but who is to say that this was not more productive in the end than supplies from Winsor and Newton? We are not concerned, so long as the person does what he intends to do and so long as he considers what he does is best for himself and his work. The important thing is whether the artist is any good or not. If he is good, then probably his obscure scheme to study pottery with Tibetan refugees or to visit the headwaters of the Nile will not fail to act as grist to his imaginative mill. How one tells good artists from not-good artists is a matter we will return to later. Suffice it at this point to say that the maturity and expansion of the arts in Canada over the past decade is proof enough that our system of trust as it has been developed is working very well indeed.

Distance is a difficult and an inhibiting factor in Canadian life and often works to an artist’s disadvantage. The Council therefore supplies travel grants to artists who wish, for example, to attend openings of exhibitions in other parts of the country. We subsidize shipping and crating charges so that works can get from one city to another for exhibition. In other instances where dire poverty obstructs creation, we come to the rescue with an emergency grant of a few hundred dollars so that an artist may buy materials to keep on working. We always try to keep an open mind and to let each set of circumstances be assessed on its merits rather than trying to define everything rigidly. Art and artists make our definitions. One artist wanted a grant in order to hire a helicopter with which he wanted to take a large sculpture and drop it into the wilderness where it could be discovered in fifty years or so, a sort of charged happening with an indeterminate fuse. We wouldn’t have minded helping with the making of the sculpture whether it eventually gets dropped in the wilderness or not, but the artist has dropped the idea temporarily. On the other hand, we once turned down a request from a brassiere maker who claimed to be developing a more esthetic form, though we conveyed our best personal wishes.

Whereas the larger grants are normally given but once a year and take some months to adjudicate, the lesser though often more crucial needs can be met within a few days after receipt of a simple letter of request. Our best time so far from request by phone to check in the hands of the artist 2000 miles away is 15 hours, though we don’t always like to have to work that fast. Most artists in Canada wouldn’t hesitate to call or write to the Council if some need were pressing, but the Council’s officers are not pestered by silly demands nor is the privilege of easily accessible funds abused.

Other forms of our germ welfare have had a direct effect on artists in Canada. One of the most successful was called Director’s Choice, where the Council supplied matching funds and travel expenses to four or five art gallery directors each year and let them move to other parts of the country to buy contemporary paintings for their galleries. The amount thus spent in five years added up to nearly $70,000 in purchases and had several other advantages: it enlarged public collections; it allowed the directors to travel; it gave the directors freedom from purchase committees; it was a channel for the exchange of ideas and of people and it has even, after five years, been the basis for an exhibition which showed us to our delight what was bought by all. In the last two years, the Canada Council has spent a little of its new wealth acquiring a collection of its own. This was partly to enhance our offices, but also to provide a direct form of assistance to artists and eventually to have an instrument for the promotion of the arts within the country or without. A few of the more than 150 items that have been so acquired are illustrated here.

Last year we gave commissioning grants to professional theaters ($500 to each of 20) for posters by practicing painters or printmakers. This program raised the standard of typography and design in a number of organizations and planted the seed for a continuing program in some cases. It also brought two rather disparate arts together. The Council has recently assisted with the provision of special facilities in spite of its general rule, born of inadequate funds, of not providing capital grants. In Montreal, it assists two workshops where artists may experiment in printmaking and in Vancouver it has just given $40,000 to help establish a multi-media workshop which will be called Intermedia. We expect that this center will have several hundred thousand dollars of electronic equipment within the next few years and that it will provide not only a forum for cooperative experiment in all the arts, but will develop enough creative fallout to affect such important areas as education and urban design.

The Council has also provided assistance in a number of less direct though no less important ways. The most obvious and the largest of these is support to the public art galleries (in the order of $350,000 this year) which do much to create public acceptance and permit public exposure for artists and their art. While grants are given for such unspectacular but vital purposes as reference libraries, restoration, and cataloging, there has always been a special encouragement in the exhibition schedules for the work of contemporary art. It was with Council funds that the Dine, Oldenburg and Segal exhibition, recently seen in Buffalo, was created and first exhibited in Toronto. The Mondrian exhibition seen in Philadelphia and the Hague recently was also from Toronto. Les Levine’s exhibition, Slipcover, which received considerable notice in New York last spring, was commissioned by Toronto with a Council grant. The first comprehensive survey of recent West Coast art will be organized by Walter Hopps for the Vancouver Art Gallery with a Council grant.

In publication and information, the Council has given assistance to a number of initiatives which may eventually give us in Canada a very good service in these areas. First of all we provide continuing assistance for our two major art magazines, Vie des arts and arts/canada. Special grants are given to aid the publication of books on art, monographs on artists and catalogs of permanent collections. The Council’s own contribution to Canada’s Centennial this year was the very large volume, Canadian Painting, a History by Russell Harper, which set us back some $85,000. A study is now being made of the possibility of a central service for the publication and distribution of slides and reproductions and there is also one afoot on an information service in the visual arts. Working on these possibilities are some of the best computer and communications brains in Canada and it may be that soon we will have a bank of images and pictures and of other sensory information that will be instantly available to artists and others across the country. We have subsidized the publication of a large catalog of works of artists who have executed or who have work suitable for architectural commissions in the hope that we might bring to the attention of architects and others the very good work which some of our better artists have done.

The Council also:

—has given grants for pilot projects in new approaches to art education;
—provides grants for artists in residence at universities;
—has subsidized the making of films on art;assists with bringing important visitors to Canada: Barnett Newman, Clement Greenberg, Jules Olitski, Frank Stella, Harold Cohen and a number of others have been among them;
—sponsored a meeting of art dealers, knowing how important they are to the health of our artistic life;
—offers limited guarantees against loss to dealers on exhibitions of public interest and/or of young artists;
—has subsidized the establishment of a small experimental foundry, which, however, will not take the place of a much-needed major bronze foundry;
—put up a $5,000 prize for an International Print Exhibition organized by the Vancouver Art Gallery;
—occasionally subsidizes the representation of Canadian art beyond our borders, as in the case of an exhibition recently circulated by the Museum of Modern Art throughout the United States. The National Gallery of Canada, however, does most of this at the moment, but the Council sends Canadian artists to Venice, Sao Paulo, etc.;
—sponsors a number of meetings of artists and of those people important to the arts. One series, called Soundings, which was initiated and is continued by the Council, permits us to have intensive sessions with artists about their needs and our policies. These meetings help us keep our thinking up to date and our early warning system sensitive. Some meetings are of art gallery directors. Some are big blowouts where over 100 of the nation’s architects, artists, directors, teachers and “artofficials” meet to talk of many things, of cruises, quips and income tax, of philistines and slings;
—provides prestigious Canada Council Medals (along with $2,500) to artists and scholars;
—has helped art critics to study abroad on the grounds that they need as much help as anyone;
—has commissioned a study of the laws of taxation as they affect the arts. We don’t know yet whether this will lead to legislative changes or to the publication of a handbook for the artist on how not to overpay the tax collector.

Despite this apparent plethora of assistance there are a number of essential things that the Council does not yet do and knows it does not do. Such major undertakings as foundries and studio buildings, a comprehensive publishing program, some provision for loans or mortgages for housing, equipment and studio facilities, a program of public commissioning of art on a significant scale, the establishment of a minimum income for artists, all of these are possibilities of which we are well aware. Given time and money, we think that these problems too will be tackled with the same intention, that is to provide security and recognition for the artist. And there are still the fields of architecture and film to which we have until recently given too little concentrated attention.

In closing we return as promised to the difficult yet paramount issue of how decisions are made and how one chooses whom or what instead of something else. It is basically a simple procedure but one which requires that state of mind which Samuel Johnson has described as being of “tranquillity without indifference.” As much as possible, assessments are made on the basis of the work of an artist and upon the assumption that the Council is interested only in quality and excellence. All the decisions of the Council are based upon the best advice that can be obtained and that means that it comes primarily from the artistic community itself. We learn quickly whether or not to discount some advice we get but in a country of our size it is possible to establish a network of valued and knowledgeable consultants with relative ease. Our advisors, we know, are motivated by a mixture of good will, good intentions and prejudice, yet a careful and sympathetic inquiry will result in a consensus of opinion that reveals both standards and priorities and it is upon this that the Council finally acts. The danger we always face is a hardening of the artistic arteries. We therefore think it important to ask advice not only of established but of young artists. In this way we receive not only mature advice but advice that is also young in spirit, and that is the way we and the arts in Canada would like to be thought of.

Mr. Silcox is an officer of the Canada Council with particular responsibility for the visual arts.