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Participating in Government Consultations – The Canadian Dance Assembly Recaps Ontario’s Culture Strategy

As an arts advocate and policy wonk, I love a good townhall. The Canadian Dance Assembly (CDA), along with much of the arts and cultural sector, is eager to contribute to policies and practices that create systemic change. Not only is there a possibility for Ontario’s cultural activities to flourish, but for arts and culture to connect across sectors and communities.

This fall, the Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and Sport conducted townhalls across Ontario for their first Culture Strategy. It prompted citizens to imagine what Ontario’s arts and culture sector could look like in 10 years. All of the material from the townhalls and the online submissions will be taken into consideration before the Ministry writes its first-ever Culture Strategy this spring. You can still submit your thoughts until December 7th.

Participating in a Town Hall

Before we attended the townhall, we caught up with the conversation – reading the discussion paper and online forum.

Ministry officials have been impressed by the high level of interest in the Culture Strategy, and rightfully so. The arts community, like many nonprofits, is made up of keen advocates and activists – many of whom address social, political, and environmental issues, while at the same time, advancing education alongside artistic production.

Attendance at the Culture Strategy townhalls have been at capacity. As a result, the Toronto event was moved to the Toronto Reference Library to accommodate the crowd. Not surprisingly, there were almost 500 concerned citizens in attendance at Toronto’s session on November 23rd. With a mix of students, emerging and established professionals, the conversation was well-rounded. While most participants self-identified as a cultural supporter or practitioner (ie. the usual suspects), there was an elephant in the room – where were the others? How could those from the environmental or educational sectors, for example, inspire Ontario’s culture strategy? Since artists move throughout our communities, advocacy and democracy efforts must work with ‘unlikely’ allies toward a shared and nuanced vision.

The Discussion

Yet still, the mix of individuals in the room allowed for a large range of perspectives and needs. The Toronto townhall (the eighth of eleven meetings) was a well organized and structured event, led by facilitator Jane Farrow. The night began with an interview of musician Kardinal Offishall and editor Alana Wilcox, which raised issues of local support, private/public roles in artistic production and promotion and, the reasons why we work in the cultural sector.

Then, the magic happened. Participants began to work in tables developing answers to questions – what are 6 words that describe culture today? What 6 words would describe culture in 10 years? Requiring a high degree of foresight, arts organizations and artists demonstrated their concern for the sector’s future. Notably, actor Eric Peterson (known best for his television role of Oscar Leroy on Corner Gas) spoke passionately about the desire for the arts and artists to be cherished by Ontarians.

Other participants talked about the urgent need for equity, youth engagement, and more funding; issues that are not unique to the arts and cultural sector, but to many nonprofits. One table even proposed a stand-alone Ministry of Culture for Ontario; a symbolic idea that reinforces the desire for local/municipal integration, cross-ministry collaboration, and government capacity to actualize solutions for the sector. Personal stories and bold statements will certainly be a remnant of these townhalls, but the policy documents will represent the potential for change.

Possible Impact of the Culture Strategy:

While the Culture Strategy could go in many directions, here are a few possibilities that the Canadian Dance Assembly is advocating for:

1. Increased funding for the Ontario Arts Council and/or the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

2. Greater concern for arts and culture at other Ministries, such as Education and Health, as a result of the strategy.

3. Equitable treatment of indigenous, racially-marginalized artists, and multi-abled artists.

Next Steps:

Here are a few next steps to stay involved with Ontario’s Culture Strategy. They touch on common tactics to stay engaged with government consultations:

1. Submit comments to the website or a brief before Dec. 7th. Make bold recommendations based on the eleven questions in the position paper. Policy analysts with the Ministry will read every submission.

2. Read Game ON – the Ontario Government’s Sport Plan for a sense of what the Culture Strategy might look like

3. Keep the pressure on by sharing your recommendations with your MPP, and engaging with them year-round.

4. Look for the release of the Culture Strategy in May or June 2016.

5. Connect with the provincial arts service organizations (PASO coalition) and consider participating in Arts Day at Queen’s Park, fall 2016.

What experiences have you had with government consultations?

Tweet us @o_n_n and @cdaacd and @ArtsCoalitionCa share your story.

Kate Cornell

Kate is the Executive Director of the Canadian Dance Assembly and the Co-Chair of the Canadian Arts Coalition. She has a PhD in Communication and Culture and has been published extensively. Cornell recently appeared on CBC’s The National talking about the arts sector’s expectations for the new Liberal government.

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