Letter to Ontario Arts Council Regarding Northern Ontario Artists and Cultural Leaders

July 15, 2020

Carolyn Vesely CEO 
Ontario Arts Council 
121 Bloor Street East, 7th Floor
Toronto, Ontario,  M4W 3M5

Dear Carolyn Vesely, 

In May of this year, CARFAC Ontario facilitated two virtual meetings with approximately 30 artists and cultural leaders living and working in Northern Ontario, primarily in Northeastern Ontario. Based on the issues raised in these consultation sessions, CARFAC Ontario is compelled to contribute to advancing these larger conversations with the goal to improve conditions for artists and strengthen cultural infrastructure in Northern Ontario. 

Firstly, it was recognized that the Ontario Arts Council is facing considerable challenges amid recent funding cuts by the provincial government. Participants acknowledged the efforts in place to reach Indigenous artists and Northern Ontario communities, and were appreciative of this work. We also wish to formally thank you for your responsive leadership in navigating the ongoing impacts that COVID-19 is having on the arts and culture sector.    

What began as community check-ins and conversations about specific COVID-19 relief measures, quickly expanded to unpack a wide range of systemic issues, including gaps and access points within public arts funding structures that have, and continue to, position many artists, groups, and collectives in a place of dire precarity. Because we know that this precarity has been accelerated by impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we share here on behalf of artists and cultural workers living and working in Northern Ontario the key issues identified, specifically those pertaining to the Ontario Arts Council:  

  • Indigenous ways of being, community, and making art are not being deeply considered by public arts funders in application and jury processes, systems and protocols; 
  • Though employing digital technology can be an effective solution for facilitating and presenting art amid COVID-19 public health restrictions, online methods are not inclusive to those without stable internet, and they are not relevant to many artists, their forms of artistic expression, nor to their communities;  
  • Preventing unincorporated groups and collectives from applying for and receiving operating funding perpetuates precarity, results in unhealthy labour conditions for leaders, and stifles growth, innovation, and sustainability; 
  • The loss of the Indigenous Culture Fund has resulted in significant impacts on Northern communities; 
  • Some grant applications can be onerous on applicants, and the process of preparing applications is often not commensurate with the level of available funds; 
  • Artists require more support during the grant-writing process; 
  • Costs associated with procuring materials and supplies can be higher due to additional shipping fees, as is shipping completed artworks to galleries for presentation and sales. Basic living costs can also be higher than in other mid-sized communities, and larger centres; 
  • Some artists hold deep perceptions that artists from smaller centres and communities are consistently overlooked, or undermined in jury processes which is compromising the reputation of public funding bodies.  

As we are confident the Ontario Arts Council shares our concerns around these and other issues, we offer here recommendations put forth by participants in our consultation sessions that are intended to improve conditions for artists and cultural leaders living and working in Northern Ontario:    

  • Recognize traditional Indigenous knowledge as on par with other forms of academic study or formal arts training, and recognize traditional practices as formal art within grant eligibility in all program streams; 
  • Be more aggressive with responding to Truth and Reconciliation calls to action;
  • Invest in artists and groups to experiment with new methods of creating and consuming art outside of digital/online platforms that are consistent with public health guidelines;
  • Set a timeline to evaluate operating funding and multi-year grant eligibility (and equity in funding between current recipients), with a focus and intention on ways to provide sustainable support to unincorporated initiatives; 
  • Increase capacity to provide  outreach and grant-writing support in Northern Ontario regions; 
  • Evaluate outreach and support systems for Francophone organizations and artists; 
  • Address these issues and recommendations by investing adequate resources to collaborate with CARFAC Ontario, along with other organizations and stakeholders in co-facilitating consultation sessions so that we can hear directly from artists and cultural leaders from a larger range of Northern Ontario regions.  

While we understand Ontario Arts Council’s budgetary challenges, we have seen how the COVID-19 pandemic is most greatly impacting vulnerable, equity-seeking, and marginalized communities. As such, working aggressively to advance equity within all aspects of arts and culture must be a priority. 

Please consider CARFAC Ontario a partner in these conversations. I invite you, or your staff, to contact me directly to discuss the next steps for this important and urgent work. 


Jason Samilski 
Managing Director, 
CARFAC Ontario

Kelly Langgard, Director of Granting
Erika Iserhoff, Indigenous Arts
Alana Forslund, Northern Representative

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