Brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, 2022 Pre-Budget Consultations

Primarily self-employed, visual, media, and craft-based artists derive income through various revenue streams. It is extremely rare for a single source of revenue to provide enough income to live on. It is a common practice for artists to occupy several roles, including but not limited to: creation, sales, instruction, mentorship, consultancy, speaking, curation, writing, and working for art institutions and organizations. This leads to a mixture of royalties and fees paid, sales, and wages from additional part-time jobs, such as teaching in universities or working for galleries. Many artists and cultural workers supplement their arts incomes with labour in other sectors, which often involves low-paid and/or precarious gig-work.

– According to 2016 Census data, there are 726,600 cultural workers, representing 4% of the overall labour force. This includes over 158,000 artists living and working in Canada, representing more workers than in automotive manufacturing and utilities;

– The median income of Canadian visual artists is $20,000, which is 54% lower than the median income of all workers. 66% of Canadian visual artists are self-employed, compared to only 12% of all Canadian workers;

– Of the 21,100 visual artists in Canada,16% of visual artists are Indigenous, Black, or racialized. Indigenous, Black, and racialized artists are underrepresented within Canadian cultural institutions both as presenting artists, and within executive management positions and boards. Meanwhile COVID-19 transmission has disproportionately impacted Black, racialized, and low-income communities;

– The 2016 Census revealed that Indigenous, Black, and other racialized artists earn significantly less income than their non-Indigenous/non-racialized counterparts. Indigenous, and Black and racialized artists earn a median income of 68 cents and 72 cents, respectively, for every $1 for non-Indigenous/Black/racialized artists.

Overview of recommendations
We support the recommendations made by the Canadian Arts Coalition, and the recommendations made by Galeries Ontario/Ontario Galleries.  Additionally, we recommend that the Federal Government:

1. Modernize the Employment Insurance program;

2. Advance the Canada Council for the Arts’ 2021-26 Strategic Plan by investing $2M for the creation of a high-access Micro-Grant program for artists;

3. Create a new program at Canadian Heritage to encourage and support entrepreneurship among visual artists;

4. Amend the Copyright Act to include an Artist’s Resale Right as an economic marketplace solution for individual artists.

Read the full brief.

Support for Residential School Survivors and their Families

We know that Indigenous Nations and communities are grieving. Although genuine action is required to truly reconcile our past, Canada as a nation continually fails to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, and to the Calls to Justice of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. 

These losses are a reminder of the atrocities that Indigenous Peoples have experienced, and the intergenerational trauma that continues today. As an organization that counts Indigenous artists among our board, staff, members, partners, and collaborators, we call on the federal government to carry out the Calls to Action without further delay. 

CARFAC aims to serve all visual artists from coast to coast to coast, and our work involves advocating for the rights of artists at all levels of government. We are committed to advocating for policy that strongly positions the rights and freedoms of Indigenous Peoples, and for public funding programs that are intended to improve representation and autonomy for Indigenous artists. In turn, we call on all artists and cultural leaders to confront our terrible history, to read and respond to the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the Calls to Justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Contact your MP and encourage them to support the Calls. 

Those of us who are settlers in this country cannot know the pain that First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples have dealt with, but we promise to support your voices, and stand beside you. 

Support resources for residential school survivors and their families: 

Crisis Services Canada: 1-833-456-4566 or text 45645.  Available 24/7 in English and French.

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 or Text a crisis responder at 686868  Available 24/7 in English and French

Native Youth Crisis Hotline: 1-877-209-1266

2021 Ontario Budget Consultations

In February 2021, on behalf of the province’s visual artists, CARFAC Ontario submitted to the Government of Ontario recommendations for the 2021 budget. While we applaud the steps that the government has taken to provide relief to the arts sector, we remain highly concerned by the absence of support for individual artists. As such, we recommended that that the Government of Ontario, as part of the 2021 budget: 

1. Establish a $10m fund specifically to support Indigenous artists and cultural leaders 

This fund will provide much-needed economic stimulation within Indigenous communities and will help to address the severe income disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists. 

2. Invest an additional $25m annually at the Ontario Arts Council

This funding should be provided to increase the Council’s base budget, be directed at discretion the of the Council with a focus on identified priority groups, not be restricted to major cultural institutions nor organizations, and be available to individual artists without whom major cultural institutions and organizations would be irrelevant.  

3. Create a high-access, rapid-response fund for individual artists and self-employed arts workers 

This fund should be open to artists and cultural leaders working in any discipline and prioritize those who identify as members of equity-seeking groups. Guidelines and eligibility criteria for this fund should be flexible to accommodate the diversity of artistic approaches, and the unique needs of individual artists and arts workers. The application process should be simple, online, with fast review and response times. Artists who receive Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program income supports should retain those income supports in full if they receive a payment through this fund. This fund is essential for restoring cultural production and subsequent economic activity. 

4. Invest in PPE and HVAC upgrades

This investment should focus on small and mid-sized arts facilities. It will result in accelerating the return of tourism and the associated economic impact.  

5. Implement paid sick days for all workers

Providing a minimum of 14 paid sick days per year is crucial to stop the spread of COVID-19. 

The full brief is available here.

Artists Celebrate Announcement Regarding CERB Eligibility

Visual artists across Canada appreciate the tremendous work that the Federal Government has done to help our citizens in a time of great need. The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a devastating global crisis, and the government’s swift leadership and response has been remarkable.

We were concerned about the letters that many self-employed artists received in December 2020, asking them to pay back Canadian Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB) payments. In many cases, artists received these letters based on the Government’s lack of clarity about eligibility requirements. 

For several weeks, CARFAC Ontario joined artist unions and associations to advocate for change, and all of us at CARFAC are relieved by the Government’s announcement on February 9ththat self-employed individuals who applied for CERB and would have qualified based on their gross income will not be required to repay the benefit, provided they also met all other eligibility requirements

Some details on this announcement are available here, and we are sure there will be further information to come. We know that some outstanding issues may still exist, but news on this change in policy will provide a solution, and offer peace of mind, to the majority of artists that we have heard from on this issue. We thank the Government for listening to our concerns and making changes that will assist many artists from coast to coast to coast.


Les artistes en arts visuels de partout au Canada reconnaissent le travail remarquable accompli par le gouvernement fédéral afin d’aider les Canadiennes et les Canadiens durant cette période difficile. La pandémie de la COVID-19 a entraîné une crise mondiale dévastatrice, et le leadership et la réponse rapide du gouvernement a été remarquable. 

Cependant, les lettres envoyées en décembre par le gouvernement à de nombreux artistes autonomes leur demandant de rembourser leurs payements à la Prestation canadienne d’urgence (PCU) nous inquiétaient. Dans beaucoup de cas, les artistes ont reçu ces lettres en raison du manque de clarté de la part du gouvernement relatif aux critères d’admissibilité. 

Depuis plusieurs semaines, nous nous sommes joints à des syndicats et des associations d’artistes pour militer pour des changements. Nous sommes tous soulagés à CARFAC par la nouvelle annoncée le 9 février par le gouvernement : que les artistes autonomes qui ont fait une demande à la PCU et qui auraient été admissibles en fonction de leur revenu brut ne seront pastenus de rembourser la prestation, pourvu qu’ils répondent à tous les autres critères d’admissibilité.

Vous pouvez trouver certains détails de l’annonce ici et de plus amples renseignements seront sûrement à venir. Nous savons que vous pourriez encore avoir des problèmes non réglés, mais ce changement de politique va fournir une solution et offrir une tranquillité d’esprit pour la majorité des artistes qui ont partagé leurs préoccupations face à ce problème. Nous remercions le gouvernement d’avoir écouté nos préoccupations et d’avoir apporté des changements qui aideront les artistes de partout au pays.

Positioning the Arts as a Key Economic Driver in COVID-19 Recovery

In August 2020, CARFAC Ontario collaborated with CARFAC National in preparing and submitting a brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance for the 2021 Pre-Budget Consultations. 

Since we know that the sustainability of arts and culture sector in Canada, and that positioning the arts as a key economic driver in COVID-19 recovery efforts, requires urgent actions to increase equity and inclusion, we recommended that the Federal Government: 

1. Implement a Guaranteed Basic Income program for all Canadian citizens; 

2. Invest $12 million annually at the Canada Council for the Arts to support artists and cultural leaders identifying as Indigenous, Black, racialized, and members of equity-seeking groups; 

3. Invest $1 million annually at the Canada Council for the Arts to provide rapid-response micro-grants for individual artists;

4. Amend the Copyright Act to include an Artist’s Resale Right as an economic marketplace solution for individual artists. 

For details and additional context on our recommendations, please read the full text, below,
or click here to view the PDF version

For more information, please contact Jason Samilski, Managing Director, CARFAC Ontario at 

Positioning the Arts as a Key Economic Driver in COVID-19 Recovery 

While COVID-19 has presented immense challenges and has caused significant damage to the arts sector in Canada, this crisis offers a profound  opportunity to consider how we resource and manage our cultural ecosystem, as bold changes to current structures are absolutely essential for survival of arts and culture in Canada.

A snapshot of the arts in Canada 

– According to 2016 Census data, there are 726,600 cultural workers, representing 4% of the overall labour force. This includes over 158,000 artists living and working in Canada, representing more workers than in automotive manufacturing and utilities; 

– Indigenous, Black, and racialized artists are also underrepresented within Canadian cultural institutions both as presenting artists, and within management, executive positions, and boards. Meanwhile COVID-19 transmission has disproportionately impacted Black, racialized, and low-income communities. 

– The median income of Canadian visual artists is $20,000, which is 54% lower than the median income of all workers. 66% of Canadian visual artists are self-employed, compared to only 12% of all Canadian workers. Of the 21,100 visual artists in Canada, 16% of visual artists are Indigenous, Black, or racialized;

– The 2016 Census also revealed that Indigenous, Black, and other racialized artists earn significantly less income than their non-Indigenous/non-racialized counterparts. Indigenous, and Black and racialized artists earn a median income of 68 cents and 72 cents, respectively, for every $1 for non-Indigenous/Black/racialized artists;

– A survey of 500 artists from all disciplines between March 30 and April 5, 2020 found that an estimated $11.1 Million total income has been lost or is at-risk due to COVID-19, including $22,253 average income lost or at-risk, per artist.

1. Implement a Guaranteed Basic Income program for Canadian citizens

We recommend the implementation of a Guaranteed Basic Income program for all Canadian citizens, permanent residents, and refugees over the age of 18, that: 

  • Is income-tested, not means-tested; 
  • Provides $2,000/month to enable all citizens to live a dignified, healthy, and engaged life; 
  • Is intended to alleviate the dehumanizing and economically unsustainable conditions associated with current social programs. As self-employed workers, many artists do not qualify for EI or CPP, while those on other forms of social assistance are often trapped in poverty;
  • Is designed in conjunction with other support structures (i.e. disability, senior, and child benefits);
  • Does not entail cuts, nor compromise increases to, public funding for the arts sector; and
  • Can be evaluated after 18-24 months with the intention of identifying improvements and modifications for continuation. 

A Guaranteed Basic Income program for all citizens will improve economic conditions for the country’s most vulnerable, and it will stimulate growth by ensuring Canadians are meaningfully engaged in the economy in ways that capitalize on their skill sets and capacities. It will significantly improve conditions for Canadian artists given that artists are often amongst the country’s most vulnerable workers, and many have fallen through the cracks with relief programs such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). 

We anticipate that artists and cultural workers will require income support for up to 2 years as we recover from COVID, but we recommend a Basic Income as a long-term program. This program will be critical given the current inequality experienced by Indigenous, Black, racialized, and other marginalized artists. 

Artists who were successful in receiving CERB have widely reported that the benefit has resulted in significantly increased financial stability, and for many, it has represented a time of great productivity and creative incubation. We are confident that financially stable artists are better positioned to contribute to our country’s domestic economy, and they help make Canada more competitive through our global contributions and cultural exports.

2. Invest $12 Million annually to the Canada Council for the Arts, to support artists and cultural leaders identifying as Indigenous, Black, racialized, and members of equity-seeking groups 

This fund should be: 

  • Administered by the Canada Council, in addition to their current budget, through two distinct funding envelopes:
    • Project grants for individual artists working in any discipline
    • Project and operating grants for small groups, collectives, and unincorporated initiatives, with annual budgets under $200,000, that are ineligible to access core funding through current Canada Council programs. These grants should focus on resourcing organizational development activities, capacity-building, and creating fair wages for staff and artist leaders. These grants should not preclude recipients from simultaneously applying for and receiving project grants from other sections at the Council.
  • Designed in a way that prioritizes accessibility and the removal of barriers for applicants throughout all phases of engaging with the Council. This includes, but is not limited to, a simplified application process, increased flexibility with eligible project activities and expenses, more staff support for applicants, and additional support for applicants identifying as deaf and disabled.  

This fund will develop sustainable operations within marginalized communities, which is currently under-resourced or non-existent. An investment that accelerates inclusion and diversifies representation and participation in the arts is imperative to sustain and grow the economic impacts the sector provides, particularly given that Statistics Canada indicates: 

  • Indigenous populations are growing at twice the national population rate; 
  • Nearly 22% of the population is foreign-born;
  • By 2036, People of Colour are projected to be about a third of the population; and
  • 92% of Canadians believe arts experiences are a valuable way of bringing together people from different languages and cultural traditions.

Our sector is highly developed in terms of artistic excellence and public engagement, but racialized and marginalized artists and organizations still face substantial barriers to economic stability, and workforce representation and accountability, which has only been amplified during the COVID pandemic. A thriving arts and cultural sector must include more opportunities for cultural diversity and inclusion, which requires better financial support and organizational infrastructure. We share this perspective with the natural world: more diverse ecosystems are essential for growth and the sustainability of life.

This recommendation entails a modest investment to help combat systemic racism and significantly improve access to equity and inclusion in the arts sector. This is critical to sustain, and amplify, the economic impacts contributed by the arts and culture sector.

3. Invest $1 Million annually to the Canada Council for the Arts to provide rapid-response micro-grants for individual artists

This fund should be: 

  • Administered by Canada Council for the Arts, in addition to their current budget;  
  • Intended to provide micro-grants up to $2,000 for artists working in any discipline;  
  • Delivered through a highly accessible and short application process, to reduce barriers;
  • Administered efficiently by employing a simplified adjudication rubric commensurate with smaller grant amounts to reduce time needed for evaluation and send responses to applicants.  

Investing in artistic production and professional development in this way will allow for increased risk tolerance resulting in artists and projects being supported that might not otherwise secure support through other avenues. It will catalyze new and innovative ideas that might not be a good fit for larger grant amounts. It will also allow artists to respond quickly and in a timely fashion to current (and rapidly changing) social, cultural, environmental, economic, and community situations. 

Micro-grant programs offer funds for artists to develop their practice in a diverse range of projects, including travel, mentorship, research, attending workshops and conferences, or a combination of these activities. It can also include expenses for art supplies, equipment and software purchases, and legal or financial advice. These activities are more suitable to a short application and review process, and this small but meaningful investment will help artists rebuild their capacity and careers during COVID recovery.

4. Amend the Copyright Act to include an Artist’s Resale Right as an economic marketplace solution for individual artists

The Artist’s Resale Right (ARR), or droit de suite, is a market-based mechanism that entitles visual artists to share in the ongoing commercial success of their work. It is common for visual art to appreciate in value over time. Canadian artists do not currently benefit financially from further secondary sales of their work, even though its ongoing value is intrinsically tied to the reputation and prominence of that artist. We recommend that when an artwork is resold through an auction house or commercial gallery that the artist should receive a royalty from those profits. 

First legislated in France in 1920, over 90 countries world-wide have adopted the ARR. Legislating the ARR in Canada would allow artists to benefit from domestic sales as well as reciprocal arrangements with the other countries where ARR is already implemented.  When artists are paid royalties from these sales, the Canadian government will collect taxes on domestic and foreign royalty collection. We recommend that 5% of all eligible secondary sales of artwork sold for at least $1,000 be paid to the artist, and royalty collection and distribution should be managed through a copyright collecting society, for administrative simplicity. CARFAC has a detailed proposal for the ARR on our website. 

ARR allows artists to achieve a more sustainable income based on the value of their own work. The positive impact of the ARR has already been documented in other countries. In 2014, a study in the UK reported that 81% of British artists that have been paid ARR have used the payments to cover living expenses, 73% use it to pay for art supplies, and 63% use it to pay for studio space. 

Indigenous artists will have the most to gain, as First Nations, Metis, and Inuit artists are among the most exploited by commercial resale markets. Indigenous art is highly valued in Canada and internationally, and it is common for dealers and wholesalers to purchase work directly from an artist at bargain prices, only to resell it for substantially more. However, the artists see none of that profit. Similarly, the ARR has had a tremendous impact on Indigenous artists in Australia, where they have had the royalty since 2010, and $8.5 Million (AUD) has been paid to nearly 2,000 artists. Nearly half of the recipients are living artists, and over 64% are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander artists. 

The implementation of ARR in Canada also provides greater financial independence for senior artists, often living in precarity. In 2010, it was reported that senior visual artists have median annual incomes of $5,000. Most art sold in the secondary market was made by artists who are now seniors.

In 2019, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage recommended the ARR be established in Canada. They acknowledged that implementing the Artists’ Resale Right will help artists maximize their contribution to economic growth and productivity, without the need to increase public funding, as royalties are generated from commercial sales rather than public funding or tax collection. 

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

Submission to Ontario Government Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs

In June 2020, CARFAC Ontario’s Managing Director, Jason Samilski, presented a deputation to the Government of Ontario Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs regarding the impacts of COVID-19 on the arts and culture sector. Our deputation, as well as the written brief submitted, included a strong focus on the pandemic’s economic impacts on artists and cultural leaders representing equity-seeking groups. Our key recommendations were as follows: 

1) Immediately invest $5m into the Indigenous Culture Fund;

2) Increase the base level of funding to the Ontario Arts Council to $80m so that it is in line with the 2021 funding level set in 2017;

3) Ensure that artists and cultural leaders representing equity groups and marginalized communities are positioned at the forefront of recovery and rebuilding efforts. We recommended doing this by engaging stakeholders representing these communities to co-design a long-term stabilization fund so that the arts can not only continue to drive tourism and economic growth, but will provide increased economic benefit through the reduction of barriers, and the increase of inclusion, equity, and diversity.

Please click here to view the full written submission. 

Addressing Anti-Black Racism in the Arts

CARFAC Ontario stands in solidarity with the Black community across Turtle Island in sharing grief and outrage at the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, and far too many other Black Americans and Canadians at the hands of the police. 

In the arts sector, CARFAC Ontario acknowledges the history of systemic and institutional racism and white supremacy that has, and continues to, disproportionately exclude Black artists. We recognize that many systems in place are not designed to engage or support Black artists, and perpetually fail the Black community. At the same time we acknowledge that CARFAC Ontario has participated in, and actively contributed to upholding, these systems.  

This new decade has brought with it new strategic directions for our organization. CARFAC Ontario is committed to working to change antiquated systems, and to work in collaboration with Black artists and the Black community to advance equity and increase representation of Black artists in the sector. This includes, but is not limited to: 

  • Prioritizing advocacy led by, in collaboration with, and intended to improve outcomes for Black artists, Indigenous artists, and artists of colour. This means focusing on improving cultural infrastructure and increasing equity through changes to public arts funding systems, gallery representation, and, in an arts context, addressing systemic issues like inequalities of income, housing, employment, education, amongst other domains;
  • Highlighting research pertaining to the representation of BIPOC artists within the sector;
  • Developing and expanding programs and initiatives such as high-access legal support, mentorship, resources and publications, and outreach for BIPOC artists and communities.

We know that the arts has the capacity, and indeed, the responsibility, to address systemic inequalities, and must be a leader in creating a more just society. CARFAC Ontario is positioned and prepared to contribute to this leadership.

Recommendations to Canadian Heritage

For more information please contact Jason Samilski, Managing Director,
CARFAC Ontario at jason [at] 

For a PDF version, please click here.

May 20, 2020 

The Honourable Steven Guilbeault
Minister of Canadian Heritage
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada 
K1A 0A6

Dear Minister,    

I am writing on behalf of an ad-hoc coalition of Canadian Arts Service Organizations regarding Phase 2 of the $500 million Emergency Support Fund for Cultural, Heritage, and Sport Organizations.  

Firstly, we are truly grateful for the creation of this fund, and we thank you for not only providing much needed relief, but for disbursing funds rapidly during this time of crisis.  

We understand that, while Phase 1 funds are being directed at current clients of Canadian Heritage and its portfolio organizations, Phase 2 funding will be available to initiatives that do not currently receive support from the Federal Government. This is excellent news and will surely play a pivotal role in the very survival of many small cultural initiatives.  We strongly encourage that Phase 2 dissemination prioritizes initiatives led by and serving equity-seeking groups. To this end, decisions around the administration of these funds can, however inadvertently, preclude applications from many culturally important arts initiatives, and can disproportionately exclude those working within marginalized and diverse communities. Barriers that applicants may face include, but are not limited to: 

●      Requirements for initiatives to be operating as legally incorporated entities;

●      Complexities of application processes (impacting applicants experiencing literacy barriers, newcomers, and those new to digital granting portals); 

●      Restrictive guidelines and eligible activities which might not be applicable to all models and methods of delivering activity; 

●      Access to deaf and disability supports in completing applications; 

●      Access to steady internet (impacting artists in remote regions, low-income artists without home internet); 

●      Access to sufficient technological devices (i.e. online portals can be difficult to navigate using cell phones; libraries, which are closed, offer a key internet access point to low-income Canadians);

●      Lack of support in navigating guidelines, writing and submitting applications; 

●      Lack of operational and staff funding to support the development and completion of time-intensive applications;

●      Lack of outreach within hard-to-reach communities (many cultural leaders will not be aware of the opportunity to receive support);  

●      Alienation from major funding programs, and mistrust of institutions which results in a lack of direct personal assistance and advice.  

To reduce barriers and increase access to small arts groups and initiatives, we recommend that the disbursement of Phase 2 of the Emergency Support Fund for Cultural, Heritage and Sport Organizations include:  

●      Prioritizing initiatives led by, and serving, equity-seeking groups with a focus on those who identify as Indigenous, Black, People of Colour, official language minority communities, newcomer, deaf and disabled, and LGBTQ; 

●      Prioritizing initiatives led-by, and serving, those affected by systemic barriers including but not limited to mental health issues, poverty, lack of education, precarious employment, involvement with the justice system;

●      Prioritizing small artist-led initiatives with annual budgets under $200,000, that do not receive sustainable funding, and are not current clients of federal government funding agencies nor its partners[1]

●      A portion of Phase 2 funds dedicated exclusively to the above criteria. 

To accomplish this, we recommend that Canadian Heritage employ a third-party recommender model and engage local arts organizations as advisors. These are arts organizations that can provide input into criteria and guidelines, outreach within their own communities, identify prospective applicants most in need, support artists to develop and submit applications, and recommend to Canadian Heritage or to its partners which applicants should receive funding. We recommend that Canadian Heritage leverage these organizations’ community connections, and local expertise to inform the process and reach intended recipients. 

Additionally, many arts organizations may be able to offer a range of supports to recipients throughout project delivery. Centering the funding process within the community level will increase access for applicants and will ensure that these funds support many high-impact grassroots initiatives. 

This “third-party recommender” model is successfully employed by other arts funders; the Ontario Arts Council, for example, engages third-party recommender organizations to assist them with visual, media, theatre, and literary arts grants. 

As Canadian Arts Service Organizations, we offer our full collaboration in developing and implementing such a model in an efficient and timely fashion, and we welcome a meeting with you and your staff, and with partner agencies to begin the process. We are prepared to provide support to Canadian Heritage and its partners throughout the entire process including the creation of a final report to publicly share the department’s commitment to equity in the arts. 

In these uncertain times, getting this process right is critical, and, by implementing simple strategies, we know that we can ultimately increase diversity and representation in the arts, and ensure that more artists and communities can participate, and see themselves reflected in, Canada’s vibrant cultural ecosystem. 


Jason Samilski 
Managing Director, CARFAC Ontario 

April Britski
National Executive Director, CARFAC

Ben Donoghue
Director, Media Arts Network of Ontario

Maegen Black
Executive Director, Canadian Crafts Federation

charles c smith
Executive Director, Cultural Pluralism in the Arts Movement Ontario 

Anne Bertrand
Executive Director, Artist-Run Centres and Collectives Conference / La conférence des collectifs et des centres d’artistes autogérés (ARCA)

Dermot Wilson
Executive Director, Nipissing Region Curatorial Collective 


Achieving Equity or Waiting for Godot 
(research by Cultural Pluralism in the Arts Movement Ontario) 

Open Letter from Grassroots Arts Initiatives  (CARFAC Ontario)

COVID-19 Impact Survey
(Artist-Run Centres and Collectives Conference)   


Irene Cheung, Policy Advisor, Office to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Julie Dabrusin, MP Toronto-Danforth, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Alexandre Boulerice, MP Rosemount–La-Petite-Patrie, Critic for Canadian Economic Development for Quebec Regions, Canadian Heritage, Deputy Critic for Environment and Climate Change

Peter Julian, MP New Westminster-Burnaby, House Leader, NDP Spokesperson on Finance, Deputy Spokesperson on Canadian Heritage

Simon Brault, Director and CEO, Canada Council for the Arts

Carolyn Warren, Director General, Arts Granting Programs Canada Council for the Arts  

[1]Artist-Run Centres and Collectives Conference and her allies circulated a survey to assess the impact of COVID-19 on artist-run centres and other small organizations in the first 30-day period of closure due to physical-distancing measures. Artist-run centres are typically very small organizations, two‐thirds of them with annual budgets less than $250,000, and account for just 10% of the $146 million in public funding received by visual arts organizations that report to CADAC (Canadian Art Data/Données sur les arts au Canada). On average, survey respondents indicated that the total value of their anticipated loss of earned revenue was between $1,000 and $5,000. On average, respondents indicated that this amount represents between <10% and 25% of their organization’s overall revenue. 

Support for Grassroots Arts Initiatives

Letter sent April 23, 2020


The Honourable Steven Guilbeault
Minister of Canadian Heritage
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
K1A 0A6

The Honorable Lisa MacLeod
Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries
438 University Avenue
6th Floor
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
M5G 2K8


We, the undersigned, represent a diverse spectrum of small, grassroots, and community-based arts initiatives, and we are writing to draw your attention to the vital role of our work, especially at this time, as many of us are focused specifically on working with marginalized communities, and with some of our most vulnerable citizens. We are community organizers on the front lines, and often the most accessible point of personal support for artists and communities, and we fill an important gap by engaging groups that have been historically excluded within conventional cultural institutions. For example, research from Canadian Art (2015) found that only 11% of solo exhibitions at major Canadian public art galleries centered on non-white artists. They also found that gallery management in Canada is disproportionately dominated by white arts professionals. Meanwhile, our initiatives are often led-by, and specifically geared to engaging non-white artists, and, in addition, many of us focus on engaging those identifying as LGBTQ, disabled, and those experiencing systemic barriers to participating in the arts.

We fully support all responsive funding programs intended to stabilize the arts and cultural sector, as well as charities and nonprofit organizations, and of course we support all programs providing emergency relief to individuals facing sudden income losses. However, as unincorporated, or smaller arts initiatives often working with small project grants, fuelled by small donations, and volunteer hours, yet playing a vital role in the arts ecosystem often without any sustainable funding, we encourage policy-makers and public funding agencies to ensure that our work is not overlooked in the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As we come together as a sector to weather the storm, we fear that, without immediate and accessible support during, and after this COVID-19 pandemic, many of our groups will be all but wiped out, which would result in major gaps in the cultural ecosystem, leave many communities in disarray, and ultimately push many vulnerable citizens further into isolation.

We are creative, resilient, and we have proven track records creating big impacts with small investment. So we ask you, at this pivotal time, to acknowledge our work, and–in addition to the support for established arts organizations, cultural institutions, nonprofits and charities, as well as all the help going to businesses–make sure that we, too, are able to access the basic resources to continue operating in our unique and intimate roles in communities, and for the artists who need us now more than ever.

Thank you,

CARFAC Ontario