A conversation with Alain Pineau

2008.10.22

“Thank you for your invitation as I look forward to touring the country. We had a dress rehearsal in Ottawa last week but the first real regional forum we’re holding is here in Vancouver.

I’m here essentially to unveil a well kept secret in the public sector. The Canadian Conference of the Arts is almost as old as I am. It was founded in 1945 by a group of people who wanted to make representations at a federal level concerning arts and culture. It has a very impressive track record. It lead to the creation of Canada Council in 1957 and that’s when the conference became a conference. Before it was called the Canada Council for the Arts. It has also lead to a number of legislation and issues regarding arts and culture at the federal level, the latest creations or offspring of the Canadian Council for The Arts is the program Arts Smarts which you may have heard about. It also lead to the creation of the Cultural of Human Resources Council and the creation of the International Network of Cultural Advocacy.

The Canadian Conference of the Arts is an unique organization not only in Canada but as far as I know in the world because of the nature of its membership. It covers all arts disciplines. We are an umbrella organization. We have umbrella organizations who are part of our membership, whether for opera, for orchestras, for theatres, we have unions, we have dance, we have music, we have every discipline possible. It’s open to all in the sense that anybody who has a stake in arts and culture is invited to join and support the work that we do, and that’s most important and that’s part of my objective, to raise the profile of the Canadian Conference of the Arts and to convince as many people as possible to add their names to the list of people who support the work that we do.

We describe ourselves as a National Forum for Arts and Culture and open to all. Our task is to form the debate about all policy issues that have an impact on arts and culture at the federal level. We have to reach out because culture advocacy, which is part of our mandate, starts here, it starts at the city, it starts in communities, and then it has to percolate all the way up and that’s something we need to address over time if we want to become more efficient.

So we publish about thirty-five to fifty bulletins a year on various issues, we monitor what is going on in Ottawa, in parliament, in heritage, and in other departments, we follow what’s going on in finance, in justice, we are also building our capacity to do research on basic issues that effect the whole sector. Our perspective is always stay broad, it’s the whole ecology of arts and culture.

We are in the process of developing relationships with universities We have a good solid relationship here with Simon Fraser University and Professor Kathleen Murray. For example we published the result of a research project last spring called, ‘From the Creative Economy to the Creative Ecology’. We did that study with Simon Fraser University in parallel with the International Forum that Heritage had commissioned from the Conference Board. We have other projects under way in preparation for the forums we are holding in the next couple of months. One is looking at how in other countries the arts and culture sector organizes itself to put its items on the public agenda.

And then there is the advocacy role. The Canadian Conference of the Arts recognizes that arts and culture hold our individual and collective identity, in the education of our children, in our economy, in the integration of our communities, and in our quality of life. The Canadian Conference of the Arts believes access to arts and culture can’t be limited to the privileged but should be for all Canadians. The Canadian Conference of the Arts favors an open national dialogue based on Canadian literacy and on the cultural diversity which categorizes Canada as a nation. The Canadian Conference of the Arts presents open and informed debate on all policy issues which affect the cultural life as Canadian Citizens. And finally The Canadian Conference for the Arts maintains, in cooperation with other levels of government and the private sector, that the federal government has an important role to play in regards to Canadian artists and to the cultural sector. That particular value is very important.

What the Canadian Conference of the Arts is not, is a lobby. I recognize there’s no legal distinction in this country in lobbying and advocacy, but we think that there should be one and we advocate for there being one. The difference we see here is we are a public interest group, we’re not a specialized interest group. When the Canadian Conference of the Arts speaks its arguments are always based on the common good. Everything we do is public.”

A conversation with Alain Pineau
Excerpted from a transcription by Shaheeda Shariff