A conversation with Alain Pineau

Canada’s National Forum for Arts and Culture

The Canadian Conference of the Arts 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. 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 where education and arts meet together. 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 work mainly at the federal level, but obviously we have to reach out because the culture advocacy we are part of starts at the root, it 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 will have to address over time if we want to become more efficient.

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, in finance, in justice, but in other departments also. 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 Catherine 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. The other piece of research, essentially on the same topic, is  looking at how changes in the model of governments in our societies over the past twenty years have affected all the not for profit organizations, and the impact it has had.

Everything we do is made public immediately. We consider ourselves a public service and everything we publish is made available immediately on our website. We do this research in order to support the work we do in organizing debates and participating in debates. All the research we do targets either a debate we organize or a debate in which we participate. Our advocacy role is based on five values.

The Canadian Conference of the Arts recognizes the important contribution that arts and culture makes to our individual and collective identity, to the education of our children, to our economy, to the integration of our communities, and to our quality of life.

The Canadian Conference of the Arts believes access to arts and culture should not be limited to the privileged but should be for all Canadians.

The Canadian Conference of the Arts favours an open national dialogue based on Canadian linguistic plurality and on the cultural diversity which categorizes Canada as a nation.

The Canadian Conference of the Arts favours an 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 regard 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.

Our cultural sector is extremely rich. There are hundreds of organizations at all levels. The problem is most of those organizations are striving to survive and they are always in the reactive mode, and most of the time reacting from their own perspective, which is normal. They look at it from visual arts or from writers or from film makers and the overall picture is lost. The common interest, the identification of what is common to all of us, the common good perspective, is lost.

The message of what we give to society is something we do not emphasize enough. Artists and creators and cultural workers make contributions in many areas of our society whether its in education, in health, in social integration, even in finding community, and there is an important component we have to show very clearly and that is the contribution the cultural sector makes to the economy.

It is much more difficult to advocate on the basis of the intrinsic value of the arts because this is a personal experience. This is something that someone has experienced or not. And we have to try and expose as many people as possible to this experience as we can.

A conversation with Alain Pineau
National Director of the Canadian Conference of the Arts, 2008.10.22