Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on 
Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Issue No. 37 - Evidence - Meeting of January 31, 2018


OTTAWA, Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade met this day at 4:30 p.m. to study the impact and utilization of Canadian culture and arts in Canadian foreign policy and diplomacy, and other related matters.

Senator A. Raynell Andreychuk (Chair) in the chair.

[English]

The Chair: Honourable senators, we are studying the impact and utilization of Canadian culture and arts in Canadian foreign policy and diplomacy and other related matters. Before I turn to our witness, I would ask the senators to identify themselves, starting on my right.

Senator Dawson: Dennis Dawson, Quebec.

Senator Greene: Stephen Greene, Nova Scotia.

[Translation]

Senator Cormier: René Cormier from New Brunswick.

Senator Saint-Germain: Raymonde Saint-Germain from Quebec.

Senator Massicotte: Paul Massicotte from Montreal.

[English]

Senator Cordy: Jane Cordy, Nova Scotia.

Senator Bovey: Senator Bovey from Manitoba.

The Chair: I’m Senator Andreychuk from Saskatchewan, the chair.

We are pleased to have before us today Mr. Simon Brault, Director and Chief Executive Officer, Director’s Office, Canada Council for the Arts.

I will make two comments. We were going to have an in camera session, but we will have to defer that until tomorrow. We will have an update in light of the vote and for that reason we have to terminate this meeting at 5:15 p.m.. We have to be very efficient. I have talked to Mr. Brault and he is kind and understanding about that.

I will ask you to make your presentation. Again, I apologize that we are going to curtail a bit, which may necessitate further contact with you and perhaps a further appearance down the line. We’re very privileged to have you here today. Welcome to the committee.

Simon Brault, Director and Chief Executive Officer, Director’s Office, Canada Council for the Arts: Thank you very much and thank you for the invitation. What I suggest is that I not take my full six minutes. I will shorten my presentation for the possibility of having more questions and, maybe, going deeper into the topic.

One thing I would say right away is we are constantly debating the notions of cultural diplomacy and notions of soft power. More and more we believe at Canada Council that we should reframe the discussion and talk more about arts and culture in the context of public diplomacy.

The reason we are making that distinction is that, obviously, over the years some countries — and I won’t mention any here — became very effective in terms of soft power and are investing millions of dollars, and others are arguing that cultural diplomacy is more important. But in both cases there is a sense that arts and culture should be at the service of public policy, at the service of commerce or at the service of propaganda.

So I think more and more that when a country is trying to establish its strategy in terms of public diplomacy, there are many components, many elements and many dimensions of public diplomacy, and arts and culture should be one of those dimensions for many reasons.

One of the very important reasons is that they are carriers of arts and culture, of values, of symbols, and have the capacity to create trusting spaces between people and individuals. Arts and culture, beyond their immediate meaning, also have a huge halo effect on many other considerations, namely commerce and sharing of knowledge.

[Translation]

With regard to public diplomacy and the role of the arts and culture, it is time for Canada to adopt a more sophisticated model, involving much stronger coordination by the federal government of the stakeholders in the arts and culture sector. I am thinking specifically of Canadian Heritage, Global Affairs, the Canada Council for the Arts, Telefilm Canada and the NFB. A number of institutions play an important role. Developing shared knowledge among the partners is becoming increasingly essential in order to take advantage of opportunities.

[English]

It’s not always the case that an artist or an arts organization has a proposal that could fit in the context of public diplomacy, but it happens a lot and is happening more and more. My view is that sometimes artists can convey messages and content that politicians or diplomats cannot convey. I will give one example before concluding.

Some months ago, there was a presentation in Washington at the Organization of American States of an exhibition curated by the Canada Council called Punctured Landscape. It was a very challenging exhibition dealing with different moments of Canadian history — notably, the residential schools and a lot of other very challenging moments in our history.

The exhibition was presented to the countries of the Americas. As we know, a lot of those countries also have their own issues with civil rights, human rights and all that. It was fantastic for Canada to be able to be in a conversation where we were not lecturing anyone about how great we are, but we were debating topics that are of common interest.

The way the artists were dealing with those topics was so engaging that I’m sure many of the conversations that happened between the people of these different countries went far beyond what would have otherwise been a very politically structured conversation.

[Translation]

The arts and culture have tremendous power to further cultural diplomacy objectives. We should be investing more in this as a country.

[English]

I would welcome your questions. Thank you.

The Chair: Excellent job. You have framed what we are supposed to do and you are giving us an opportunity to explore that from the parliamentary perspective, so I very much appreciate that.

[Translation]

Senator Massicotte: Thank you for joining us this afternoon. We very much appreciate it, especially in view of your experience and professional qualifications. We will benefit from your judgment on these matters.

I looked at the information about the Council, which explains the criteria and direction for the support it provides. Could we have a list of who received funding and how much? That information should be public.

Mr. Brault: That is a very long list.

Senator Massicotte: What about those who have received more than a million dollars in the past three or four years?

Mr. Brault: That is a short list. The Canada Council for the Arts provides assistance and grants to about 16,000 artists, groups and organizations every year. The assistance is provided in the form of grants for projects or operations. It can also be in the form of payments to authors whose books are held in public libraries, or as prizes. So the support is provided in various ways. Every year, we publish the details of the grants we award, and we will continue to do so.

You have to understand that, in recent years, the Council has gone from 146 programs to just six. One of these six programs is specifically designed to help artists or the best Canadian arts companies develop their international presence. There is a program specifically devoted to that objective. The Canada Council for the Arts is increasing its funding for international projects from $10 million to $20 million by 2021. This amount is either laughable or considerable, depending on how you look at it.

Senator Massicotte: May I have a list of all those who received over one million dollars in the last two or three years?

Mr. Brault: Very few organizations receive more than a million dollars from the Canada Council for the Arts, perhaps 20. That list can easily be obtained and we can provide it to you.

Senator Massicotte: You mentioned opportunities earlier and gave us an example. You mentioned the six formal criteria that appear on your website. What are your criteria though? In your experience and in your judgement, what constitutes an attractive opportunity? What is your thought process?

Mr. Brault: For any Canada Council for the Arts grant, the decisive criterion, the most important one, is always the artistic quality and originality of the artists’ work. The projects are evaluated by other artists and specialists to ensure that when we award a grant from public monies, we are supporting a project or organization that can rise to the top in the field.

Then there are other criteria that are much more closely related to the organization’s ability to reflect the country’s diversity, to interact with the public, and finally, criteria related to impact. Further, we consider the financial feasibility of the projects submitted to us. Internationally, the Canada Council almost always supports projects or companies that have already created something that has been well-received by Canadians, and that would like to launch their project internationally. In such cases, we look primarily at how solid the proposal is, the quality of the foreign partners, the quality of the festivals where the project will be presented, and the company’s ability to move forward with the project. These criteria pertain more to project impact and feasibility.

There are some fairly different criteria for each project, but as a rule the first criterion is quality and merit. We then compare the projects submitted and consider criteria related to the project’s impact and feasibility.

Senator Saint-Germain: Mr. Brault, I have to say that I am very impressed with what you have done at Culture Montréal, and I salute you for that work. I am very pleased to see you here.

Mr. Brault: Thank you.

Senator Saint-Germain: What I liked about your work at Culture Montréal is how you determined in practical terms what action to take, rather than deciding what should be done from a philosophical point of view. You made a difference and were very innovative, with the team that supported you, of course. This committee has heard some very interesting testimony, but some witnesses suggested that we should return to the approaches, methods, exhibitions and cultural centres that we saw in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, which were certainly very interesting. But in the current context of multiple opportunities and issues, including the development of technologies and new media, there is a strong interest in innovation, as there is in the budget and in creativity.

What might be some new ways of creating and innovating without rejecting what has already been done internationally to promote Canada and its various regions through the arts and culture?

Mr. Brault: That is a very good question. What is often confusing is that people say we are innovative because there is evolution in the arts, because we are creative. That is not always the case. A lot of people do theatre like the Greeks did thousands of years ago, and just about the same way. So they are still creating, but are not necessarily being innovative in the way they do theatre. People like Robert Lepage, for example, were innovative in theatre. They were not just creative, but also innovative.

In my opinion, there is a tremendous need for innovation in the arts community in Canada right now, that is, it must continue to be creative and find other models to reach wider audiences, and other models for collaboration and cooperation. With regard to digital media in particular, we can draw a parallel with what is happening in artificial intelligence in various Canadian cities. Researchers and specialists in artificial intelligence will all say that progress is quick when knowledge is shared quickly, when there is collaboration and people do not work in silos. In the arts and culture, there is still a strong obsession with competition in the various cultural fields. Many organizations work alone in their corner, and I think consolidation and collaboration are what we really need now.

To encourage this innovation, the Canada Council for the Arts has established a major digital investment fund, but it is only available for proposals that are for more than one organization. Instead of telling people we will help them become more competitive, we tell them we will help them on the condition that they immediately share with others the solutions they find and that they work increasingly openly.

The Canada Council for the Arts offers support for the daily operations of about 1,200 organizations across the country, and that is far too many. One day, some of these organizations will have to work together and merge. Much work has to be done to find new models and new ways of doing things. I think the next generation has very different ideas and ways of working from my generation, and we have to listen to them. When the Canada Council found out that its budget would be doubled in five years, one of its first commitments was to decide that 25 per cent of the new budget would go to first-time grant recipients in order to breathe new life and innovation into the arts system as a whole. This is happening now. Innovation is really a huge concern for the Canada Council.

Senator Saint-Germain: Thank you.

[English]

Senator Oh: Thank you, Mr. Brault.

Talking about cultural diplomacy, I was in Singapore recently, and I met with our High Commissioner, Lynn McDonald. We discussed cultural diplomacy, and she showed me a nice booklet about all of the international events happening in Singapore for Canada 150. The front page inside the book was about indigenous dance, and she told me that there are at least five events from Canada. They were so popular that the Singaporeans were calling in for tickets to go to the events. She told me that that brings up the awareness of Canada and the country, culture, education, music, everything, and she said that you guys had done a great job of working together with the overseas diplomatic corps. So I want to congratulate you, and I hope there will be more of these things happening.

Mr. Brault: Thank you. There will be more. I was recently in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong. As the CEO of the Canada Council, I’m on the International Advisory Board of the Hong Kong Arts Development Council, so I go to the region at least once a year. I can tell you that there is an immense appetite for Canadian content in that part of the world. In fact, it’s now a matter for Canada to make the right choices and to be very nimble in the way we do invest. There is a lot of curiosity about what is created in Canada, not only in terms of the artistic proposals, the shows, the performances and the music, but also in terms of our approach to cultural policy, to funding, and to the intersection between digital and the arts.

Right now, Canada is enjoying a lot of visibility, and I think as Canadians it’s for us to take advantage of that momentum and be present. As you know, those countries are enjoying a very rapid growth right now and in terms of their cultural offerings, what we do in Canada and what we propose would fit in many.

In Hong Kong right now they are building huge cultural districts with seven theatres and they are looking for content, and I think we can provide a lot of that content if we do our work correctly and if we understand that it has to be an authentic and true exchange and cultural diplomacy can do that. I agree with that.

[Translation]

Senator Cormier: Welcome, Mr. Brault. I also salute you for the outstanding work that the Canada Council for the Arts is doing right now. We talked about innovation and I think you have been very innovative in transforming this institution to make it more relevant than ever. I would even say that you embody the very notion of cultural diplomacy by serving as ambassador in other countries. Through your actions, you demonstrate how powerful a tool culture is in public diplomacy.

Without getting into specifics, let us suppose we had a cultural or public diplomacy strategy based on the arts and culture. How should the government go about guiding artists who play a role in diplomacy? What should the government consider and what might that mean for your programs, discussions and the initiatives that you create for artists?

Mr. Brault: Excellent question. I think the key to success is really anticipating what lies ahead. Many artists who work internationally are involved in projects or tours that last from two to ten years. Robert Lepage knows roughly where he will be in eight years. People like Robert Lepage have very long timeframes, whereas governments tend to work within fairly short timeframes. One of the most important things is to know in advance what role the government, Global Affairs and Canadian Heritage will play. It is easy to know that there is a biennial contemporary art exhibition in Venice because there has been one every two years for the past hundred years.

We have already started doing this; I have had meetings with the deputy ministers of Global Affairs and Canadian Heritage. We are starting to coordinate our calendars and to anticipate what lies ahead. When we know about events in advance, such as the Frankfurt Book Fair, a very important commercial, literary and cultural fair, everyone can do a certain part of the work. I think it is primarily a question of coordination and political will.

You have to remember of course that public diplomacy plays a different role at this time depending on the context. In some countries, we can use public diplomacy. We can even have a major cultural and artistic presence. Yet the potential economic benefits stretch over five to ten years. Certain markets are more mature, such as Europe, while others are developing rapidly, such as Asia and Latin America.

So we have to be familiar with countries’ geopolitical and economic situation. That can be achieved through coordination at a higher level. The Canada Council for the Arts has a strong interest in these aspects. We believe we can play an important role and are trying to do that right now by putting forward a framework for cooperation between Canadian Heritage and Global Affairs. I would say we are making progress. We are far behind certain countries, but well ahead of others. We are quite far behind the countries that have made massive investments, but I think we have been catching up in the past two years.

Finally, I would say that central coordination in Ottawa is very important. It is also extremely important for Canadian missions, embassies and consulates abroad to have the knowledge and financial means to support people on the ground. It is all well and good to make a decision in Ottawa, but when artists arrive in Buenos Aires, we have to be able to welcome them and promote them. Certain embassies around the world do that very well. When I go to other countries, I always pay a visit to our ambassadors and consuls. Every time, I learn that we could be doing ten or twenty times what we are already doing. All we need is to talk about it and get better organized.

There is tremendous potential for the arts and culture to play a huge role in public diplomacy, but we need more expertise, better coordination and more targeted investments. It is not so much a question of money but rather of the will and professional organization.

[English]

Senator Bovey: Mr. Brault, thank you so much for being with us. I not only applaud what you were doing in the Canada Council and prior to that, but I want to thank you for what you are doing on the international stage. And I happen to agree it’s time for the silos to come down.

I would hope that we could begin to change our language and not talk about subsidies or grants but talk about investments because, after all, the arts are a business like any other and investing in something that has such a positive return would be a better way to talk about it.

But when we talk about collaboration and sharing, you said in December that you felt Canada was 10 years behind other nations in light of some of our recent history. Last June, at the National Gallery of Canada’s Art, Canada and the World symposium you talked about who better to express, provoke, critique and inspire than our artists. And we know that John Ralston Saul often wrote about this and said that Canada’s “profile abroad is largely its culture.”

We know that artists feel international work is critically important for their careers. So I want to shift gears now. What do you think should be in a Canadian cultural diplomacy policy or framework, and do you think there are ways that we as a nation can be working more effectively with our connections through UNESCO, perhaps the work that is being done with refugees? Is there a way that the arts, perhaps using your phrase “soft diplomacy,” can create positive effects there?

Mr. Brault: That’s a very good question, thank you.

I think there are many paths that could be explored. Obviously the most traditional ones are there, participating in the big fairs in the world. There are platforms everywhere in the world where Canada could have a stronger, more visible and more impactful presence, and I think it’s important. That’s why I was talking about the notion of having a geopolitical understanding of what is happening in different regions in the world. In different regions of the world, there are debates on inclusion. It’s fascinating.

The most recent delegations I received in my office from France, Britain and Germany were all interested in how we deal in Canada with the question of human rights and inclusion. So it’s a big subject for a lot of countries. Canada can do a lot. At one point when you discuss inclusion or social justice, if you don’t bring into the mix the points of view of the artists and the cultural workers, you’re missing a dimension. Something is not working.

I think that we need much more imagination to see everywhere that arts and culture could contribute to advance one’s specific agenda. Those agendas are not only economic; they’re around inclusion and around peace.

You’re right. The agendas of UNESCO and other international organizations offer many different platforms to have a better Canadian presence. For Canada, we need to be clear on the image that we want to project worldwide. Who do we want to talk to in priority? Once we have clarity on that, we need to bring to the table universities, representatives from artistic organizations and things like that to see the different cards we can play to really communicate what we want and create that space of sharing with other nations.

I think Canada is known all over the world, mostly because of its most prominent artists, and it’s something we don’t build enough on. I think we can capitalize and leverage that much more than we do. We have everything to do it. It’s really a matter of putting it higher on the public agenda.

Senator Bovey: You talked about our foreign embassies or Canadian embassies abroad needing to be tooled with that knowledge. We’re looking forward, and it’s very easy to look forward by going backwards. We used to have cultural attachés in most if not all our embassies. We have some in some now.

Do you think that having cultural attachés is a way forward, or is there a more effective way that we should be retooling our embassies to be able to accommodate to the best advantage the arts organizations and artists who take our message abroad?

Mr. Brault: I think we need to have different approaches depending on the region of the world. What I saw is that in some countries where Canada is, we do have local people who are incredibly good bridgers between Canadian artists and local artists. Obviously when you talk about Paris and London, that’s another story. It really depends what the situation is. I don’t think that having some kind of a top-down, bureaucratically heavy solution of having cultural attachés everywhere is the way to do it.

We were mentioning Singapore and Hong Kong. Hong Kong is an interesting example. Singapore, same thing. You have a lot of Canadians working and living there. What you need to attract and build more presence is very different than what you need to do in Chile. I think there are many different solutions.

I find every time I speak with ambassadors, a lot of them have a clear idea of what they can do without immense resources. The question is how they succeed to make their case in a big machine, which is Global Affairs. I think we can do a lot without, necessarily, a lot of money and a wall-to-wall solution. I think acupuncture is needed to do a better job as opposed to just massive investment and simple solutions.

Senator Cordy: Thank you very much, Mr. Brault. It’s been very interesting. I know in June this past year you said public diplomacy needs the arts more than the arts needs public diplomacy.

We heard from witnesses some excellent examples of how public cultural diplomacy was used effectively. Sometimes it wasn’t even the planned things; it was the side things that artists did within a city or country that created a positive stir about Canada.

Do we have leadership in government, either in Global Affairs or Heritage Canada, to promote cultural diplomacy abroad? I know you said it shouldn’t be top-down, but should there be some force within government, either department or both departments — and sometimes when it’s more than one department it gets lost — that we should have to promote cultural diplomacy which, in fact, can provide economic and social benefits to Canada and our artists?

Mr. Brault: There’s clearly a will. It’s clear that the fact that Canada decided, for instance, to double its investment in the arts — and this is a rarity worldwide. I could spend my life travelling all around the world just to explain why our government decided to double its investment in the Canada Council, because many countries over the last 20 years decided to move their investments more towards creative industries and really with a vision that is industrial or not even post-industrial, but traditionally quite industrial. A lot of countries are realizing right now that once you develop artificial intelligence and you put all the machines and all of that, you still need the original content if you want to succeed.

The question and the models that are pushed right now are very complicated because they take care of everything except the remuneration of the artists. So all the new business models on the internet and all that, they all work if content is more or less free. So content is created by all of us with Facebook. This notion that you need to have constant research and development and nurture a certain critical mass of artists and creators is really important.

The fact that Canada made that decision very early in the new government in terms of reinvesting in arts and culture and that we have a Prime Minister who regularly quotes artists and talks about it is something that really captures imagination and attention worldwide.

I think what is now very important for Canada is to plan how we do it on the international level. With regard to the State Department in the U.S., a lot of people would be critical towards the U.S. for their lack of cultural policy, but in terms of cultural diplomacy, they’re very strong on that side. They’re all over the world with specific programs.

I think Canada isn’t at that point right now, but given what we do in Canada and what we produce, the level of creativity and innovation is high enough that we could imagine over the next few years, if there are reports like those from your committee, that Canada could certainly meet the challenge of having a better and more robust international presence through arts and culture. Definitely it’s not out of reach.

Senator Cordy: You mentioned the United States is excellent in cultural diplomacy. Are there countries where we should be looking at policies or the way they do things?

It’s great that the present government has increased and recognizes the value of culture for Canadians and for Canadians abroad.

Mr. Brault: I was recently in a conference in Asia where there were 27 countries. All those countries have a strategy to be more present worldwide with their culture, like K-Pop in South Korea. They all have their own strategy. Many countries right now, especially countries enjoying big economic growth, are realizing that they need a presence worldwide to sell their products, and that presence needs to be supported by arts and culture.

I think there’s a trend. Cultural diplomacy and soft power have been for years the privilege of a very limited number of nations. Now there are more nations interested in that and more countries looking at having specific strategies. We can learn a lot from other countries and not reproduce the same errors, because there have been errors; not everything is great. But, yes, we can learn from other countries.

It’s interesting because the countries that have been practising and documenting it very systematically, like the U.K., are now in a situation, because of Brexit, where they need to reinvent all that to say, “Okay, we are still open for business with the world.” They are now doing research, tweaking and making adjustments to their policy.

We’re following that because we can learn from it. Yes, we can learn from others.

The Chair: We’re fast running out of time, but there are two areas I wanted to cover with you.

We’ve had the officials appear here, and we’ve also had some people who were assisting Global Affairs Canada in trying to figure out what to do with this money they have. If my statistics are correct, there will be $75 million as opposed to $40 million before for 2017-18, but we couldn’t quite get the plan. We hear it’s in place. So it seems to not be front-loaded but end-loaded into 2020-21.

Should we be patient and try to develop that five-year plan, knowing the payoff will be in five years? It would seem there is a struggle and there must be internal issues about how to go about this. Would we be better giving them some direction on policies, and then look to a longer-term strategy?

Mr. Brault: The direction on policy is important. At the same time, it’s important to understand that when you talk about arts and culture, and public or cultural diplomacy, you need to have a sense of the long tail. Again, diplomacy is something you do because you need to prepare the ground for something. Sometimes it’s very urgent, like in our dealings with the U.S. right now. We need solid cultural diplomacy to come to conclusions in negotiations. In other countries, it’s a long-term operation.

This idea of having a plan is really important. For the Canada Council, even if we are a small player — again, we’re investing only $20 million — we will invest $20 million to have a presence internationally. When I say it’s small, it’s small. Just to compare to one program that was done recently in the U.K. called GREAT — you saw it recently in Ottawa — I think it was £140 million. That’s one program, so $20 million is not much.

Still, with $20 million, we decided to have some kind of a plan: countries we would consider priorities, try to consolidate different positions, bring the artists and really make sure they can coordinate.

Yes, it’s important to plead for more coherence and planning in the international presence of Canada. As you know, there are probably many, many discussions between different departments and the local embassies. It could go forever. It is really important to be clear on the fact that Canada has interests all over the world, and if we want to advance those interests, we need a clear plan and a clear contribution for arts and culture to that plan.

The Chair: Mr. Brault, thank you. You hear the bells going, which means we need to terminate. But one area you have an expertise in and for which you’ve been noted is the arts and business. A lot of creativity is going into what we traditionally did not call arts — all the things young people use, not me. So we need to look at the creativity of how to mobilize the younger generation, the new types of tools, and the linkages between young people sitting in Africa today and here. They’re making the connections. How can we assist that in a positive way for the benefit of our foreign policy relationship?

You might want to give some thought to that. I can’t get an answer from you today. If you could be helpful in that area — even a paragraph or two — would be very much appreciated.

Mr. Brault: I will.

The Chair: Thank you for your kindness with us in curtailing this meeting sooner than we had intended.

(The committee adjourned.)