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Federal Government Pledges $1.9 Billion to Canadian Arts and Culture

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's budget promises new funding to CBC and the Canadian Arts Council over five years.

Benjamin Boles

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

After years of merciless cuts under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Canadian arts and music communities got some good news during yesterday's federal budget announcement, with Justin Trudeau's Liberals pledging to inject $1.9 billion over the next five years into the country's cultural sector. This includes a massive $675 million increase for the beleaguered Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), and $550 million for the Canada Council for the Arts.

"We were hoping for a doubling of our funding, but the big question was over how many years," CCA director and CEO Simon Brault tells THUMP. "Doubling it over five years is spectacular, no doubt. Even the first year's $40 million injection is something we've never seen in the history of the Canada Council. This is quite unique in the world right now, because arts councils are being slashed and marginalized elsewhere."

The influx of cash comes at a perfect time for the CCA, as they're about to embark on a major shift in their approach to funding the arts, with a plan to put an increased focus on youth, diversity, aboriginal culture, and digital art. "The goal is really to support the arts more on the terms of the artists and artistic organizations, and stop trying to force everyone to fit into our very narrow and specific boxes," Brault explains. "With public funding for the arts, comes public responsibility."

While there are some huge numbers flying around, most arts groups won't see that money coming directly to them. However, the massive reinvestment in culture is intended to have a trickle-down effect on venues across the country like the Music Gallery in Toronto.

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"The Music Gallery already has healthy public support, but I'm sure that some of the money will make its way back to us in the form of projects which come our way," says the gallery's artistic director David Dacks, adding that he hopes the increased CCA funding will enable more forward-thinking interdisciplinary projects.

"I think we're going to start seeing some really new types of art coming around the corner in 2018 or so," he says.

The CBC's windfall of new funding is also expected to have a major impact, and Dacks is optimistic that it will help the broadcaster return to some of the work it used to be known for.

"We used to get a lot of CBC recordings made here, but since I became artistic director in 2012, there's been maybe one. It just wasn't really an option anymore. It would be really nice to see that come around again."

The public broadcaster itself isn't giving a lot of specifics yet about what they'll be doing with the new funds, but they are also talking about reinventing what they do, embracing digital better, and becoming more inclusive. The increase in funding comes attached to a five year accountability plan, but it remains to be seen how tight of a leash that will turn out to be. At this point, the mood at CBC appears to be mostly just relief that it's going to have a chance to rebuild.

"This reinvestment is a vote of confidence by government and by Canadians in our programs, our people, and our vision for the future," says CBC/Radio-Canada president and CEO Hubert T. Lacroix in a press release. "We are humbled by this important support. We look forward to showing Canadians what we can do for them with this reinvestment."

Benjamin Boles is on Twitter.