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Making a Single Case for the Arts: An International Perspective

Executive summary


In Canada, the cultural sector is diversified and rather fragmented and, for a variety of reasons, it has been impossible so far to articulate a coherent cultural policy at the national level. There was a time when the Canadian Conference for the Arts was the single, overarching organization representing the interests of all artistic disciplines in all regions. Nowadays, professional, discipline-specific organizations have developed to represent their own interests. Nevertheless, it remains the CCA’s mandate to “act as the national forum for the artistic and cultural community in Canada” and articulate policies ensuring the growth of the cultural sector.

This double mandate of “think tank” and advocate for the cultural sector raises a number of questions, particularly in a political context where lobbying is viewed with suspicion. This research report aims at investigating how other countries have addressed this issue and succeeded in developing a collaborative modus operandi among arts organizations each articulating cultural policies in order to make a single case for the arts. The report looks at the contexts which have produced successful arts advocacy efforts and looks at foreign best practices in that respect.

Arts advocacy as an emerging phenomenon

Public funding for the arts and culture is being reorganized worldwide, as other pressing concerns such as health and education are making an increasing demand on the taxpayer’s money. To advocate for support for the arts, organizations have discovered that it would be in their interest to merge and form advocacy networks.

Making the case for the arts

Arts impact research is a prerequisite in rallying arts organizations to articulate a single, unified message before potential funders. It has been vital for the arts sector that arts advocates emphasize the instrumental benefits of the arts. British think-tank Demos has published several studies showing the need to build a broader basis for public support for the arts in order to restore the legitimacy of culture. In the light of this research, it seems that arts advocacy would be most effective by drawing on a combination of intrinsic, instrumental and institutional values culture generates and tailoring its message to its audiences.

In order to seek parallels from which the Canadian cultural sector could draw inspiration in its quest for a better positioning of arts and culture in public debate, an analysis of other international ‘like’ organizations was undertaken.  The report highlights a number of points illustrating how those organizations garner consensus among their constituents. Below is a compiled list of these successful elements from the four organizations in question.

USA: How AFTA (Americans for the Arts) builds consensus:

  • It is politically independent and thereby totally committed to the arts world.
  • It keeps an eye on each level of the arts scene—local, state, regional, federal—and facilitates network-building among organizations faced with common issues.
  • It trains advocates at each level—from grassroots to professional—and is constantly developing the resources it provides each level so that more organizations are empowered to advocate for the arts.
  • It places consensus above all particular interests when it incorporates or works with other networks.
  • It includes all members in the process of defining issue briefs to be advocated for during Arts Advocacy Day.
  • It favors broad and consensual causes, ie supporting increased funding, arts education or pro-arts legislation
  • It produces arts impact research on a continuing basis.
  • It has developed web-based tools enabling citizens to advocate for pre-defined causes.
  • It involves high-profile speakers from the artistic communities and rewards funders from the public and the private sectors during prestigious events.

Sweden: How KLYS (Swedish Joint Committee for Artistic and Literary Professionals) builds consensus:

  • It is independent from the State, so it is wholly committed to the arts world.
  • It can lobby itself.
  • It has gained great political clout in successful cases.
  • It strongly emphasizes collaborative work, getting all stakeholders to “shout from the same spot.”
  • Membership in KLYS is beneficial to organizations, especially small ones as KLYS provides legal services.
  • KLYS is perceived as being representative of the whole cultural sector.

United Kingdom: How NCA (National Campaign for the Arts) builds consensus:

  • It is independent from the State
  • It puts its small structure to effective use
  • It places a strong emphasis on communication
  • It has a strong record of success in achieving its goals

Australia: How NACA (National Arts & Cultural Alliance) builds consensus:

  • It arose out of a difficult context for the arts, securing support for its cause
  • It places a wider remit above all particular interests
  • It aims at a wide representation
  • It places a strong emphasis on grassroots advocacy


Networks have not been able to extend to the whole country. Since the creation of the CCA, levels of arts administrations have multiplied but coordination is lacking because of several problems which set Canada apart from the foreign examples described above:

  • Unlike that prevailing in the other countries examined, the Canadian Parliamentary system makes it difficult to lobby Members of Parliament.
  • Unlike two other English-speaking countries which it emulates in other ways, namely the United Kingdom and the United States, there are negative perceptions of lobbying and advocacy.
  • Unlike other countries with Arts Councils, there are no relationships between the Canadian Arts Council and arts advocacy.
  • Unlike its foreign counterparts, CCA is not independent from the State which provides an important part of its annual budget.
  • Unlike that of other countries examined, Canadian history has jeopardizing the articulation of a common cultural identity which would help to define wider, consensual remits.

To conclude, one can say that there is a wealth of arts advocacy work and resources in Canada which would gain significantly more effectiveness and clout by pooling their efforts to better serve the arts. To reach this objective, it would appear crucial to expand the networking outside the cultural sector as such to other stakeholders in Canadian civil society.

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