Sunday, November 27, 2016

Supporting the Arts: A Circus Act

A couple of weeks ago Carey and I went to Montreal to take part in the CINARS Biennale, one of the most important international showcase and networking events in the performing arts industry.  The weeklong Biennale gathers around 1,500 participants from over 40 countries and presents more than 170 shows from Qu├ębec, Canada, and abroad. There were so many wonderful artists sharing work.  While the language difference made it difficult to see a lot of theatre, we did see a bunch of circus shows.  Montreal is pretty much the epicenter of contemporary circus with the headquarters of Cirque du Soleil, TOHU (a major circus venue), and the national circus school all located in one city block.  There was some absolutely incredible work that I’ll remember for a long time.

When not attending performances, I took part in some meetings with other artists and presenters from New England and some presenters and government officials from Quebec. I was there as part of a delegation assembled by the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA).  NEFA is the primary regional funder for the arts in New England.  Their budget is made up of funding from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), from the 6 New England state arts agencies, and from individual donations.  At one meeting that I attended we heard about the arts funding structure in Canada. Suffice to say, government funding for arts and culture is much more significant in Canada than it is here. The current budget for the Canada Council for the Arts is $40 million per year, but it is scheduled to increase to $180 million per year by 2020. Conversely, the NEA’s budget is currently at just under $148 million per year which is down almost $20 million since 2010.  Frankly, it is difficult to anticipate what will happen with federal funding for the arts in the US under the new administration, but I don’t believe we will see the budget quadruple in four years as it will in Canada.  In addition to federal funding, the Canadian provinces also support the arts at very high levels.  In 2014-2015, the Province of Quebec allocated just over $94 million in support for the arts.  $88 million of that was paid out in grants to artists. There are an estimated 8.5 million people living in the Province in Quebec.  By contrast, NEFA paid out $3.2 million in grants in 2015.  New England has an estimated population of 14 million people. It’s truly a testament to the work of the NEFA staff how much impact they have on the cultural landscape of the region given the relatively modest size of their budget. A feat no less difficult than many of the circus acts we saw in Montreal.

It’s not all super depressing, however. Where the U.S. does do significantly better than our neighbors to the north is in private philanthropy. On account of the high levels of government support for the arts, private philanthropy is virtually nonexistent in Canada. Artists and arts organizations in the U.S. are dependent upon significant support from private donors. As I’m sure many of you are aware, tKAPOW is currently in the midst of our annual fundraising appeal. We consider ourselves tremendously blessed that so many people continue to believe in the work that we do and choose to support our work financially.  
This coming Tuesday (November 29th), nonprofits across the country will celebrate Giving Tuesday. Started in 2012, Giving Tuesday is a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration. While perhaps we can’t hope to ever achieve government funding levels similar to our Canadian counterparts, we do have amazingly generous people in our community who continue to make what we do possible. So, if you have anything left after the craziness of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday, please consider supporting your favorite non-profits on Giving Tuesday. We truly can’t do this without you.
~ Matt Cahoon