Jan 8, 2016

Merit, Finance and Depth of Field (2016)

image1Keywords: arts, artistic merit, arts boards, money, poverty, fairness

The message to the poor and discontented is that they must not impatiently upset or kill the goose that will assuredly, in due course, lay golden eggs also for them. And the message to the rich is that they must be intelligent enough from time to time to help the poor, because this is the way by which they will become richer still.[1] E. F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful

My hope this year is that something changes. For example, a change in the system that manages arts grants, specifically the criteria for assessing projects. In all the Arts Councils or Arts Boards across the country, and in many parts of the world, there are two rules for evaluating an application. The most important element for this evaluation is the artistic merit of a candidate. This is how jurors decide if someone will get a grant or not. The second rule is that the financial situation of a candidate should not have any influence on the decision. I have always been opposed to this way of assessing applications. I believe that the financial situation of an artist has a direct influence on the artistic merit of that artist. I have stated this for years while participating in both Canada Council for the Arts and New Brunswick Arts Board juries. Every time I have raised the issue, I got the same terse response; that those are the rules, the foundations of the whole thing, period. I believe that laws or rules are not by themselves proofs of fairness and history is full of such examples.

The straw that broke the camel’s back (forcing me to sit down to state this in writing) came a few weeks ago when I read a press release of grants awarded by the one of the provincial Arts Boards in the country. One of the successful candidates is also a full-time professor at a University and the grant will allow this professor to attend an arts residency during a sabbatical. According to the Faculty Bargaining Services, someone making $100,000. a year will make around $88,000. while on sabbatical. I am outraged that someone on a sabbatical, which is a time paid to do one’s work, can apply and get a grant to help do that work. Aren’t the taxpayers on the hook twice for the same thing?

There are people out there who are applying for grants, getting them and they have no financial need for this funding. There are also people who are applying for grants and not getting them and have an urgent need for funding. Books, paintings, sculptures, musical scores and videos are not created because some people are not receiving grants. Some of the available funding is going out to supplement individuals already receiving generous packages. Perhaps there should be a program that would permit people who receive grants recognizing their work excellence, yet don’t need the funding, to put the money back into the system. Perhaps they could then receive commendations for their contribution. If it is accolades that they need, why not create special recognition prizes?

Every time that I am told that the financial situation of an artist has no bearing on an application, I am puzzled. How could money not be a consideration when money is at the core of the whole thing? This is why artists are asking for grants: to get money, to do things. If money doesn’t matter, the federal government would not make equalization payments to less wealthy Canadian provinces to equalize the provinces’ “fiscal capacity”. If money is not important, George Murray, St-John’s poet laureate would not have resigned after budget cuts to the arts and culture sector in Newfoundland [2]. If money is not an issue, why are arts boards paying Hill Strategies to research key statistics about artists and their personal situations as well as their financial impact on the economy? [3] We are all outraged when we hear of CEOs salaries and how many lifetimes it would take for a regular Joe to make that kind of dough. And what the hell happened to the We are the 99% movement?

Every time that I am told that the financial situation of an artist has no bearing on the artistic merit, a shiver runs down my spine. If wealth is not an indicator of well-being, then what is? It is difficult to deny the link between poverty and poor health; it is also difficult to say that the economic well-being of an individual does not affect that person’s life. Who is going to have the better depth of field, the artist with the Canon EOS 1D Mark III priced at $12,000. or the artist with the Kodak FZ41 Digital Point & Shoot Camera at $88.? I agree, the better camera might not yield the better artwork but it allows the artist to have a bigger range of possibilities.

A few countries in the world have established what is called a Day-Fine, a “structured fine payment plan calculated according to a convicted individual’s financial status and the severity of the crime”.[4] The idea is that “if both high-income and low-income population are punished with the same jail time, they should also be punished with a proportionally similar income loss.” [5] If this works for fines, can’t it work for grants?

I am an artist and a writer and I am writing this to say that our model is broken and that it could be fixed but only if we really wanted to do it. I am aware, that this post will not change the world, but I need to say it, I need to feel that I am trying to let some light in.

Daniel H. Dugas, January 6, 2016



During the last few years, Daniel H. Dugas has written a few posts about the arts and the arts management. For more information about Daniel’s writing please visit: http://daniel.basicbruegel.com/texte/

[1] E F Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered, Vintage Books, London, 1993, p.11

[2] St. John’s poet laureate quits over cuts to arts funding

[3] Hill Strategies Research

[4] Day Fine Law & Legal Definition

[5] Day-fine


Related links:
Do You Have to Be Rich to Make It as an Artist? (ARTNET)


  • Hi Daniel,
    Thanks for sending the link to us at the office by email. It’s important that funding structures and government and arm’s length systems get questioned, challenged, and examined. Were it not for such inquiry, systems would not get improved.

    I’m going to do my best to provide you with background that may illuminate (or not) things a little. Long ago, after WW2, when the Massey-Levesque report was delivered (and this is the basic reference point for all funding programs to support research and development in science, social science, and the arts in Canada), it set out goals to ensure that there were structures in place that were independent (arm’s length) – Shirk grants and Canada Council for the Arts grants are examples of the implementation of the Massey-Levesque report. In each of these fields, the work that is supported is based on merit and there are rigorous peer review processes in place. Also essential is the arm’s-length piece: to ensure Canada continues to be a healthy democratic society that is self-critical, asks tough questions that sometimes fly in the face of current public policy or political might; that freedom of expression, which is fundamental to good democracy, is protected. This is paramount to all granting structures in Canada that receive public funds.

    A separate system – the social welfare system – was set up to ensure that those living in poverty are supported. That system has been under a lot of strain under the past few governments. We operate in a social democracy in Canada, but the social conscience which was very strong after the Depression and World War 2, which is when the mechanisms for the social welfare system were also constructed. The idea is that Canadians who had enough would help ensure that vulnerable Canadians would have a basic amount to live on. When I was a child in the 1970s, there was little homelessness thanks to that system; today the support has eroded to the point where now those on social assistance often are choosing between paying the rent or feeding and clothing their children. Further, overwhelmingly, people on social assistance tend to be single mothers supporting young children, with very few mechanisms to help them get the training and daycare necessary to improve their situation. This, to my mind, is an emergency.

    It is important to make the distinction that grants for science, social science, and the arts have a very different intent than the social welfare system, which operates on a premise of financial need. The social welfare system requires T4 slips, financial statements, witnessed testimony, etc. to verify that in fact a person is deserving of financial assistance.

    The project of public arts granting, as in the domains of science and social science, is very different: it is to ensure that public dollars support and encourage the very best scientific, social science, and artistic pursuits, and in that purview, there is room for experimentation and failure in the pursuit of finding a path to higher aims. Administratively, the peer jury process is central, for reasons explained above, to ensure excellence, rigour, quality, and freedom of expression. Such grants are considered income in Canada, and T4 slips are issued for them; this is perhaps something that should not be taxed, and in some countries, such grants are awarded tax-free. It is important to note that in Canada “Awards” are, by contrast, tax free. This gets debated pretty regularly, particularly in discussions on Status of the Artist legislation, where the mechanisms for improving the economic situation of the professional artist are rigorously examined. New Brunswick is working on such legislation right now, led by the Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture.

    The concern you raise about poverty in the professional arts community is salient, and it is a concern that arts boards across Canada, provincially and federally, share. Essential fuel for that conversation is reliable data. When the long-form census was nixed by the past government administration, one of the myriad threads we were in danger of losing sight of was the tenuous economic situation of professional artists. Hill Strategies saw a bump in demand for parsing any data it could get its hands on to provide enlightenment in a period where data was hard come by. Further, Canadian Heritage, Canada Council, and Statistics Canada collaborated to develop the Cultural Satellite Account to gather relevant, essential data that will nourish discussions on how to improve strategies for professional artists in Canada. There are countries in the world that support strongly established professional artists with a per annum income. These countries also draw a very direct line philosophically and idealistically between the health of their democracy and strong artistic self-expression, in tandem with ensuring access to artistic and cultural self-expression for its citizens, from primary school and through life.

    The process for awarding grants through the jury process is rigorous, with several layers of oversight to avoid conflict of interest, and all is done at arm’s length from government to ensure that there is no opportunity for political interference with what is sanctioned by the professional community as strong work. If financial need were to become a criterion, this would fundamentally change the nature of these grants, for they would become, for all intents and purposes, social assistance cheques, and such a profile would erode and degrade esteem for the quality of the work being done and place such funding in a very vulnerable position. The quality of the work MUST be the paramount consideration. I won’t even get into what kind of quagmires would await if administratively, and the legislative nightmares around information privacy that program officers would have to deal with if CRA financial statements were required with every application for an arts grant. It would take forever to process the applications before the jury process could even begin. With the current level of high rigour, it already takes as long as 3 months from deadline to the issuing of cheques, depending on the program; longer at institutions like Canadian Heritage, where more information is gathered. Delivering funds promptly to those who are creating is also critical to the health of the arts ecosystem.

    I am being as candid as I can be, and probably more candid than most in my position would dare to be. I want you to know that I am listening, I do share your concerns about the financial status of professional artists, and I am deeply aware of the complexities of this issue, and work hard to improve it every day.


    • Hi Akoulina,

      Thank you for your comment. I appreciate your input.

      I am aware of the history of the Massey Commission and its implications, as well as Social Welfare in Canada, which many criticised as a communist conspiracy when it was first proposed. Mercy, it was said, could not be institutionalised and the best of human motives would be destroyed through this government policy. It is obvious to us now that Social Programs play an important role in Canadian society.

      Affirmative Action has also been an important piece of legislation in addressing inequities in our cultures. But here too there are critics who blame this measure as devaluing the accomplishments of people when they become chosen on the basis of their social group rather than their qualifications.

      In regards to the possible risks of weighing the financial situation of artists when administering grants, I would suggest that those risks are already at play. And if rigour is important in making decisions, we shall not forget that it also means strictness, severity, and inflexibility. What we need is imagination and courage to make decisions that benefit the greatest amount of people. We need to open up the world rather than making it a stagnant place because a system that cannot be changed, cannot be improved.



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Daniel H. Dugas

Artiste numérique, poète et musicien, Daniel H. Dugas a participé à des expositions individuelles et de groupe ainsi qu’à plusieurs festivals et événements de poésie en Amérique du Nord, en Europe, au Mexique et en Australie. Son treizième recueil de poésie « émoji, etc. » / « emoji, etc. » vient de paraître aux Éditions Basic Bruegel.

Daniel H. Dugas is a poet, musician, and videographer. He has participated in solo and group exhibitions as well as festivals and literary events in North America, Europe, Mexico, and Australia. His thirteenth book of poetry, 'émoji, etc.' / 'emoji, etc.' has been published by the Éditions Basic Bruegel Editions.

Date : Mars / March 2022
Genre : Poésie / Poetry
Français / English

émoji, etc. / emoji, etc.

Date: Mai / May 2022
Genre: Vidéopoésie/Videopoetry