The Arts in a Digital World Summit: A nationwide discussion for Canadian arts and culture
- “How might we discover processes, translate knowledge of practice, and build new networks in order to co-create?”
- “How might we create a balance between digital and analogue art practices?”
- “How might we shift values rather than redistribute numbers, how might we make value of the arts a defining part of the Canadian identity?”
These and many other critical thoughts were raised at The Arts in a Digital World Summit, held from March 16 to 17 in Montreal. Throughout the event, senior executives of the Canada Council for the Arts and nearly 300 arts leaders from across the country held open discussions on the state of the arts in Canada today. Participants from various cultural backgrounds engaged with each other through team-building activities, keynote speakers, and inspirational workshops. The hope is that these leaders will take ideas back home to better equip their organizations and communities for the digital age.
This collective goal for arts leaders was bolstered by big news for the sector: during the Summit, the Canada Council unveiled its Arts in a Digital World Fund, an investment of $88.5 M over the next five years to promote a digitalization movement. This injection of funds demonstrates the government’s commitment to building on over 150 years of Canadian culture, and officials anticipate that it will be adopted from the grassroots to executive levels. The initiative couldn’t have been more timely for the morale of the arts community: on Wednesday, the White House had released plans to eliminate funding for their own governmental arts agency, the National Endowment for the Arts, from the federal budget.
Simon Brault, Director and CEO of the Canada Council for the Arts, delivered several keynote addresses at the Summit. Offstage, he conveyed to Musical Toronto how Canada is in a privileged artistic position: “I think the arts in Canada now are certainly enjoying a very special momentum, because we are the only country in the world right now where there is recognition of the importance of the sector from the central, top government and a true reinvestment of resources.” When asked to give an authentic artistic identity for our country, Brault drew strength from the collective Canadian tapestry: “I think Canada may be now ready for some kind of a post-national perspective on the world […] it means we don’t impose the dominance of any of the nations [on others]; we have the Indigenous nations, the Québécois, the Acadians. There is probably a kind of a distinctive positioning of Canadian artists no matter what they do, where they come from, in terms of being creative and adventurous and very assertive, because we also enjoy a very high level of artistic freedom which is not the case in many countries in the world.”
Christina Loewen is the executive director of opera.ca, and had already set the organisation’s strategic plan in motion long before attending the Summit. As a participant, her main takeaway was to cultivate trust in building authentic relationships in business: “It’s a conceptual challenge and a completely different way of thinking; there are behaviors that need to be unlearned before building towards the future […] We are going through a shift in thinking as big as the one [computer users] went through in the 1990s from My Computer to the World Wide Web.”
Katherine Carleton has always looked for ways to unify new approaches to classical music with established, reliable models. As executive director of Orchestras Canada, attending the Summit was her chance to explore how semantic web services could yield search engine results based on the specialized interests and needs of the client: “We collect data [on music] for analysis, and we profile audiences at concerts […] but Google is not tailored to show results that are relevant to musicians or artists. [Artists] really could use semantic web services!” Carleton is on board with ushering art into a digital era: “We’re bringing new perspectives to an old vocabulary in the arts,” she remarks, “and orchestras need to demonstrate a commitment to working with younger performers and new instrumental arrangements […] we need to experiment further with 21st-century works and Canadian works to fulfill our national obligation.”
In his closing remarks, Simon Brault highlighted that “goodwill is human, not digital.” Not just a summary of the giving atmosphere over the two days, it’s a reassuring reminder that art will continue to encourage human connection.
Correction, March 19, 2017, 4:10 p.m.: A previous version characterized opera.ca as a website, rather than an organization. Opera.ca’s Christina Loewen quote has also been clarified.