Akoulina Connell at the Manitobans for the Arts Annual General Meeting 2016

Opening Address by Akoulina Connell
Manitobans for the Arts Annual General Meeting 2016
September 20, 2016


Good afternoon. It’s a pleasure to be among you all today.

Megwich to Barbara and Clarence Nepinak will be performing the ceremony to help us properly acknowledge that we are gathered on Treaty 1 territory today.

Thank you for the invitation to speak today at the AGM for Manitobans for the Arts’ Executive:

  • Camilla Holland, Chair of the Advocacy Committee
  • Lynne Skromeda, Chair of the Engagement Committee
  • Thom Sparling, Chair of the Research committee
  • Nicole Matiation, Treasurer

We haven’t made a lot of noise about it until now, but there it is: we’re 50. For 50 years, we have been adapting to Manitoba’s evolving arts ecosystem by adding programs. We now have more than 50 programs. We’re taking a good, long hard look at that. Our staff engaged in a Change Mapping Day to examine how we might reorganize the framework within which funded activity takes place to make it easier for clients to find their way, and to increase flexibility around supporting creative activity.

MAC is 50
MAC will have a strategic planning session towards the end of October. We will be identifying new strategic initiatives and outcomes given the winds of change in the larger context. I am looking forward to working directly with our diverse cultural community to ensure that the changes we make are appropriate.

I have now been in my post as CEO of the Manitoba Arts Council for two and a half months. In these weeks, I have met with anyone from the community who has asked for a meeting. I’ve been impressed by your commitment to excellence, to working with integrity within your various community contexts, and most of all, with your candour. It is clear that in Manitoba, there is an appetite for change.

Some context
Massey-Levesque report after WWII had in its sights some of the following lofty goals:

  • Public funding streams for research in Sciences and Social Sciences as well as funding for the Arts, all done at arm’s length from government and with a rigorous peer-juried review selection process. The aim here was to ensure that political or corporate interests do not interfere with activities that are fundamentally critical, intellectual, or that embody free expression. This ensures a strong democracy because it means that diversity of thought and critical context are preserved.
  • Dissemination of balanced news reporting and cultural content via CBC and Radio Canada was considered essential to decreasing isolation in our vast country.
  • With a large, noisy neighbour producing culture south of the border (U.S.) and our close ties to Colonial powers (Britain, France) – creating an independent national identity for Canada was a priority.
  • The building of cultural infrastructure – bricks and mortar as well as human – was also a preoccupation.

In the post-WWII context, the economy was high growth, and little consideration was given to the environment: Canada had a resource-based economy mixed with agriculture and fisheries.

In the same post-war period, however, the languages and cultural practices of our First People were systematically being dismantled with a sustained public investment in Residential Schools.

Thing have changed

The demography of Canada has changed, and so has the demography of Manitoba. We’re culturally diverse. Our Indigenous population is growing rapidly, and is younger, on average, than the rest of the province. The fisheries are in collapse. The environment is under strain. Big agribusiness is changing how we farm. We’re in a low-to no-growth economy. More and more workers in Canada are atypical workers – the very kind of worker profile that artists and arts organizations have had for a long time.

The Truth and Reconciliation report has delivered recommendations, among them preserving and supporting Indigenous language and cultural practice. The call to Canada Council is something all provincial councils need to consider as well:

83. We call upon the Canada Council for the Arts to establish, as a funding priority, a strategy for Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists to undertake collaborative projects and produce works that contribute to the reconciliation process.

Arts and culture are an extraordinary catalyst for intercultural mediation. We need to be increasingly inclusive in our juries, our processes, our organizational structures, our programming – in rural and urban settings. In this way we will be better able to reflect the beauty and complexity that is Manitoba’s identity.

Vectors of change
There is change happening at every tier of arts funding right now. Canada Council and Canadian Heritage are retooling their programs. The Government of Manitoba has committed to developing its first ever Cultural Strategy. Manitoba Arts Council is conducting a full program review and Strategic Planning process that will be followed by community consultation. At the community level priorities are being examined as well. There is an unprecedented opportunity before us to work together to ensure that efforts at all levels dovetail in such a way that we generate the strongest possible leveraging opportunity to properly fund and support artists, organizations, and cultural institutions in Manitoba.

We need to talk. Listen. Exchange. Reflect. And then we need to act, and act together, in the best interest of the whole. We have an opportunity to be the change we want to see. The time is ripe: let’s seize the day together.

Thanks for your time and your warm welcome to Manitoba. I look forward to engaging with all of you in the coming days, weeks, years.


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