This year’s Prismatic Arts Festival kicked off on Wednesday evening with an address from a 30-year veteran of Canada’s culture sector.
Simon Brault, director and CEO of the Canada Council for the Arts, flew in from Ottawa to address a packed audience at Pier 21.
The annual festival — which runs Sept. 21-25 this year at various venues around Halifax — features a rich and culturally-diverse lineup of performers, artists and guest speakers.
It’s also one of the only art festivals in the country that highlights work from aboriginal artists, which just so happens to be part of Brault’s five-year plan for the Canada Council.
Next year, Canada Council will be turning 60, while Canada rings in its 150th birthday.
The Chronicle Herald spoke with Brault before his speech, to chat about the festival, the future of arts in Canada and the big year ahead.
What can we expect from your keynote address this evening?
“I’m addressing how the Canada Council will approach, over the next five years, the questions of equity, diversity and support of indigenous artists.
“It’s time for us to take action and make bold decisions and some of those decisions, I hope, will have a positive and lasting impact in giving more access to artists and audiences that come from more diverse, cultural backgrounds.
“For instance, it will be the first time I chose this moment and this platform . . . to announce that the Canada Council intends to triple its level of funding for aboriginal arts and indigenous arts over the next five years.”
Why attend the Prismatic Arts Festival?
“I get dozens and dozens of invitations like that. But I always try to select an organization or platform or festival that has a reach beyond a single community, or a reach beyond a single artistic discipline.
“The Prismatic Festival has built, over the years, a huge reputation in terms of representing interesting work from artists who are apart of the diversity of this country.
“I really felt it was the right moment and the right audience to share the vision of the Canada Council on these topics, knowing that people across the country are paying attention.”
What’s your take on the quality of work coming out of the East Coast right now?
“I feel that because we have more money to invest in public support of the arts, my view is that there will be a strong response from a lot of artists and artistic organizations from the East Coast.
“My last visit here was in . . . 2009 or 2010 when I released my book No Culture, No Future.
“The people I’ve met so far indicates that there is a real appetite for more creation and new ways of sharing art.
“I find it positive and exciting.”
Any performances you’re particularly looking forward to seeing at the Prismatic Festival?
“I’m coming, really, with an open mind. I want to hear and see the work and hear what they have to say. What I like is that this festival has a focus on artists from diverse (backgrounds) and indigenous artists.
“The fact that the festival is shedding the light on those artists is a strong way of presenting them.
“It’s not only the art work that is presented, but also all the discussions that are happening are very important. It builds a sense of community and it builds a sense of togetherness that is really important for those artists.”
How would you described the state of the arts in Canada?
“There are very, very strong artists, that are very solid and astonishing performers.
“But I think it’s also very uneven because the support and recognition of the arts varies across the country.
“And my fear is that, in those cases, the investment from the Canada Council will do less mileage with the same amount of money.
“I think the arts sector in Canada is still vibrant but I see that there are gaps that need to be filled.
“Funding, embracing diversity and embracing digital are, for me, the really important directions for us and are really important to make sure this arts sector has a bright future.”
What areas in Canada are the arts not as strong?
“I think that in some of the provinces, what we saw over the last few years is a decline in the support to the arts.
“When the support is fledgling, artists tend to move elsewhere where they will be more recognized, more valued and more supported.
“I know because I come from Montreal, and I see that over the years many, many artists were coming from everywhere in Canada and sometimes from the United States.
“I’m not saying it’s possible to be even everywhere in Canada. It’s not feasible; it’s not achievable.
“I think it’s very important to realize now that everything is interlinked. So if you support your local arts scene, you give the possibility that what is produced there will be seen elsewhere at the national and the international stage.”
Supporting aboriginal artists is one of your goals this year. Can you share any others?
“One very important one is opening the door to new artists, the next generation.
“In the last decade we didn’t benefit from new investment, and we now need to give access to a new generation of artists if we want renewal.
“Another priority for us is digital. We will announce, in the next few months, a major investment in order to help the arts sector to adapt digital for not only the creation of arts, but also for the sharing and dissemination for the works of arts.
“Finally, a very important one, is to make sure that we become more and more active on the international stage.
“Many artists are reaching the level of excellence that is desired on the international level, and we want to make sure we are there to support them.”
Original publish date: Sept. 22, 2016