Letter to Canada Council from Eugene van Erven

In our series of posts expressing concern about the Canada Council's proposed policies, we share the letters, thoughts and opinions of our colleagues and supporters on this important issue. 


Utrecht, 8 November 2016

Jacques Vezina, Director General,
Canada Council for the Arts

Dear Mr Vezina,

I write to you because I am concerned by alarming news that is reaching me from esteemed colleagues in the Canadian arts sector and academia regarding the disappearance of explicit budget lines for engaged and participatory arts practices. Here in the Netherlands, where I am both active as a scholar and as a practitioner, we have our own institution to support this increasingly respected practice: the Netherlands Fund for Cultural Participation (FCP), which resides directly under our Ministry of Culture. The FCP is also the primary sponsor of the International Community Arts Festival which I direct and with whom we have developed valuable partnerships with Canadian arts organizations. Community and participatory arts is rapidly gaining in importance all over the world, where the social turn in the arts is proving insistent and unstoppable. Government policy and training programmes in our institutions of higher learning need to relate to it, because it is a reality and because it makes sense for the world of tomorrow that we are all trying to build for future generations. It is a process in which art and culture play a crucial role, particularly the ecologically, ethically and cross-culturally sensitive practices we label community or participatory art.

Community and participatory arts is rapidly gaining in importance all over the world, where the social turn in the arts is proving insistent and unstoppable. Government policy and training programmes in our institutions of higher learning need to relate to it, because it is a reality and because it makes sense for the world of tomorrow that we are all trying to build for future generations.

For all the above reasons, I urge you to reinstate the category 'community-engaged arts' in your official list of artistic fields of practice within the Canada Council's new funding model, including a clear articulation of its guiding principles. If not, these important practices will become invisible and subsequently all too easily dismissed by assessment committees, particularly if no community arts practitioners are included as members.

As ICAF director and as a scholar I have always regarded Canada to be at the international forefront of community-engaged art. It would be a great shame if through this thoughtless policy decision, the enormous credit and value of what hundreds of artists and organizations have built up over many decades will be erased.

Yours sincerely,

Eugene van Erven, PhD.
Professor of Media, Performance and the City, Head of Department, Media and Culture Studies, Utrecht University
The Netherlands Artistic Director, International Community Arts Festival, Rotterdam, the Netherlands: www.icafrotterdam.com