FUTURES

Canada Council for the Arts

Understanding the Evolving Canadian Visual Arts Ecosystem.

Scope of work

  • Research
  • Engagement
  • Foresight Workshops
  • Visioning


The Canada Council for the Arts is Canada’s national, arm’s length, public arts funding agency. In existence since 1957, the Council support artists and arts organizations across a wide range of disciplines. Over the years, the Council has seen a marked increase in requests for support from an ever-growing number of artists and arts organizations. Despite an increase in its budget allocation, the public funder recognized the need to rethink the way it supports the arts sector.

The Visual Arts Section engaged KerrSmith Design to help them conduct a cross-country consultation process with the visual arts community so they could have a deeper understanding of how the visual arts ecosystem was evolving.

In addition to a review of literature relevant to the changing visual arts landscape, we worked with the Visual Arts Section to validate their mandate and core objectives in supporting the sector. As a result of this process, it was clear that the usual cross-country consultation process would not effectively serve the Section’s purposes. We designed a future-visioning workshop (based by the Three Horizons foresight methods) that would enable participants to identify what wasn’t working in the current system, to describe the characteristics of an aspirational future visual arts ecosystem, and identify innovative pathways to this future.

While the cross-country workshops extended to 12 cities across Canada, it was important to the Visual Arts Section that consultation process to include more than the 220 individuals who participated in the workshops. Based on initial insights from the workshops, we created an online survey that reached many hundreds of Canadian artists and cultural workers around the world. Pressing concerns from the visual arts community touched on the need to demonstrate the value of the visual arts to society, the search for new business models in light of stagnant public funding, impact measurements methods that are appropriate for visual arts, and importance of understanding and engaging audiences.

The findings and insights from this study informed the design of the Council’s new structure and funding programs to support an evolving ecosystem.