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Figuring the Plural

Needs and Supports of Canadian and US Ethnocultural Arts Organizations

April 27, 201627 April 2016

Diversity and equity

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This 358-page report presents a number of findings concerning “the characteristics, needs, and support systems” of “ethnocultural arts organizations”. The report is based on a literature review, data collection and analysis from existing sources (such as the Canada Revenue Agency), an assessment of organizations’ needs (using results from a custom survey of ethnocultural arts organizations as well as interviews with representatives of 55 Canadian and 83 American organizations), an assessment of support programs dedicated to diverse organizations (by 95 Canadian arts service organizations and funders), and an analysis of gaps in these supports (based on a comparison of organizations’ needs and existing supports). Where separate results are presented, this summary focuses on the Canadian research component.

The report maintains that ethnocultural arts organizations in Canada and the United States fulfill important social functions, such as serving “as cultural advocates, cultural interpreters, facilitators of cross-cultural understanding and communication, keepers of ethnic tradition, and/or sites where prejudice is exposed and challenged”. The report’s authors argue that, despite these important roles, diverse arts organizations “have received little attention within the arts community”.

The literature review “found no large-scale study on Canadian ethnocultural arts organizations as a whole regarding their characteristics, needs, or supports systems”. The database work “identified 255 registered charity ethnocultural arts organizations in Canada”, representing about 2% of registered arts and culture charities. Many of these organizations are multidisciplinary. Among individual disciplines, dance is most common. Even though they do not have historical data, the authors estimate that “ethnocultural arts organizations are increasing in number” (based on other research elements).

Key challenges for these organizations include financial needs, limited organizational capacity, audience development, and space. In terms of organizational capacity, a lack of staff is the top challenge. Many organizations are not able “to fully implement organizational plans and models” because of a lack of staff, not because of a lack of training or knowledge (as is assumed in a number of capacity building programs).

In general, the report argues that “the services offered by support organizations do not correlate with the needs of ethnocultural arts organizations…. Rather than offering financial support in a flexible form that organizations may use to address their particular needs or addressing other systemic barriers faced by ethnocultural arts organizations in attaining long-term sustainability, most forms of support are short-term and project focused.”

Despite significant challenges, the report concludes that “the ethnocultural arts field is not in the state of crisis as the tone of current dialogue might suggest…. We found no indication that the field in either country is in danger of disappearing, although it is far from functioning at its full potential.”

The report also provides “32 recommendations for better supporting ethnocultural arts organizations” at different stages in their development, such as “more outreach and targeted outreach to newly formed and small grassroots organizations” and “multi-year, unrestricted funds not tied to such features as a minimum required size of operating budget, a certain number of paid staff, or, as applicable, the production of a certain amount of annual or seasonal programming”.

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