Summary of the synthesis report prepared by Kelly Hill and Blanche Israël
Many artists and organizations in the arts, culture, and heritage have responded and adapted to pandemic-induced challenges by doing new things or doing things in new ways. Innovation and resilience in the arts, culture, and heritage in Canada offers 29 stories of artists and organizations using innovation to find resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The artists and organizations profiled in this project actively sought out changes and innovations that provided a measure of stability in turbulent times, whether that stability involved interesting new directions, significant personal opportunities, promoting diverse voices, combatting racism, limiting staff layoffs, or increasing revenues.
Some of the artists and organizations responded to our survey of the cultural community between May and July 2021. Others were nominated by members of our research team and the Creative City Network of Canada’s Steering Committee for this project. All 29 stories were discussed and selected by the fantastic team of “Story Seekers” assembled to work on this project.
In selecting which stories to pursue, our team attempted to balance a number of considerations:
- Geography: There are stories from all 10 provinces and two territories, from urban, suburban, rural, regional, and Indigenous communities.
- Diversity: There are stories about Indigenous organizations; Black-led organizations; 2SLGBTQIA+ organizations; official language minority organizations; groups led by women; organizations working with people who are D/deaf, disabled, or live with difference; and racialized artists.
- Disciplines: There are stories about artists and organizations working in many different arts and heritage disciplines.
- Size and type: The stories profile the work of individual artists, groups of various sizes and structures, as well as younger and more established organizations.
Our thanks go out to the artists and organizational representatives who agreed to be interviewed for this study and have their stories of innovation and resilience presented in this project.
12 key themes
We discovered 12 interrelated themes in the stories. Details are provided in the synthesis report (pdf, 1.6MB).
- Innovation works best when customized: Though innovation often involves technology, many of the stories involved changes in organizational processes. Some innovations were both technology and process based.
- Needed: flexibility and adaptability: Flexibility and adaptability of mindset, objectives, and resource allocation were key ingredients for innovation and resilience.
- Support is varied but crucial: Whether through financial or in-kind support, every innovation relied on staff, collaborators, and a range of funders to pitch in.
- Digital, organizational, and financial challenges: All innovations faced incredible challenges during the pandemic. Artists, arts managers, and heritage workers overcame key digital, organizational, and financial barriers in implementing changes.
- Small can be mighty: Many innovative ideas got off the ground with very few resources, and some of the smallest organizations were able to be very nimble.
- Partnerships can extend capacity and reach: For many innovators, partnerships were essential to their resilience.
- Equity bolsters resilience, and resilience enhances equity: The hard work of creating equity can contribute to resilience, which, in turn, influences equity.
- Sometimes, just jump: The organizations and artists who responded particularly well identified opportunities and, in many cases, took a big leap of faith.
- Prioritizing and connecting with artists: A common theme among organizations and artists who had success during the pandemic was that they prioritized the community’s artists and developed new projects according to artists’ ideas and needs.
- Short-term innovations can lead to longer-term changes: Most pandemic-related innovations were focused on short-term goals such as creating works and employing artists, but a number of artists and organizations also turned their attention to long-term applications of their innovations.
- Important places of exchange: Artists and cultural organizations are often at the forefront of engaging in dialogues about the compelling histories, stories, issues, and ideas that exist in every community.
- Redefining the arts and heritage: Some pandemic innovations have pushed the boundaries of artforms or of the presentation of gallery and museum collections.
Looking toward Phase 2
Innovation and resilience in the arts, culture, and heritage is a multi-year project of The Creative City Network of Canada in partnership with the Cultural Human Resources Council, Les Arts et la Ville, and the Canadian Commission for UNESCO. The Phase 1 research forms the basis for the project’s second phase, which involves professional development to transmit key learnings to other cultural organizations and artists.
By undertaking new directions, promoting diverse voices, combatting racism, limiting staff layoffs, or increasing revenues, the innovative practices outlined in this project provided some stability for the artists and organizations. More broadly, these findings should help build resilience within the arts and heritage sector.