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Key takeaways from the 2023 Canadian Arts Summit

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Meghan Hila, Executive Director, Choral Canada; The Honourable Pablo Rodriguez, Minister of Canadian Heritage

I was pleased to be invited by Business/Arts to attend the Canadian Arts Summit on behalf of Choral Canada. I participated in this important gathering from April 16-19, 2023 in Tkaronto/Toronto with senior art leaders, including artistic directors, executive directors and volunteer board chairs of Canada’s largest arts institutions.

The Canadian Arts Summit Steering Committee did an incredible job of putting together an event full of inspiring panel discussions, useful peer-to-peer sessions, and fun social events to network. The four pillars of the 2023 Summit included Collective Action, Advocacy, Organizational Capabilties, and Cultural Shifts. I could write a short novel on everything I experienced at the Summit, one chapter given to each session I was able to attend, plus a chapter on all the incredible people I met and the work they are doing for the arts in this country, plus a final chapter on the unique place that the choral and group singing arts sector and community plays in our society and national arts identity.

Instead, I’ll give you a few highlights that I think might be of interest and I’ll mention some names of great people I met that you might be interested in checking out. 

The Keynote conversation with artist and educator Ken Lum, moderated by author and CBC Radio Host Elamin Abdelmahmoud, reflected on the many challenges for all types of arts organizations, small to large, across many disciplines. A primary challenge is addressing so many audiences with so many life experiences and who have so much to say but can feel excluded from many long standing organizations. We must question the foundations of our organizations, our reason for being, and be bold to radically reinvent ourselves if that is the direction you want (need?) to go. This cannot be done without being vulnerable ourselves and being truly curious about others. Ask questions like “Who is not participating and why?”. Wisdom doesn’t just come from experience but reflection. Ken encouraged everyone to be curious and courageous because it is worth it and urgent.

The panel discussion on Advocacy & Messaging was moderated by Sean Casey, Managing Director from PAA Advisory. Panelists included Alysa Procida, ED of Inuit Arts Foundation, Joy Bailey-Bryant, President (USA) of Lord Cultural Resources, Kathleen Sharpe, ED of the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund (OCAF), and Michael Adam Murray, the CEO of the Ontario Arts Council. My key takeaways from this conversation were:

  1. Advocacy has been successful when it is a singular ask. Is there a singular ask that the entire arts sector can get behind? The function of reaching consensus is difficult.

  2. Focussing on making things better for those who are most impacted (artists) and most excluded, ends up making it better for everyone.

  3. Advocacy message around live arts tax credit.

  4. Canada Council for the Arts will be hosting a funders forum to discuss the issue of redistribution of funds.

  5. There needs to be an appropriate relationship between funders and larger arts organizations in advocacy work; they need to be strategic together.

Daniel Bernhard, CEO for the Institute for Canadian Citizenship presented about this amazing app called Canoo. Have you heard of it? It provides newcomers to Canada with free access to over 1,500 of Canada’s most exciting cultural and outdoor experience. Choirs and singing groups are encouraged to check this out and see how you can donate tickets to Canoo, as well as share how newcomers can join your organizations as singers. There is no fee for you to participate!

Important data points from the Canoo presentation:

  • They have 137,000 active members (1 year memberships)

  • They serve more people than all other settlement services combined

  • Data from Canoo members tells them that:

    • "Affordability” is the #1 reason why newcomers stay away from culture and leisure activities, regardless of income

    • 92% of Canoo members return to the places that welcome them via Canoo

    • Canoo members are highly educated and 55% earn over $75k (average Canadian salary is $59k)

    • The people who get free tickets bring paying customers with them

    • ZERO unclaimed tickets in the past 12 months

The main messaging I personally shared at the Canadian Arts Summit was about the vibrancy, creativity, and sheer scale of the choral arts sector in Canada. I spoke with many wonderful people, such as Christopher Deacon, the President and CEO of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, Chris Lorway, President and CEO of the Banff Centre for Arts & Creativity (and National Youth Choir of Canada alum!), Nina Horvath, Executive Director of Coastal Jazz & Blues Society (and former ED of the Vancouver Bach Choir!), Umair Jaffar, CEO of Small World Music in Toronto, Steve Bellamy, CEO of the Confederation Centre for the Arts in PEI, and Maddy Oliver from the Canadian Live Music Association.

Left: Nina Horvath, Managing Director, Cultural Services at Coastal Jazz & Blues Society
Middle: Chris Lorway, President & CEO, Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity AND NYCC alum 1992, 1994
Right: Sirish Rao, Director of Public Engagement & Learning, Vancouver Art Gallery; Amirali Alibhai, Artistic Director, Aga Khan Museum; Umair Jaffar, CEO, Small World Music; Meghan Hila, Executive Director, Choral Canada

I encouraged large arts institutions to include local choirs/singing groups in their multidisciplinary artistic plans. I spoke with small and large festival producers and passionately shared the idea of programming Canada’s incredible choirs/singing groups in their festivals and large scale celebrations. I offered to be a place they could come for ideas and advice.

At the social networking event at the Art Gallery of Ontario, I got the chance to speak with the Honourable Pablo Rodriguez, Minister of Canadian Heritage. This was not my first time meeting Minister Rodriguez, and I only had one minute, so I reminded him once again that group singing is a part of the national identity of this country, with 3.5 million Canadians singing in 28,000 choirs across the country. I thanked him for his work on supporting the arts sector during the pandemic, but that continued support was needed, particularly in the federal budget’s allocations to the Canada Council for the Arts and the Department of Canadian Heritage.

I would say the Canadian Arts Summit met its goal to create a forum where institutional leaders in the arts and culture sector could meet, network, exchange ideas, and collaborate. I learned that how to weather this turbulent world we are in is to weather it together and that change happens at the speed of trust. I am looking forward to reading the report from Business/Arts on this 2023 Summit and to ensure that the choral community takes part in the next steps of the advancement of the arts sector in Canada. 


Meghan Hila
Executive Director, Choral Canada


For more information on the Canadian Arts Summit, please visit:



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Banner: Ullugiaga╠étsuk Choir at ...float... 2018. Photo: Ritche Perez