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Canada’s Jazz Grant System Already a Stacked Deck?

September 16, 2009

Even before the recent changes announced to the Canada Council grant system that have raised the concerns of artists like Christine Jensen (see related story), jazz musicians across the country have long struggled with the grant process.

Mounds of paperwork with an uncertain outcome is one of the oft-cited problems.  Pianist Brent Jarvis says he spent an entire week putting together a grant application for his most recent recording project but in the end stuffed all that paper in his shredder, after realizing that even if he did get the grant, he couldn’t do the project because it would cost him too much money because of all the Canada Council requirements. He reckons the project would have cost twice what it did using private money,  even with the grant in hand.

Another problem is the bizarre Catch-22’s associated with various grants.  Toronto pianist Chris Donnelly, who has put together two western Canadian tours now (and will be out here in October), describes this problem succinctly in a series of excellent blog entries (http://www.chrisdonnellymusic.com/) The first deals with grant applications for training artists:

You have $10000 to give out to artists. The money is to be used exclusively for lessons and training. You have 20 seriously dedicated artists who vary in technical proficiency and experience. They all apply for (and deserve) the money. Unfortunately you can only give out 10 awards of $1000 each and they’re handed out based on artistic merit.

You make your decisions and give the awards out to artists who are more experienced and technically proficient. You tell the other artists that they weren’t considered because they’re not as experienced and technically proficient as their peers. It is your belief that they need more lessons and training.

Of course, they respond and say they need money for more lessons and training, which is why they applied in the first place!

Catch-22.

To whom do you give the awards?

Donnelly’s second scenario relates to composers:

You have $10000 to give out to composers. The money is to be used to commission new musical works. You have 20 seriously dedicated composers who apply for and deserve the money. They also submit samples of their proposed compositions, which vary in thematic development and unity. Unfortunately you can only give out ten awards of $1000 each.

You make your decisions and give the awards out to the composers with the most thematically developed and unified music samples. You tell the other ten composers that they weren’t considered because their samples weren’t as thematically developed and unified as their peers. It is your belief that they need more time to explore their thematic material.

Of course, they respond and say they need money so they can create time to explore their thematic material, which is why they applied in the first place!

Catch-22.

What’s the solution?

And his third situation has to do with the Canada Council travel grants which jazz artists depend on to tour the country, particularly during jazz festival time:

Last one. It’s simply put, but probably the most frustrating of the three!

You’re organizing a tour and hoping for tour support. The tour can’t happen otherwise.

You can’t apply for touring support unless you have gigs. You can’t get gigs unless you have touring support!

Catch-22

Is there a better way to distribute grant monies?

These are not theoretical situations.  They happen every day to artists like Jensen and Donnelly who often struggle to put bread on the table while pursuing their art and enriching our lives with their music.  Change is needed but obviously not the kind of changes advocated by our governments, which usually result in new bureaucratic Catch-22’s, outright loss of funding (witness our latest provincial government fiasco with gaming money), impossible hoops to jump through, or endless hours away from practice and performance, filling out ridiculous forms that frequently lead nowhere.

Our musicians deserve better. Thoughts?

– Rick Gibbs

Categories: General
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