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October 18, 2021

In Camera Session with Dr. Jim Fleck: Governing the Arts and Culture Sector

By Heather Wilson, Director, Research Services
Throughout the fall, the ICD will be exploring issues important to our 2021 Fellows through a special video series, In Camera Sessions. The first video, now available, focuses on the importance of the arts and culture sector to Canada, and is in honour of Dr. James (Jim) Fleck.

Jim Fleck has dedicated a significant portion of his board career to helping Canadian arts and cultural organizations succeed. This video features Fleck, in conversation with ICD President and CEO Rahul Bhardwaj. In the later segments, the video presents a distinguished group of leaders who persuasively advocate for the importance of the cultural sector, discussing why it matters and why it should matter to Canadians. Here are some highlights from the video:

The importance of arts and culture
The Canadian arts and culture sector is vitally important to Canadian society. It is a significant economic force contributing billions of dollars to the Canadian GDP and is a substantial employer. The arts and culture sector also plays a key role as a community builder.  According to this Brookfield Institute report, “arts and culture can encourage reflectiveness, empathy, understanding, health and well-being, civic engagement, and support education and learning…cultural contexts, content, and activities can create a sense of identity, engagement, and relationships within and between communities, resulting in rich civic benefits and human bonds.”

A conversation with Jim Fleck
In this conversation, Fleck discusses the importance of the cultural sector, the need for effective governance of arts & cultural organizations, and why business should support the arts. When asked to identify why arts and culture matter, Fleck notes, “two words: innovation and creativity, those elements are so important for any country or any economy that wants to be successful in the world today…[Artists] do look at life through a different lens and they expand the horizons and they stimulate the imagination. These are all highly desirable attributes for any business to have.” Building on this idea, Fleck also observes that in considering support for arts and culture, corporate leaders should remember that knowledge workers can choose to live anywhere – a vibrant cultural sector can be one important element in the attraction of the talent companies need to be successful.

Douglas Knight on the national narrative
Following the Fleck interview, we explore Canadian arts and culture even further with the Chair and CEO of the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards Foundation, Douglas Knight. He discusses the importance of arts and culture to Canada, its challenges as well as its future.

Knight has been a long-time supporter of the arts in Canada. When asked to identify why the arts and culture matter, he notes “that any serious country has to have its own narrative, has to have a capability to tell its own stories – that’s absolutely essential.” Knight also identifies the economic importance of the cultural sector. It is worth $59 billion, represents 3% of GDP, 4% of employment and is larger than agriculture, fishery and forestry combined. It is also eight times larger than hockey and all sports put together. 

There are some challenges, of course. Knight notes the need for audience development and for making a space for Canadian voices. He also reminds viewers, however, that Canada punches above its weight in terms of its global artistic impact.

Arts leaders weigh in
In the final segment of our first In Camera Session, an esteemed panel shares the insights they have learned as leaders of Canadian arts organizations. Led in conversation by Longview Communications and Public Affairs partner, Martin Cej, Christa Dickenson, executive director and CEO, Telefilm Canada, Janice Price, President and CEO, Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, and Jan-Fryderyck Pleszczynski, outgoing-chair of the Montreal Arts Council explore the impact of the pandemic, funding for the arts and how to best develop new leaders for the future.

Price observes that the delivery of programming digitally has been advanced by a decade by the pandemic. In the future, organizations will need to decide what innovations should be kept and what trade-offs will need to be made, because it will not be possible to do it all. Dickenson builds on this idea by acknowledging the benefit of attracting new audiences through digitization but also notes the downside – the proliferation of digital products has increased the competition for eyeballs. For boards, it will be important to offer the strategic guidance their organizations need as they make these significant choices on where to devote resources.
The panelists also explored other important areas of arts governance. Dickenson notes the importance of building the board-CEO relationship based on mutual respect and on a “no surprises” protocol. Price says that more attention needs to be paid to succession planning and developing the next generation of arts leaders through training. Pleszczynski would like to see new leaders given the room to grow and transform their organizations. Pleszczynski also sees directors playing a key role in nurturing arts leaders, but also stresses the need for board members to maintain focus on what the organization really needs and not micromanage.

These are just some of the highlights of the robust discussions included in our first In Camera Session with its special focus on the importance of arts and culture in Canada. Hundreds of directors serve on Canadian arts and cultural boards. We wish to recognize the key role these institutions play in Canadian society in this special video presentation. For the complete discussion, please watch the full video, available here.