Art Beat – A Finger On The Pulse of the Arts in OOE – The Canada Council’s Tara Lapointe

Tanis Browning-Shelp

Tara Lapointe wants people to discover the diversity of the arts in Canada. In her role at the Canada Council for the Arts, she is perfectly placed to see that this happens—even more so, it seems, during the pandemic. “The Canada Council promotes the creation and enjoyment of the arts, connects Canadians with art, and promotes Canadian artists in Canada and internationally,” says Lapointe, who currently works as Director of Communications and Prizes.

In 2018/19, the Canada Council distributed $242.7 million in grants to more than 2,000 arts organizations and more than 3,000 individual artists and groups. They also administer 38 prizes.

“The grants are for projects—research, creation, production, and touring in all art forms—including a specific program for Indigenous arts,” Lapointe says. “The prizes recognize achievement— either lifetime achievement such as The Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts or achievement at a certain point in an artist’s career, such as the Michael Measures Prize.”

Tara Lapointe of Canada Council for the Arts seen here matching the artwork at the Art Bank. Artwork: Jacques Hurtubise, Nathalie (1980), acrylic and charcoal on canvas. Photo by Christopher Davidson

Tara Lapointe of Canada Council for the Arts seen here matching the artwork at the Art Bank. Artwork: Jacques Hurtubise, Nathalie (1980), acrylic and charcoal on canvas. Photo by Christopher Davidson

One of the other ways the Canada Council connects the public with art is through its Art Bank collection, which Lapointe oversees. “The Canada Council has been collecting art by living Canadian artists for more than 40 years,” Lapointe says. The Art Bank now contains 17,000 works of Canadian contemporary art. “We have a cost-recovery program where the public and private sector can rent art from the Art Bank for their workplaces. This method of promoting Canadian visual artists is a self-sustaining business model,” she explains. The full collection is accessible online at www.artbank.ca.

The Canada Council Art Bank also organizes exhibitions and does outreach in the visual arts. “The Âjagemô Exhibition Space at 150 Elgin Street, for example, is home to contemporary art exhibits, performances and events and these exhibitions are free and open to the public,” Lapointe says.

They also work with partners on touring exhibitions. “Awakening is an exhibition of Canadian artworks—all from our Art Bank—that provokes questions about the human impact on the environment.”

The Art Bank partnered with the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario on the exhibition, which is also tied to the United Nation’s sustainable development goals. The art works chosen all speak to sustainability and first appeared in the public space at Queens Park, then toured the UN headquarters in New York and Geneva, and an international environmental conference in Bonn, Germany. It is now here in Ottawa at Âjagemô. “Awakening uses art to speak to today’s issues and gives Canadians access points to important discussions.

Lapointe observes that right from the early days of COVID-19 Canadians turned to the arts. People streamed their favourite music, consumed plays and opera online, and formed pandemic book clubs. “The arts help us make sense of the world we live in,” she says. “They help us explore new worlds. They bring us comfort.”

The Federal Government has provided emergency funding for the arts sector during the pandemic, and the Canada Council has been entrusted and tasked with administering a portion of it. “Phase 1 ($55 million) will support arts organizations across the country, recognizing that organizations employ artists, technicians and administrators within their communities, and Phase 2 ($7.8 million) will support Indigenous and equity-seeking arts organizations.”

In some ways, COVID-19 has opened up opportunities for Canadian artists to have an even wider reach. Lapointe will be making her first virtual prize presentation this summer—the Michael Measures Prize—awarded to a young musician in the National Youth Orchestra. “Usually, 1,500 people attend this presentation. Online, however, it could have a much larger impact since so many more people can ‘attend’ or rewatch it at a later date.”

Lapointe believes that the creative engine of our country is enormously resilient. “I have been excited to see innovative solutions like the NAC Orchestra’s online programming and Bluesfest with its drive-in concerts,” she says. “I am optimistic when I learn of new ideas and new forms of art being created for us to enjoy. I hold out hope that this pandemic is a moment in time, and that the economy, including performance venues, will open up again.

But Lapointe concedes that there will be challenges ahead in the performing arts until COVID is under control. “Orchestras, theatre and stage productions may have to look at new models and alternative venues. The NAC’s Southam Hall seats 2,000 but how many people will be allowed in a room and will the economics of that cover the costs?”

Lapointe acknowledges that part of the enjoyment of the arts is the collective experience. “We will have to be prudent and take precautions as things open up,” she says. “There is a company located in Stratford, Ontario doing micro performances outside on a hill for ten people at a time. And I’ve heard of a husband and wife performance duo renting themselves out and coming to peoples’ front lawns to perform. Talking about these opportunities lights me up. It is much like the thrill of discovering a new author or visual artist.”

As optimistic as Lapointe is about the arts sector, she has an earnest message for Canadians. “If you care about the arts, find ways to show your support for the arts.”

Author Tanis Browning-Shelp (http://www.browning-shelp.com) pens her Maryn O’Brien Young Adult Fiction series, published by Dog-Eared Books, from her home in Old Ottawa East. Contact tanis@browning-shelp.com if you have information about artists or art events that you believe would enrich our community members’ lives.

For more information on how the Canada Council distributes funds to support the arts in Canada and on the impact of COVID-19 on the Canada Council’s programs go to: https://canadacouncil.ca/research/stats-and-stories.

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