Arts: Cash in on Creative Funding

By Alessandra Cayley

Sometimes, all we need is a little push, which can come in the form of a compliment, some advice, mentoring, or even some cash to free the mind and relieve the worries of daily living expenses, leaving us able to focus on our career.

Much has been written about career development in our pages for lawyers, engineers, nurses, doctors, office workers. But what about creative careers? Where can you get help when you are a singer who wants to hit the road on a tour, or record your own CD? Who can help you if you are a writer who has a wicked idea for a book, but can’t afford to spare the time to write it all down?

It is for these people that the Ontario Arts Council (OAC) exists. Funded by the province, the OAC has been helping individuals to move forward with their careers, as well as organizations which promote arts and creativity, since 1963.

Between 2009-2010, the OAC funded 1,697 artists and 1,013 organizations in 236 communities within the province, for a total of $51.8 million. Despite all that, the council, which exists to “support arts education, Aboriginal arts, community arts, crafts, dance, Franco-Ontarian arts, literature, media arts, multidisciplinary arts, music, theatre, touring, and visual arts,” is still unknown to many artists who could benefit from it.

Brazilian musician Luanda Jones found out about the OAC grants through a friend, also a musician, who had made use of its services in the past. “It was in 2006, when I had just arrived in Toronto”, she remembers. With extensive experience and a music degree from back home, all she needed was funding to record her first CD, which happened thanks to a grant from OAC. Now, the songs from her CD, Aquarela are common tunes at CBC Radio, among other media outlets across the country.

The fact that the lyrics in her music were Portuguese didn’t stop her from getting the grant. OAC grants are available for all Ontario citizens or landed immigrants within the province. The idea is to support the province’s diversity.

There are a few simple rules to be eligible to receive a grant, such as being recognized as a practicing artist by others in the same field; having completed basic training in your craft; possessing a history of public presentation of your work; and having a significant experience in such an art.

But simplicity and flexibility seem to be the council’s motto. Bushra Junaid, OAC’s Outreach and Development Manager, summarizes the idea of accessibility: “We invite people to come in, we will help them with their draft proposal, as long as it’s not a week before the deadline!”, she jokes.

OAC has a number of grants available on their website, which can be a bit daunting for first time visitors. Junaid is responsible for the Access and Career Development program – a new program designed to support the Aboriginal and New Canadian artists.

Cuban musician Glenda del-Monte Escalante, Pakistani journalist Rehan Ansari and Indian ceramic artist Aneela Dias-D’Sousa benefited from this special program to move forward in their careers.

Escalante had a mentor and help to produce and record her first CD, to be launched this month. Ansari’s project included a trip to Pakistan for guidance and research, plus time to draft the first pages of his memoir. Dias-D’Sousa couldn’t be happier with the outcome of her grant, which helped her with living and working expenses, including the rental of a studio. She showcased her pieces at the Outdoor Show this summer. “Being able to focus on the work, and not having to worry terribly about getting a part-time job, or having to get out and try to sell as much work... I feel like I came out of this grant with a whole new body of work that I am really proud of.”

Dias-D’Sousa received a grant the first time she applied, and so did Jones and Ansari, but not Escalante, who admits she was unable to present a better application the first time because she left it until the last minute...

Jones, who had the help of her friend to fill out the forms, has a piece of advice for first-time applicants: “Keep it simple. Just remember that the jury will have to read not only yours, but many other projects.”

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Alessandra CayleyAlessandra Cayley started in journalism as a TV producer in Sao Paulo, in 2001. In Toronto since 2003, she has had articles published in the Toronto Star, O Estado de Sao Paulo, travel magazine Viagem & Turismo and Canadian Newcomer Magazine. She's the author of TorontoParaInsiders blog.