MACLEAN'S REPORTS

BACKSTAGE IN OTTAWA

The Canada Council, like God, helps those who help hemselves

Blair Fraser October 3 1964
MACLEAN'S REPORTS

BACKSTAGE IN OTTAWA

The Canada Council, like God, helps those who help hemselves

Blair Fraser October 3 1964

BACKSTAGE IN OTTAWA

The Canada Council, like God, helps those who help hemselves

Blair Fraser

WHEN THE CANADA COUNCIL Cut off its twenty-thousand-dollar grant to Toronto's Crest Theatre, it raised a question that has puzzled many Canadians for years: how are the council’s grants determined in the first place? Why, and on what principle, is one request accepted and another turned down?

There are many contrasts and seeming anomalies in the council’s methods, which have given MPs something to argue about during

lulls in the dreary tedium of the flag debate. So far. most of them seem reasonably content with the end result—no strong protest movement has taken shape against the Canada Council's methods of distributing funds. There are usually more and better reasons for the contrasts than appear on the surface.

One neat and easy comparison is between the Crest Theatre and the Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg. They had fairly similar budgets last year—both in the order of three hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Both have chronic deficits. Both have received Canada Council grants since 1958, totalling about the same—a hundred and sixteen thousand for the Crest, a hundred and twenty-five thousand for Winnipeg.

THE CREST’S FATAL TWENTY THOUSAND DOLLARS

Tor the 1964-65 season, Winnipeg will get its usual grant of thirty thousand dollars plus five thousand for a special lour. The Crest had asked for thirty thousand, cut back its request to twenty thousand, and was finally refused even that —a death blow, ( rest spokesmen said. Why this discrimination?

Point one is that Metropolitan Toronto is four times as big as Greater Winnipeg, and richer. Ontario is almost nine times as big as Manitoba, and a great ileal richer. Yet by every measurement of public support, Manitoba and Winnipeg backed their theatre much more solidly than Ontario and Toronto backed the Crest. Winnipeg raised twenty-six thousand dollars by public subscription, while the Crest raised only sixteen thousand Winnipeg got another twenty thousand from other, individual donations and from special projects: the Crest got only about seventy-five hundred in special donations. Winnipeg got about fifteen thousand apiece from the provincial and municipal governments; the Crest extracted only ten thousand each from the Ontario Arts Council and Toronto. Thus, though box-office revenue was about the same in each case. Winnipeg emerged with a manageable deficit while the Crest was

short by eighty thousand dollars (on top of a forly-five-thousand-dollar deficit for the previous year).

But what probably clinched the case against the Crest was not the size of its deficit (the National Ballet Guild earns little more than half of its eight-hundred-thousand-dollar budget. yet continues to get about a hundred thousand a year from the Canada Council). The strongest point against the Crest, according to people in Ottawa who have some acquaintance with the Toronto theatre, was the very urgency and desperation of its need.

About to open a season with a budget of more than three hundred thousand dollars, the Crest had so utterly exhausted its cash and its credit that it needed the Canada Council’s twenty thousand dollars in order to open at all. Since attendance at the end of last season had dropped to less than twenty percent of seating capacity and averaged less than fifty percent for the whole season, the chances of the Crest surviving into 1965 looked depressingly slim.

Failure, or the threat of failure, is not even an inducement, let alone a guarantee, of aid from the Canada C ouncil. By the same token, success is not an obstacle. Canada’s most resounding theatrical success is the Stratford Shakespearean Festival. Attendance runs at something like ninety-five percent, and the ordinary revenue normally exceeds ordinary expenditure. Yet the flourishing Stratford company is getting fifty thousand dollars from the Canada Council.

However, there is more to the Stratford Festival than the money-making theatre season. There are also cultural sideshows like music festivals, art exhibitions, light opera and special films, all of which normally lose money but which Stratford regards as important parts of its whole program. The Canada Council agrees. It has also been willing to support other Stratford enterprises — the troupe could not have accepted the invitation to play in Chichester, England, last spring without the Council’s contribution of twenty-five thousand dollars.

Apparently the most important factor in

winning a Canada Council grant is strong local participation. Some time ago, Regina became indignant to learn that Halifax was getting a Canada Council grant of fifteen thousand dollars, while Regina was having trouble getting a much smaller sum (currently three thousand). Inquiry soon turned up the reason. Halifax, which has twenty thousand fewer people than Regina, manages to produce an eighty-thousand-dollar budget for its orchestra —almost four times as much as Regina’s present budget. Local campaigns in Halifax raised sixty-five cents per head of population; Regina at the time was raising only five cents per head.

Ottawa has no intention of withdrawing or diminishing its support of the arts in Canada. Some ministers, including Secretary of State Maurice Lamontagne whose special responsibility it is, cherish hopes of massive increases in federal subsidies for music, theatre and the like. The only stipulation is, and probably will always be, that the projects seeking help should offer some hope of developing into going concerns.