Yes, exactly. We're representing the nation proudly; don't you worry.
Thank you for this time and thank you for that great presentation.
Good afternoon to you all. My name is Ravi Jain and I am the founding artistic director of the international company based in Toronto, Ontario, called Why Not Theatre.
When I returned to Toronto in 2007 after living and training abroad for a number of years, no institution would hire me. Even though I had a stellar international resumé, institutions were busy doing their own work, often led by a single artistic director, and their casting did not have the vision or imagination to include me.
I, like many others before me, was forced to form my own company if I wanted to make work. I founded Why Not Theatre in 2007. We are a company with an outstanding international reputation for creating award-winning, innovative, accessible theatre.
By 2017, 10 years in, we had worked on over 80 projects, touring to 30 different cities on five continents, and we slowly grew to an annual operating budget of about $500,000. We were a team of three people doing the work of six, and we struggled to not only make our own work but to also support the work of many artists who did not have the resources that we managed to grow. Even at that time, we were defying the odds.
At that time it was impossible to grow a company with the support of the councils. Funding was static, with the majority of funds going to the fewest and oldest institutions that were born out of the Massey commission.
I'm sure all of you know that the 1951 Massey commission was a landmark report, and it's generally seen as the first major steps by the Canadian government to nurture, preserve and promote Canadian culture. The commission was successful in establishing foundational institutions for the arts, but those institutions were mostly rooted in Eurocentric and colonial values.
The text of the Massey commission includes a quote that says, “The impact of the white man with his more advanced civilization and his infinitely superior techniques resulted in the gradual destruction of the Indian way of life.” The report also said that “since the death of true Indian arts is inevitable, Indians should not be encouraged to prolong the existence of arts which at best must be artificial and at worst are degenerate.” The report concludes that, “The Indian arts thus survive only as ghosts or shadows of a dead society.”
At the heart of this report, which would shape Canada's cultural voices for decades to come, is a narrative that did not imagine a world where indigenous cultures even existed. That narrative also excluded racialized people and other minority groups. Vincent Massey would never have imagined me as an artistic leader of an institution that is defining Canada's culture, which, let me be clear, I am.
The history of funding has caused a stasis in the system where the majority of funds go to the small number of the oldest organizations. Another way to look at it is that there is only one opera, one symphony, one ballet and one regional theatre in each city.
With few exceptions, it is next to impossible to build a new institution of the size and scale of the oldest companies born out of that Massey commission. For me as an artistic leader, my only option for growth is to apply to very few jobs at institutions that have perpetuated decades of exclusionary practices. I'd have to expend energy changing the vision of that institution, rather than being given the support and the opportunity to build a new institution with a broader vision of what Canadian identity could be.
Then, in 2017, as the previous gentleman said, there was a game-changer. We were awarded one of the Canada Council's 200 new chapter grants for a dream project of producing the new adaptation of the ancient Indian epic of the Mahabharata. It is one of the most important South Asian stories ever.
The $375,000 investment allowed us to create a three-part international multimedia production that will play at the largest stage at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake. For the first time we now have the resources to build a show at a scale that is equal to what only major institutions get to do.
Now in our partnership with the Shaw Festival, we come to the table as equals. This is historic because this institution has served a single audience for over 50 years. This partnership will create unprecedented access for a whole new audience, many of whom have never participated in Canadian performing arts.
Then, in 2018, we became clients at Canada Council in operating funding. In our first application to the operating contest, we were awarded $175,000 in operating funding. For some perspective, we were getting $25,000 from the Ontario Arts Council and $30,000 from the Toronto Arts Council. The Canada Council's investment was a meaningful investment that propelled us into the position of leadership we were meant to be in. Because of that investment, we were able to increase other fundraising, attracting new corporate and philanthropic donors who, just two years ago, were totally out of reach.
Now we are growing on an exponential trajectory, with a $2-million operating budget and a full-time staff of nine in 2020. We're projecting to hit $3 million in 2021, and even more in years to come. Most importantly, we're able to serve hundreds of artists whose voices haven't been heard, bringing their work to millions of Canadians who have never seen themselves represented on stage.
Finally, our vision of what Canada can look and sound like is starting to be given the same weight as that of those Eurocentric institutions that came out of the Massey commission. If we were to get more support, imagine what impact we could have on what arts and culture mean to all Canadians.
The Canada Council has made one major move to address historical inequities by prioritizing equity and funding new voices with substantial investments. We need to see this change through. We need to continue to change where the support is going. Redistribute the wealth we have to offer more dynamic and innovative companies like Why Not the means to grow and become new institutions—not to replace but rather to support, to work alongside and to be equal partners in shaping our national identity.
Right now, with Why Not's growth, we're a total outlier, and two years from now, we must be the norm. It's important to note that this change and rebalancing of the scales would never have happened without the much-needed increase to the Canada Council's budget, and we can only continue to see this change with continued investment and growth. We can only make room for more if there is more to go around.
I hope the Canada Council goes further with this move. I hope they are bolder. It would not only change who tells the story. It would change who comes to see the story. I hope that the Canada Council's actions inspire Canadian Heritage to do the same, as many of the heritage programs are outdated and primarily serve those older, Eurocentric institutions.
Canadian heritage is a strange idea to wrap one's head around. Is it about preserving the past, a Massey inheritance that did not consider my existence? Or is it about shaping the future, one in which my existence is essential for the country to define our mission and voice? To me, it's clear. We have finally made one step in the right direction. Now let's take five more.