Leaving artists and students behind

Artists speak out against Artists in Schools program changes

Manitoba Arts Council’s (MAC) new version of the Artists in Schools program rolls out this week. MAC introduced a number of changes to the 45-year-old program last year. The program funds professional artists to go to urban and rural schools to teach and create art with students. A number of artists involved are drawing up a petition to give to MAC, along with a list of demands for the program to return to its original format.

The petition organizers were apprehensive about speaking on the record for fear of reprisal from MAC. Margaret Shaw-MacKinnon, author and illustrator with the Artists in Schools program, agreed to speak publicly.

In past years, artists applied directly to MAC, which vetted each artist before putting them into the Artists in Schools Directory. Teachers would select artists they wanted to work with and apply to MAC.

Under the new model, artists and teachers must apply together, a process that, according to Shaw-MacKinnon, has taken 12 hours for some and up to three weeks for others. The petition’s organizers feel it is unfair for artists and teachers to spend so long on their applications with no guarantee of success. Artists are not compensated for these hours.

After three weeks of work on her grants and 30 years of success in the program, Shaw-MacKinnon did not receive any of the grants for which she applied.

“I am very concerned that (MAC) would subject artists and schools to a hit-and-miss granting system, because it is absolutely necessary to have security within the work,” Shaw-MacKinnon says.

Under the new system, teachers have to navigate the Canadian Network for Arts & Learning website, which features an interactive map of Canadian artists and institutions. The petition organizers are concerned that northern schools with limited internet access will have trouble accessing the map, which they say is confusing and difficult to navigate.

In the old program, teachers reviewed a directory of all the artists vetted by MAC, and they applied to MAC directly. MAC’s funding went to the schools, which, according to the petition organizers, paid $750 of the artist fees, and the school would supply $450. Travel was funded by MAC directly. Under the new system, MAC funds the artist directly for 100 per cent of the project fees, including travel.

The petition organizers fear that because MAC now funds each project entirely, there will be less schools funded overall.

The petition organizers stress how much good has come out of the program. Shaw-MacKinnon says she hasn’t had one bad experience in her 35 years with the program until now. However, she says the change in the Artists in Schools program means a loss in income and livelihood.

Gerald Laroche, a musician and 30-year veteran of the program, says the loss to the province is extreme.

“Many artists will no longer be able to contribute to the economy (due to) losing work. But the biggest losers are all the schoolchildren of Manitoba. “

The artists involved hope to have the petition ready by the end of September for all concerned Manitobans to sign.

MAC declined The Uniter’s request for an interview but provided the following statement:

The Manitoba Arts Council works to continuously improve our programs to best serve Manitobans. The long-standing Artists in the Schools program has been updated to reflect an evolving Manitoba and continues to provide Manitoban students with meaningful opportunities to engage with artists. Projects are selected for funding through a rigorous and competitive peer assessment process to ensure equity for applicants and quality artistic experiences for students. We recognize that updates to programs can be challenging and the Manitoba Arts Council welcomes feedback to inform our processes.

Published in Volume 74, Number 1 of The Uniter (September 5, 2019)

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