Finding your balance on a new platform

by Jini Stolk

I’m regularly reminded of the difficulty small companies face in finding the administrative support they need. Years ago I worked with four wonderfully talented and energetic choreographers who were beginning to be worn out by creating, producing and fundraising, all on their own, for their small companies. The shared administrative structure we developed should have worked…but it didn’t. The artists had different needs and expectations, their organizations were structured differently, and they were at different stages in the production cycle. Although each benefited from the process, it took many more years before they each found the right managing/producing solution.

That’s why I’m so excited by Jane Marsland’s Shared Platforms and Charitable Venture Organizations: A Powerful Possibility for a More Resilient Arts Sector released this June by the Metcalf Foundation. According to Jane,  the explosion in arts activity means that there are no longer enough resources in Canada’s public arts funding system to make it feasible for many of our artists to establish fully independent, adequately capitalized, charitable, non-profit organizations in order to receive public and private funding.

The study examines the idea of shared platforms, based on the pioneering model of TIDES Canada for environmental and social justice work – and on the good work of the Dance Umbrella of Ontario (DUO), the Small Theatre Administrative Facility (STAF), and many American fiscal sponsors.

Canada’s tax regulations differ from those in the States, so we need a made-in-Canada solution to creating shared platforms for the arts – but I haven’t heard of a better idea for addressing the challenges and needs of emerging, independent companies, many of which are, in any case, trying to avoid forming registered charitable organizations with their attendant administrative burdens and relatively rigid structural requirements.

Shared Platforms and Charitable Venture Organizations is a clear and powerful argument for the need for a new way of providing administrative support to independent artists and small companies, and it’s good to know that a number of people from TIDES, the Laidlaw Foundation and the Ontario Nonprofit Network  have been meeting to decide on next steps. Judging by the attendance at the Report’s launch, other funders are equally interested in this idea.

Something’s got to give. For a very creative community, we seem slow to break the boundaries of how we work, develop new financial, investment and funding models, and create truly innovative partnerships, collectives, social enterprise organizations or whatever’s needed to get our work up and running.

However, “necessity is the mother of invention” as they say – and I would say that a major change is necessary.


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