To address the concerns expressed by its members, the Saskatchewan Arts Alliance (SAA) called two meetings of the arts community to discuss the changes happening at the Saskatchewan Arts Board. These meetings were held in Regina on May 19th and in Saskatoon on May 21st.
SAA invited representatives of the Saskatchewan Arts Board to speak at the meetings – both meetings were attended by Interim CEO Ranjan Thakre and board member Ken Azzopardi who answered questions from the community. There was standing room only at the meetings, approximately 93 people in Regina and 68 in Saskatoon.
Minister of Parks, Culture and Sport, Hon. Mark Docherty spoke at the meeting in Regina. Docherty reassured the community that the actions of Government are proof that it supports the arts and the Saskatchewan Arts Board. For example, this year, the Arts Board had no funding cuts in a tight budget year, and the search for a permanent CEO was in progress. When asked about the arms-length relationship, Docherty responded that he makes decisions on the political side such as orders in council and around the provincial budget whereas Ministry officials are responsible for the operational side. He also assured the community that there were no plans to amalgamate the Saskatchewan Arts Board and Creative Saskatchewan. This was re-enforced in Saskatoon by Thakre and Azzopardi.
Ken Azzopardi spoke briefly about the Arts Board strategic plan, and its six main values: accessibility, diversity, accountability, collaboration, excellence in art, and adaptability. Questions to the Saskatchewan Arts Board from the community ranged from governance policy, the strategic plan, staff autonomy, and Creative Saskatchewan:
- Changes to Governance policy - when asked specifically if governance policy had changed, or whether it was the implementation of policy that was changing, Azzopardi stated that there has been no change on implementation. In Saskatoon, he used a “nose and fingers” analogy to describe how an organization’s board should be able to “stick their noses wherever they want,” but should use “their fingers” for limited intervention. The Arts Board uses a hybrid Carver model – its governance policy is “standard stuff”.
- Autonomy to the SAB Staff - the board of directors desire to “flatten out” the organization: reducing management and empowering staff to result in more leadership, responsiveness, and accountability.
- Creative Saskatchewan – Thakre and Azzopardi restated the purpose of the Arts Board was to foster arts “creation and development” while Creative Saskatchewan was specifically marketing-related. Both affirmed that commercial value will not be a factor in receiving Arts Board funding. Frustration was expressed regarding the issue of getting funding from both Creative Saskatchewan and the Arts Board – specifically how funding from one organization can disqualify an applicant from funding from the other. In Saskatoon, Azzopardi stated that the funding relationship between Creative Saskatchewan and the Arts Board should be revisited to address this issue.
- Board Composition and Appointments - the lack of artist representation on the board of directors was raised at both meetings as a concern as well as the nominations process itself.
- Perception of Conflict of Interest and Transparency - The issue of appointing a board member to Interim CEO in view of the Regulations was questioned. Thakre stated at both meetings that he stepped down before taking up the Interim CEO position and is not in competition for the permanent CEO position.
- Arms-length relationship to Government was addressed with the question of whether the Arts Board defends this principle. Azzopardi said that the Ministry becomes involved only when the Board of Directors goes to the Ministry for advice.
The Community In-Camera Meetings
The in-camera community meetings followed the Q&A with the Arts Board. The question asked of the community was what do they want to report to the SAA board of directors? The community recommended that:
- SAA should promote the positive work that the Arts Board has – and is – doing. The longer the perception that the Arts Board is unstable, the more vulnerable it becomes.
- The arts community give input into the CEO hiring process and encourage strong candidates to apply.
- SAA needs to continue to inform government on arts practice and contributions of artists.
- The community asked the SAA to meet with the SAB board of directors and the Minister of Parks, Culture and Sport to report on the community meetings.
- Community members still felt uncertain about developments and cautioned the SAA to be prepared to respond to future changes.