by Lisa Mackay
Mass Culture was started in Toronto in 2015 by a group of arts leaders passionate about the important role the arts play in society, and who recognized a distinct need for an organization whose sole responsibility is to generate a greater capacity for arts research. Its name partly acknowledges the key role the Massey commission has played in the development of Canada's arts sector; and the term “mass culture” also plays into the organization’s goals of sector engagement, for it to truly be a national connector for the arts.
Their focus on research came from a recognition that arts organizations primarily conduct research off the side of their desks, or in addition to their main activities of supporting artists and artistic creation. Having a centralized organization such as Mass Culture means that they (rather than the arts organizations) can dedicate most of their time and resources to conducting, analyzing, and generating further dialogue on necessary arts research, and to ensure that it can be made available to as many of organizations as possible. They are also committed to connecting arts research to research done by those outside the sector to deepen its impact.
In its first few years, Mass Culture convened over 600 individuals across Canada in one-on-one and group conversations to ascertain what the research priorities of the arts sector were. In the summer of 2020, four Mass Culture Gatherings were held in Alberta to explore key research questions facing the cultural community out west. These Gatherings provided a platform for local groups to convene, discuss issues of importance in the community, and engage diverse voices in the community who are not usually participating (or invited) in the cultural research process and dialog.
The 45 attendees and hosts for these regional gatherings included a diverse group of immigrant artists, African Caribbean Black artists with a heavily science-based background, community learning students, cultural leaders, municipal and provincial funders. The Ribbon Rouge Foundation in Edmonton convened around the question “How might we design art spaces as community events to promote interactions, so that those who are more marginalized in Alberta are able to develop community together?” Alberta Partners for Arts and Culture discussed “How can provincial arts and cultural service organizations encourage greater collaboration between all orders of funders and work together to streamline the grant application and reporting processes.” In Calgary, Creative Calgary & Calgary Arts Coalition looked at “What are the key characteristics of a successful municipal arts coalition?” and Samuel Obadero gathered a group to ponder “What is mentorship and how can mentorship connect you from where you are now, to where you’d like to be?”
While Mass Culture has in the past planned for a specific number of Gatherings to occur per annum, as they move to conducting more formalized research, Gatherings will be hosted as needs arise from the sector. If you would like to participate or host a Gathering, you can reach out to Mass Culture and they will work with you from there. As they continue to convene conversations around key issues across the county, they are now embarking on a multitude of research projects based on their findings from the past couple of years.
The general feedback and findings generated by their multiple Gatherings has pointed to a need for consistent momentum for evidence-based information, that is prioritized and driven by the arts community; a need for the arts sector to have opportunities to convene, to give voice to those who haven’t been invited to have one, and to collectively find ways of mobilizing action; that there is great appetite for research into and communication of the impact of the arts in society; and that there is interest from arts leaders to continue to find creative ways of sharing stories of arts impact.
Their current projects are being conducted with LeSage Arts Management and the Association for Opera in Canada. On June 23, 2021, Mass Culture and the Association for Opera in Canada will host an event entitled Building an Arts Impact Community. The event will include a visual database to be explored by delegates on their own time prior to the event as well during the event itself. You can attend this event by responding on their site, and they are also looking for submissions detailing work done to complete a framework, project, or research initiative looking at arts' impact on society. They will be building a visual database of current arts' social impact projects, which will also be displayed leading up to and during the event.
Jeanne LeSage is leading the Future of Arts Work research project, which began before the pandemic, with an aim to look at the future of people systems needed for the arts organizations in Canada. Work to date has categorized research into the ‘buckets’ of the Future of Arts Institutions, Arts Workers, Arts Workplaces, and the Arts Sector. The current scope of research is looking into board governance, and arts organizations and boards are invited to complete a research survey on the topic here.
Mass Culture will no doubt be undertaking further research projects, and their website is full of studies, projects, and information. They are eager to hear from the national arts community, and can be contacted here.