Are Canadians ready to return to the arts?

On Tuesday, Sept 22, Chief Data Scientist and Founder of Nanos Research, Nik Nanos shared findings of the latest Arts Response Tracking Survey (ARTS), a partnership between Business / Arts, the National Arts Centre and Nanos Research, which polled over 1,000 Canadians to gauge their attitudes on returning to and supporting the arts across Canada. The fieldwork for this study was completed on July 30th, 2020 and targeted Canadian arts-goers. 

These latest findings offer terrific insight for arts organizations, in particular, fundraisers to help inform programming and fundraising models.

ARTS focused on three axes: 

1- Timing of Return, which tracked the impact of the pandemic and when arts-goers plan to return.

2- Conditions for Return, which tracked what precaution Canadian arts-goers would like to see in place prior to returning to arts and cultural events

3- Donations, which captured reported donation activity for 2019, 2020 and projected to 2021 to understand the likely immediate impact of the pandemic and to plan for 2021. 

Key findings:


• Timing of return: 

For indoor cultural activities, 23% of Canadian arts-goers would go back immediately, while 38% said they’d wait 6 months on average before going back. 1 in 3 still unsure about going back.

As for outdoor cultural activities, 37% said they’d go back immediately, 30% would wait 5 months on average, and 1 in 3 are still unsure about going back. 

Museums and galleries are the venues which Canadian arts-goers are not certain about the most, with a whopping 43% who said they’re unsure about when they’d go back. 


• Conditions for Return:

Culture-goers increasingly say that masks are a precaution that would make them feel comfortable to attend in-person. This suggests an alignment with public health recommendations. 

For indoor performances, 40% of indoor culture-goers (compared to 27% in May) who plan to attend immediately after reopening want masks. 

As for those who plan to wait 1 to 5 months before returning to attending performances, 43% expressed that they want masks (compared to 29% in May). 

The numbers are very similar for Outdoor performances: the consensus is that people would feel much safer if precautions included masks. 


• Donations:

In 2019, 43% of culture-goers donated to arts/cultural organizations an average of $158. In 2020, it is anticipated that the numbers will go down: 39% of culture-goers except to donate an average of $126 , which is a drop of 20% compared to 2019. 

On the bright side, 2021 seems to be promising: 42% intend to donate an average of $222, which is a 40% increase compared to the current year. 

Nik Nanos highlighted the fact that arts organizations will be hit hard this year. However, depending on the economical environment, there will likely be a rebound in donations in 2021. 

It is worth noting that the 35-54 age segment plan to donate less in 2021. This, however, will be compensated by a growth in donation amounts by the 55 plus cohort: their generosity is expected to continue into 2021. 


There was a discussion after the presentation by five panelists:

1-  Wesley J. Colford from Highlanders Theatre shared an inspiring success story; This relatively young theatre company, based in Sydney, Nova Scotia, was expecting to go bankrupt by August 2020 due to the pandemic. Instead of giving up, they started a program called “Radical Access”, where they pivoted from selling tickets to a crowdsourcing model by requesting monthly donations. The model has been a great success and they are already at 98% of their funding goal.

2- Irfan Rawji from Glenbow Museum in Calgary discussed finances, and what the Canadian government could do to help arts organizations. He highlighted the example of a UK government program that covers 50% of restaurant-goers’ bills on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. In essence, the government is allowing the public to pick which restaurants will survive. 

3- Monica Esteves, ED of Canadian Stage in Toronto, said that they surveyed their audiences in June, and learned that their audiences were concerned about the company and its survival. At the same time, audiences were not willing to make long term commitments. In response, Canadian Stage is programming and selling their activities in three month “mini-seasons” and will continue to do so for the next 12 months at least. The board of directors reviews progress and approves plans in three month increments, enabling rapid organizational response to emerging situations.   

4- Claire Sakaki, ED of Bard on the Beach (Vancouver), spoke about their 31 year old Festival, which typically presents 300 performances in an iconic Vancouver location in the summer months. Ticket sales and donations make up the largest proportion of their $9 million annual revenues. Transcending physical location, they quickly re-branded to “Bard Beyond the Beach” with a temporary logo, and started “Bard in your Heart”, a brand for donors. At the same time, they re-imagined all of their activities on virtual platforms, ranging from (performances – you didn’t say?) through backstage tours and an annual dinner.

5- Jayne Watson, CEO of the National Arts Centre Foundation, talked about the NAC’s efforts to keep donors connected and happy at a time of great uncertainty.  She noted the strong connection between appealing projects and donor generosity, highlighting such initiatives as the NAC funding 12 theatre companies to deliver socially distanced performances, and the continued success of the Canada Performs series of free, live-streamed performances. She also noted their pivot from their traditional fall gala to an emphasis on individual donations, including a donation matching program. 

Slides from the meeting 

Video of the meeting


Small Budget Orchestra Day: National Conference 2019

We’re delighted to announce that, as part of our National Conference in Ottawa this June, we will be running a full-day small-budget orchestra session on Thursday, June 13th.

Date & Time: Thursday, June 13, 9am-5:30
Location: Canada’s National Arts Centre, Ottawa, ON
Cost: $100 + HST

Registration is now closed as we are at capacity


9am-10am: Coffee, check-in

10am-12pm: Peer group meeting with invited guests. Topics on the agenda include:

  1. Perspectives on accessing funding for smaller budget orchestras: What makes a funding request successful? How do we find likely prospects?
  2. Doing great work on a shoestring: Identifying, attracting and retaining great board members and volunteers
  3. Building and maintaining a strong community orchestra: How do we attract skilled volunteer musicians, and keep them happy? What role does programming play? How do we balance “curb appeal” for the audience with the interests of the players? What role do we want and need our music director to play? How do we find the right music director?
  4. Growing audiences: How can we broaden, deepen, diversify our audiences? What’s working? What role does programming play?

12pm-1pm: Group lunch

1pm-2pm: Peer group meeting continues

2pm-4pm: Choice of conference breakout sessions, focusing on ways that orchestras can engage with increasingly diverse populations, however they define diversity in their communities. Choose one of four options:

  1. The Creative Case for Social Inclusion: what orchestras are doing to engage more community members
  2. Orchestral training and career paths: short term “hacks” and long-term changes to diversify orchestras
  3. Fundraising (panel discussion)
  4. Resilience and Business models, a workshop with Patrick Towell of Golant Media Ventures, co-author of What is Resilience Anyway?

4pm-4:30pm: Coffee break with other conference delegates

4:30pm-5:30pm: Panel presentation: arts data you can use! Canada Council’s recent research on orchestras, on the demographics of institutions funded through the Engage and Sustain, and on intrinsic arts impact.

5:30pm: Full day program is done. Those wanting to continue the experience can participate in the following evening activities at their own expense. Please register here your interest here, by June 1st.

  1. Indigenous Walking Tour of Parliament Hill (cost is $15-20 per person depending on the size of the group)
  2. OrKidstra’s season closing concert (tickets are free but will need to be booked in advance)
  3. Prix fixe dinner at Le Café ($50 plus tax, tip, and any beverages)

Full Conference

Should any smaller budget groups wish to join us for the full three-day conference, you’d be more than welcome. Information on this can be found in the National Conference area of our website.

Thank you, Micheline McKay, and welcome Éric Dubeau!

A message from our Executive Director, Katherine Carleton

Micheline McKaySince 2013, Orchestras Canada has been privileged to work with Micheline McKay as our government relations consultant. Micheline has served as trusted advisor, analyst and reliable source of information and feedback to the OC staff, board and Advocacy Committee. Her good sense, high ethical standards, discretion, hard work, and political insights have inspired us all. On a personal note, she’s the best and most patient co-writer I’ve ever worked with, handling my relentless editing and wild spins on things with great aplomb. I also recall with great admiration the role she played in our Orchestras on the Hill day in early 2018: the passionate tributes that Minister of Canadian Heritage and the chairs and vice chairs of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage paid to orchestras that day came about because of Micheline’s tact and effective organization.

In the fall of 2018, Micheline let us know that she was closing her government relations practice to focus on other things. We bade her a fond farewell in early March, and thanked her on behalf of the entire OC community. She has done exceptional work with us over the last five and a half years and we are grateful.

Éric DubeauStarting April 1, we’ll be welcoming Éric Dubeau as OC’s new government relations advisor. Éric, based just outside Montreal, has many years of experience as an arts advocate, political staffer on Parliament Hill, policy wonk, association leader, granting officer, arts consultant, and award-winning singer-songwriter. His unique skills and collaborative, informed approach make him an ideal successor to Micheline, and we can’t wait to get started!

Three reasons to be at the National Conference

Registration is now open for Orchestras Canada’s National Conference! This year, we’ve introduced new price points to ensure that the conference is as accessible as we can make it – and we’re beyond excited about the program, too! Take advantage of the early-bird discount by registering before the April 26th deadline.

1. Connect with learnings from innovative and engaging speakers

We’re thrilled to welcome speakers who are leading change in the arts industry. Among others, we’re delighted to introduce:

  • Nina Simon, will explore the risks and rewards of engaging more closely with our communities, and will arm you with the tools to talk to your board and colleagues about opportunities for community involvement that will strengthen the impact of your organization.
  • Donna Walker-Kuhne will share best practices and success metrics for community engagement programs and will present strategies on ways to expand and diversify your audience.
  • As part of our pre-conference digital workshop on June 11th, Fiona Morris and John White from The Space will look at how to integrate your strategic and business plans with your digital strategy.
  • Dylan Robinson will help us better understand and respectfully navigate issues of cultural appropriation through a workshop and panel discussion.

2. Become part of the conversation on designing the 21st-century orchestra

Attend expert-led, peer-driven breakout sessions that connect you to vital conversations about how orchestras are adapting for the 21st century. With sessions running simultaneously on subjects such as governance, marketing, fundraising, community engagement, and orchestral training systems, these conversations will challenge us to consider the transformations we can make in our own organizations.

3. Meet your peers from orchestras large and small across the country

Whether over a cup of coffee before starting the day, during structured peer group meetings, or at a social event, the National Conference is an important reminder that you’re not alone. The conference includes dedicated time with peers who do similar work to you, to discuss the most pressing issues you face, and to brainstorm solutions.

Results from OC’s Member Satisfaction Survey

The survey was distributed to one contact at each orchestra (usually the CEO, or a board member). Of the 125 organizations approached, 49 responded to the survey; this is slightly down from the 55 who responded to the 2016 edition. However, geographically, the 2018 edition is more representative of OC’s membership, with Québec and Ontario slightly over-represented, and other provinces slightly under-represented as a result, most notably British Columbia.

In both 2016 and 2018, larger budget organizations were noticeably over-represented in the survey. Organizations in the $1 Million to $5 Million category were the highest responders, with 15 of the 18 member organizations in this category responding in 2018.

Next Steps

Some of the improvements suggested can be addressed by technical fixes and are achievable within our current means. The issue of long load times on our website has been addressed in our recent website rebuild. You also called for more frequent reminders of OC programs and services, and we can commit to this. Also achievable: commitment to commissioning or curating, then sharing, authoritative resources via our website.

We acknowledge that some things will take more time and resources to accomplish, especially our commitment to enable more and better connection between peers (whether online or in-person).  As well, we were intrigued by the suggestion that we do more to foster mentoring networks among OC members, to ensure better transmission of knowledge between current and future leaders, and help build a sectoral succession plan. While we can’t commit to starting this work today, you’ve inspired us to think more deeply about how and when it might happen.

Programs and Services

These questions looked to understand the value that our members place on certain OC programs and services (whether or not they’ve taken part in them). In general, our members are expecting more of OC in 2018 than they were in 2016.

wdt_ID Program/Service 2016 Average Rating 2018 Average Rating
1 Job Board 3.63 3.93
2 Inventory of Orchestra Music Libraries 3.71 3.56
3 Webinars for professional development 3.24 3.5
4 Email discussion groups 3.08 3.17
5 Ongoing advocacy with government 4.35 4.48
6 Advocacy template letters to government 3.32 3.69
7 Comparative Report 3.9 4.06
8 HR templates (contracts, handbooks, etc) 3.28 3.58
9 Monthly newsletter 3.06 3.47
10 Conferences and workshops 3.41 3.34 (Workshops); 3.56 (Regional Meetings); 3.83 (National Conference)

We also asked about the level of satisfaction with the programs that our members have taken part in. With the exception of the two insurance programs, those who have taken part in our programs have a higher level of satisfaction now than two years ago.

wdt_ID Program/Service 2016 Average Rating 2018 Average Rating
1 Job Board 3.76 4.23
2 Inventory of Orchestra Music Libraries 3.55 3.56
3 Webinars for professional development 3.71 3.76
4 Email discussion groups 3.18 3.61
5 Ongoing advocacy with government 3.8 3.91
6 Advocacy template letters to government 3.58 3.91
7 Comparative Report 4.18 4.28
8 HR templates (contracts, handbooks, etc) 3.6 3.78
9 Monthly newsletter 3.37 3.93
10 Conferences and workshops 4 3.75 (Workshops); 3.88 (Regional Meetings); 4.35 (National Conference)

Our members value most highly OC’s advocacy work, the national conference, and the comparative report. The comments for this section saw a strong desire for strengthening connections among members (through online and in-person exchanges), and for even more advocacy work. In terms of the low ratings on the insurance programs, we plan to start conversations with our members who have used these to look deeper into this.


There is a notable level of improvement in the level of satisfaction regarding our communications. The level of people who are not engaging with us on any particular platform has also decreased.

wdt_ID Platform 2016 Average Rating 2018 Average Rating 2016 N/A Response 2018 N/A Response
1 OC Website 3.31 3.61 11% 6.38%
2 Email Communications 3.61 3.96 11% 0%
3 Social Media Communications 3.1 3.82 38% 27.66%

Respondents commented in both 2016 and 2018 that they would like to see more frequent and easily accessible communication of summary lists of OC programs and services. In both surveys, there was also a strong desire in the comments for more connecting of staff across member organizations (particularly below senior management level).


There is improvement with regards to the extent that respondents felt they had developed professional peer relationships through OC. However, with the exception of senior management, almost all other areas of staff were still reported as having relationships below “somewhat developed”.

wdt_ID Staff 2016 Average Rating 2018 Average Rating
1 Senior Management 2.85 3.9
2 Communications & Marketing 2.16 3.16
3 Subscription & Patron Relations 1.92 2.68
4 Artistic Directors 2.12 2.71
5 Fundraising & Development 1.96 2.85
6 Finance 2.02 2.13
7 Production 1.83 3.14
8 Programming 2.24 3.26

These questions were new in 2018 and tracked where our members go to for information, resources, advice and perspectives, as well as asking which knowledge gaps they’d like OC to fill. The option of a national mentoring or exchange program came up multiple times as something that our members would value as an added program.

Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility Declaration

These questions were also new in 2018. 41 respondents (83.67%) were aware of the IDEA declaration, with 20 orchestras having adopted this at their organizations, and another seven commenting that it is in progress of being discussed. Of these orchestras, one is in British Columbia, one in Alberta, two in Saskatchewan, one in Manitoba, ten in Ontario, four in Québec, and one in Nova Scotia. Most (16/20) are organizations with budgets over $1 Million. 40 respondents (85.1%) found this work to be “Important” or “Very Important”.


Orchestras Canada’s mission is: Orchestras Canada helps orchestras achieve together what they cannot accomplish alone, serving Canadian orchestras in both official languages, through research, knowledge-sharing, convening, and advocacy. Respondents believed that OC was succeeding in its mission more strongly in 2018 than in 2016, with the average response on the 5-pont scale moving from 4.13 to 4.3.

2019 Gift-Matching Campaign

Orchestras Canada’s board and staff are collaborating on an end-of-year challenge: we’ve collectively increased our giving in order to create a matching fund. For every dollar that we raise from donors before March 31, to a maximum of $3,000, our board and staff will match the gift, dollar for dollar! Whether you give $25 or $500, you’ll have the joy of knowing that your investment will have twice the impact…but only if you donate before March 31, 2019.

We invite you to make a tax-receiptable donation today through the CanadaHelps form on our donation page. Thank you so much!

Katherine Carleton appointed to the Order of Canada

Katherine Carleton, C.M.. with Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada,Katherine Carleton, Orchestras Canada’s executive director, has been appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada.  A respected arts manager and an accomplished musician, she has been at the helm of Orchestras Canada since 2005.  Before coming to Orchestras Canada, Ms. Carleton was executive director of the Kingston Symphony, the Nova Scotia Symphony and the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra. A passionate arts advocate, Katherine Carleton has garnered the respect of the orchestra industry across Canada and abroad.

With a degree in clarinet performance, Ms. Carleton has in the past worked as a musician, teacher, grants officer, and arts administrator. She still finds time to perform in small ensembles in Peterborough and Toronto. She is a graduate of the University of Toronto (Music) and McGill University (management).

“The Canadian orchestra community is proud of Katherine. The Order of Canada is a well-deserved recognition of the immense work she has done in defending, promoting and advocating for the arts and for orchestras from coast to coast,” said Gilles Choquet, president of the Board of Orchestras Canada / Orchestres Canada and executive director of l’Orchestre symphonique de Longueuil.