Canada Council for the Arts

Last month the Canada Council for the Arts announced a new set of initiatives under the title of “Support to Architecture.” Acknowledging the Council’s generally poor support in the past for architecture relative to other Visual Arts, the report’s authors, Brigitte Desrochers and Franois Lachapelle, summarize four sets of actions and programs that are intended to rectify the situation.

The first addresses the need for supporting the production of articles, publications, exhibitions and events on contemporary Canadian architecture. This will take the form of two new grants programs supporting the publication and exhibition of contemporary architecture: one to assist practitioners, critics and curators of architecture, and a second directed to organizations such as museums, galleries and publishers.

The second major initiative constitutes an overhaul of the Prix de Rome program, which currently involves a one-year residency in Rome. Established in 1987, in recent years the Prix de Rome has drawn criticism for the fact that a laureate’s absence from Canada—and from the important network of clients and professional connections so necessary to the establishment of young architects–has caused problems for returning winners wishing to re-establish themselves in practice. As of 2004, the Prix de Rome will involve a shorter sojourn and will not require winners to be based in Rome. Recipients may decide where and how to use the Canada Council’s support, and the shorter absence from practice will provide more opportunity for the participation not only of emerging architects, but also those in mid-career. In addition, the Council is rectifying a serious shortcoming of the program by providing for public dissemination of the laureates’ research, which to date has largely gone unrecognized.

The third prong in the Canada Council’s new architecture program is designed to help young firms “with a strong creative edge and promise of accomplishment” become established in professional practice. This is not a grant program–rather it will bring together young promising architects with established practitioners recognized for the design excellence of their built work. Essentially a mentoring program, it is intended to allow young practices to benefit from the experience of architects who have managed to succeed in practice while maintaining high standards of cutting-edge design. This may help the profession learn to view emerging talents as young colleagues to be encouraged, rather than competitors to be stifled.

Finally, the Council will become involved in promoting better commissioning practices, especially among federal departments and ministries. Arguing that the federal government has the responsibility to lead by example in demanding and facilitating excellence in the design of public buildings, the Canada Council will lobby for greater collaboration between cultural, environmental and public works ministries to raise awareness of the importance of design quality. It will also undertake a program to promote and support design competitions as part of the commissioning process.

These new initiatives represent the Canada Council for the Arts’ determination to expand from its support of what is described in the report as “avant-garde” and “paper” architecture to engage more fully in promoting design excellence in actual practice. This clearly suggests that the Council’s perception of architecture has shifted from seeing it as just another of the “Visual Arts” to understanding it as a unique, autonomous practice that requires a different kind of support system in order to flourish as a creative discipline. This is an overdue but altogether welcome and encouraging expansion of the Canada Council’s architectural mandate.