Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Controlled circ arts magazines no longer eligible for Canada Council support

[This post has been updated]The Canada Council for the Arts has apparently quietly dropped the so-called "Lola clause" from its guidelines that has for several years allowed controlled circulation arts and literary magazines to qualify for funding based, in part, on their advertising support.

Previously, and apparently from this year on, the Council will follow its longstanding requirement that a publication needs to have 50% paid circulation to qualify. The so-called "Lola" provisions, which were instituted in 2002, named after a now defunct Toronto art magazine, allowed eligibility if a magazine "maintain(s) at least a 25 per cent ratio of revenues from paid circulation or advertising"; the principle being that advertisers would not support a magazine that was not read. It's not known how many publications are affected by the change in the guidelines, which applies to 2010 applications that are due on March 1.

The change has been reported in a posting on the website of a magazine affected, La Scena Musicale in Montreal. Publisher and editor Wah Keung Chan said that the reversion to the previous 50% paid rule was a step backward, particularly as the Ontario Arts Council had revised its eligibility criteria last year to allow -- for the first time -- controlled circulation arts magazines and journals to qualify. The OAC criteria put a cap on circulation (30,000 copies) and the publication may carry no more than 40% advertising.
For La Scena Musicale, the issue is a matter of principle and transparency. Although controlled-circulation arts magazines represent a minority, they have been innovators in outreach for the arts and should be eligible for funding. The fact that the change was made without consultation and that concerned parties were not notified indicates a lack of transparency in the process. La Scena Musicale is planning a campaign to reverse this policy change, including an online petition and a Facebook group.
[Update: The Canada Council says that the changes to the eligibility rules were published on the website in December, a paper package went to all CC clients in January and in an electronic version 2 weeks later. It is not the practice to send out notifications to previously unsuccesful applicants or to people not considered clients. (Another rule change made program guides were excluded.)

The change was recommended by peer juries who did not feel the provision was a good fit and felt that they did not want to frustrate applicants who had little chance of being successful.

The new rule affects, at most, 1 to 3 existing clients and, in those cases the peer juries have the ability to recommend an exception be made.

The so-called Lola clause was brought in internally, without public consultation, and didn't even result in a grant being given (see comment below)since the publication that sparked it felt four times as much was what was needed. (Note: the average beginning grant for most CC clients is about $7,000.) Ultimately the magazine went out of business.]



Blogger CatherineO said...

Hi DB,

I'm writing as the former co-founding editor of Lola, the namesake of the so-called "Lola clause." I must say this term is a very first for me. I have never heard it before. It's also interesting that while the CC might have created such a thing, we never received any CC money. In short, we petitioned for about 4 years to change the rules and finally -- once they agreed to accept our application -- we requested a reasonable amount of $$ to keep the magazine afloat. They awarded us a fraction of what we needed, so we folded. I don't blame them for Lola's bittersweet demise, but they sure didn't lend out a helping hand as this "Lola clause" might suggest. It really was too little, too late.
Catherine Osborne

12:54 pm  
Blogger D. B. Scott said...

Catherine, good to hear from you. I had forgotten that, in the end, you didn't take up the money because (as you say) the amount was too small to make a difference. Your efforts, however, had a residual effect (I can't say how many controlled arts magazines benefited; but some did).What's curious is that, on its face, this seems to be something that wasn't broken and didn't need fixing. As the person who advised the OAC on its policy changes, I am of the opinion that the CC decision is a puzzling one.

1:08 pm  
Blogger Wah Keung Chan said...

Thanks for writing the story and procuring the comments from the Canada Council. Although many government departments make internal decisions without consultation, however, it is surprising that the Canada Council would make internal decisions without consultation given the following statement found on the Council's website, "the Canada Council is committed to the principles of transparency and accountability." This principle of transparency is also hollow given the quote "It is not the practice to send out notifications to previously unsuccessful applicants or to people not considered clients." Is that a new policy for government to ONLY serve those groups that receive existing grants?

I found it refreshing when I received the email notice of the next grant from the Canada Magazine Fund even when LSM was not a recent client. Also, why is it that the Canada Periodical Fund, also in the Department of Canadian Heritage, is seeking open consultations?

It sounds quite considerate of the Canada Council when they state that "The change was recommended by peer juries who did not feel the provision was a good fit and felt that they did not want to frustrate applicants who had little chance of being successful." However, it seems to me that this decision just makes it easier for Council personnel and jury members, as they would have fewer applicants to deal with.

The above quote also gives the implication that the Canada Council considers that controlled circulation magazines are necessarily inferior to "regular" arts magazines. Technically speaking, Lola WAS given a grant by the Canada Council jury at the time, but they closed down and did not use the money. FRONT, another controlled-circulation magazine is also a regular grant recipient. In our 13 years of publishing, La Scena Musicale has always striven for editorial and graphical excellence. We were awarded grants for five years to the electronic magazine component, but recently, we chose to lower our print run to meet the Canada Council print eligibility criteria in order to apply in this component. The main issue is the principle that all arts print publications should be treated in an equal and fair manner, and that includes being evaluated by the peer jury.

5:02 pm  

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