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Jeff Melanson Reiterates Need for Cultural Policy Think-Tank

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Canada has long served as an international beacon to those looking to leave their home country and start a new and better life. Earlier this year, the Great White North welcomed the last of the 10,000 Syrian refugees, who came to Canada for this exact reason.

Unlike the United States, a country widely known as a melting pot where cultures unite to make the American identity, Canada prides itself on being a vast cultural mosaic, where cultural diversity is celebrated and applauded.

As home to the most diverse city on earth – Toronto — it’s surprising to know that Canada does not have a national non-partisan cultural think-tank. While there are community-based, city-wide and even provincial organizations that do this type of work, there is no official Canadian think-tank and, in many ways, the lack of an organization like this is detrimental to the cultural unity so integral to the Canadian identity.

In 2007, Europe introduced their own international think-tank, called the Forum d’Avignon, to serve as an EU-wide organization and international meeting place. Since its founding, Forum d’Avignon has built an important network of artists and creators, entrepreneurs and institutions, politicians and academics, international consultancy firms, and students from 15 European schools and universities.

Forum d’Avignon gathers throughout the year to develop cultural and creative initiatives around fields of research in areas like the digital industry, finance, economics and international relations.

The forum’s goal is to create a cultural dialogue around various economic and digital fields, as outlined in their mission statement: “to re-emphasize that culture is simultaneously a financial, collective, and individual investment and not a cost, and through its basic characteristics — artistic, economic, and social — culture participates directly in the development of economy and territories.”

Forum d’Avignon is a groundbreaking organization that Canadian arts leader and former Toronto Symphony Orchestra President and CEO, Jeff Melanson, sees as integral to Canada’s cultural vibrancy and the future of the country’s various arts organizations. Jeff Melanson, who has been a leader in the Canadian arts world for more than a decade, has been outspoken for many years on the importance of a private, unbiased cultural think-tank organization.

“[Canadians] need an independent, privately-funded think-tank committed to exploring new ideas and looking at global best practices in a non-partisan way,” remarks Melanson.

Melanson also points out that an organization like this, “will then be able to produce objective recommendations about the role of arts and culture in Canada.”

Jeff Melanson, along with a host of other arts leaders, believes the absence of a thought organization is directly responsible for the lack of a national policy and initiatives around arts and culture in Canada.

On the upside, despite the absence of an organization such as this, a number of local groups and organizations across Canada have collaborated to offer the federal government a better idea of what strategies are needed.

Case in point, the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity ( in Alberta has partnered with the Toronto Arts Council to create a unique leadership program designed to help Toronto realize its vast creative and cultural capital.

“The Cultural Leaders Lab will inspire Toronto’s arts leadership and serve as a think tank in developing new approaches to issues facing artists and arts organizations in Toronto,” said  Claire Hopkinson, director and CEO of the Toronto Arts Council.

Initiatives like the partnership between the Banff Centre and the Toronto arts community are a fantastic starting point, but longstanding national change is only achieved when interests, perspectives and cultures from across the country are addressed and taken into consideration.  

Without a nation-wide organization to hold the government accountable, the voice of Canada’s diverse cultural and arts communities are in many ways weakened when it comes to having a say in policies that shape the country and prepare it for future generations of Canadians. 

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