Botched rollout of online Canada Council grant portal causing confusion, headaches

A botched rollout of the Canada Council for the Arts's new online grant application process is causing confusion and headaches for artists and arts organizations across the country.

Portal won't be ready for applications until June, pushing back deadlines and some results

Simon Brault, director and CEO of the Canada Council for the Arts, announced applying for grants through the new online portal would be delayed until June, and with that, grant deadlines pushed back. Artists and art groups are worried what any results delays may mean for them. (CanadaCouncil/YouTube)

A botched rollout of the Canada Council for the Arts' new online grant application process is causing confusion and headaches for artists and arts organizations across the country.

The "portal," as it's known, was supposed to start accepting grant applications before this Sunday.

But glitches that could compromise the online application process have pushed that launch back until June 5 — and with it, a bunch of grant deadlines. The delay wasn't revealed to artists until Tuesday, just days before deadline.

Brenda Leadlay, the executive director of the arts advocacy group B.C. Alliance for Arts and Culture, says she's been hearing from many different groups who have problems with the new system and its delays. She's worried the switched deadlines will hurt small arts groups who have few resources and rely on Canada Council funding.

Brenda Leadlay is the executive director of the arts advocacy group B.C. Alliance for Arts and Culture. She says she's concerned about the delays because her industry largely relies on Council funding: 'If you aren’t assured you are going to be able to get the funding … you may be out a lot of money personally.' (BC Alliance for Arts and Culture)

"We live and breathe with grant deadlines," she said. "Just a six-week delay could really affect [small arts groups] … they're not as resilient."

Canada Council said it is hoping to avoid delays, but some grants will come "a month or two later" than expected.

If that happens, smaller arts groups will have to rethink their budget or look elsewhere for funding in the meantime. Leadlay has already heard from an artist who has decided to scrap their project.

"Small companies, they just don't have the staff to deal with these changes."

Glitches 'deter people from applying'

The portal launched last December, letting artists and groups create their online accounts and profiles but no applications have been submitted that way yet. Grant applications are typically sent in by mail. Some applications will still be accepted this way before the portal is fully opened.

Canada Council said they've had about 20,000 artists and groups register so far. But that too has caused issues.

Sam Wiebe, a writer in Vancouver, signed up using the portal, but when he went to add to his profile, there was a glitch and all of his information was deleted. He tried using the web browser Safari (which doesn't work for the portal) and Chrome on both his laptop and iPad, but still couldn't get it to work. Someone from Canada Council ended up setting it up for him, he said.

He's worried this too could affect smaller, less "professionalized" arts groups.

"A lot of artists aren't computer savvy and glitches like this are just going to deter people from applying," he told CBC News. "It just took a long time and I think as long as they are willing to work one-on-one with people with problems, it's fine."

The portal was first announced in January 2015, along with the Council's plan for a new funding model.

Simon Brault​, chief executive of the Canada Council, says it's the first major investment the council has made in IT infrastructure since 2000. So far, they've capitalized $1.55 million on the portal. Brault is confident it will be ready to go for June 5 but admits the delay isn't ideal.

"It was a difficult decision to make, but we could not take the risk that these issues would become a burden," he told CBC News in an email. "We will have to re-adjust many internal processes in order to be able to accept applications from alternate means on an interim basis."

'Frustration fuelled by confusion'

Josh Beamish, who runs the Vancouver dance group Move: The Company, says he's relieved the deadlines have been pushed back. Between himself and his company, he had six different grants which were all going to be due this Sunday.

He had the guidelines and forms needed to prepare his application but couldn't actually get onto the portal to submit them and was worried he was going to run out of time. And before that, he, too, had trouble setting up his profile.

"I felt really uncomfortable submitting that many requests at once," he said. "Even if you can see the questions you have to write, it takes time."

Choreographer Josh Beamish has received quite a few grants from the Canada Council in the past. He has posted some of his gripes about the new application system on social media. 'The new Canada Council for the Arts Portal system is doing my head in,' he wrote in one Facebook post. (Facebook)

He's griped about the process on social media and with fellow artists and describes the general feeling as "frustration fuelled by confusion." And though he's grateful he gets more time to work on his applications, he said the new deadlines mean "a lot of the things I was going to apply for will already start happening."

He still has to sort out how he is going to tackle that but remains optimistic. He says staffers with the Canada Council have been very supportive.

"I do have faith."

Are you an artist or arts group impacted by portal delays? We'd like to hear your story. Get in touch: haydn.watters@cbc.ca


Haydn Watters is a roving reporter in Ontario, mostly serving the province's local CBC Radio shows. He has worked for the CBC in Halifax, Yellowknife, Ottawa and Toronto, with stints at the politics bureau and entertainment unit. He ran an experimental one-person pop-up bureau for the CBC in Barrie, Ont. You can get in touch at haydn.watters@cbc.ca.