At our last Artists Exchange event (on November 10, 2015 at the YPT), Prologue artists, along with other artists and arts stakeholders, got a real behind-the-scene tour of Ontario Arts Council Ontario Touring and National and International Touring programs from Noora Sagarwala, OAC Touring and Audience Development Officer. 

Noora is the person who reads EVERY touring program application before assembling a panel of assessors she very carefully chooses based on the mix of applications and the various artistic disciplines represented.

Appointed in January 2015, Noora’s experience ranges from the large-scale, multidisciplinary, international to the local and community-based. (She has held positions at Manifesto Community Projects, the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, National Arts Centre, Canada Dance Festival, as well as worked as a consultant for the South Asian Dance Alliance of Canada and Nova Dance.) Add to this a recently completed MBA from the Schulich School of Business.

We came out of this Exchange with a clear sense that Noora is leaving no stone unturned, sifting through it all, and assessing how to make the programs work more smoothly and efficiently to reach the OAC’s goals of providing professional arts experiences to the Ontario public, and elevating Ontario artists to the national and international stage.

10 interesting FACTS heard during the Exchange

FACT #1: Programs
There are currently two touring programs Ontario Touring and National & International Touring.

FACT #2: Deadlines
There are two deadlines for applications: mid-February and mid-September. Noora will find out in the Spring what budget is made available for the touring programs. Typically, the February round gets 60% of the budget while the September round gets 40% (based on the volume of applications received in the past).

FACT #3: Three engagements
You need to demonstrate you have a minimum of three engagements to be considered for touring grants. (Note that a touring receiving funds has to occur within two years of the grant being issued.) 

FACT #4: Flexibility
An engagement is a presentation/exhibition outside of your home city, with guaranteed fees from a presenter

This is more flexible than it may initially appear. OAC does not dictate a minimum fee, but rather uses the presenter’s contribution and support letter as an indication of the presenter’s commitment to showing your work. In fact, your “fee” could include in-kind contributions (ex. an organization paying for your accommodation).

Schools are considered venues, and one school board booking you for three schools shows would be considered as three engagements. You could also apply for a one-stop tour to a significant public arts event that allows you to reach a number of Canadian or foreign presenters or large audiences, offering a huge platform to promote your work.

FACT #5: Resources
The OAC Survival Guide is a great resource, even for those who are seasoned grant writers. Here’s the link to both English and French versions. 

FACT #6: Feedback
Noora encourages applicants to contact OAC’s officers to get feedback, especially if their application was unsuccessful: “You’d be surprised at how much better applications get following the feedback!”
FACT #7: Explain!
Touring applications got to a multidisciplinary jury, which means that there will likely be a juror who is an expert in your discipline, but not necessarily in your specific niche. Your grant application should be written with this in mind. Don’t assume the assessors know the specifics of your art form. Explain! And make sure your passion comes through!

FACT #8: Support guides
For school touring, it is important to demonstrate that you are providing tie-ins to the curriculum to provide teachers and students an opportunity to engage with the work at a deeper level. Read our TOP-10 tips about study guides summarizing our last Artist Exchange!

FACT #9: Importance of audio/video support material
Noora said she can not stress enough the importance of submitting audio/video clips to help the assessors gauge your artistic merit. They’re well aware that not-so-slick archival material is often the only material you can send, but it might be worth investing a bit to hire a professional videographer. They request up to 10 minutes of support material, but only 2-4 minutes will be viewed/heard. Make them count!

You might want to read our post about Nicholas Porteous, the videographer who created our new ARTS Advocacy clip: What are we fighting for featuring spoken word artist Andre Prefontaine. He’s offering very good rates to help you shine! (More about his work and fees.

FACT #10: Budgets
The assessors want to feel assured that you know what you’re doing! And this of course involves that you understand the requirements of your touring budget. Noora insists that you should be careful not to over-budget but also not to under-budget! Be realistic but don’t under-value your work.

Concerns and mental notes
Prologue and the participants pointed out a major problem for artists wanting to tour in the schools. 

Considering schools prefer to book in October and November for the current school year, it is hard for the artists to secure the three required  engagements before the program’s mid-September dead-line, and the mid-February is too early for schools to start booking for the coming school year.

Prologue will pursue this conversation with the Touring Officer. 

At the end of the Exchange, there were many questions regarding the pros and cons of acquiring a non-profit status. (Individuals, collectives and non-profit organizations can apply for the Touring grants.) It seemed to us that this could be a good topic for a coming Artist Exchange!

Noora‘s conclusion
The exercise of writing a grant application will not be lost on you, even if you don’t get the grant (approx. 3 applicants out of 10 succeed in getting funding from the touring program). 

This is the perfect occasion to clarify the vision of what you want to accomplish through your art form. It’s also a much needed reality check on the logistics and budget needs of a touring.

Noora Sagarwala insists: “Even if you don’t get funds, keep applying! It’s in the nature of the beast that different peer assessors choose different projects, reflecting their own taste and experience.” 

Bottom line: assessors are people too! 

Read about our previous Artist Exchanges:
10 TIPS to create a useful study guide
10 TIPS about performing in the schools