Open Access: the role of the committee

Featured Story: Community Arts Committee

January 2017

Director, Grants Management Andrew Suri and Community Arts Committee Chair Cara Eastcott
Cara Eastcott first met Andrew Suri, TAC’s Community Arts Officer (now Director, Grants Management), during an event at a grassroots arts space in Toronto. It was a revelatory encounter for Eastcott - it was the moment she recognized the human element behind Toronto Arts Council. “The perception of the adjudication process, and even the application process, is that it’s a mystery, an unknown. That mystery can totally be resolved by contacting the officers. There are human people that run the programs. They’re there to dispel, break down, explain, interpret, and reinterpret for different kinds of people to understand,” she says.

Cara Eastcott is now the Chair of the Community Arts Committee and a member of the TAC Board of Directors. After nearly four years of volunteering on the committee, Eastcott has read through hundreds of operating and project applications, dedicating her time and expertise to serve and represent the Community Arts sector with other members of the committee. Among another misconception that Eastcott notes: “I think that there’s a perception that we get paid, and we don’t. I think that that awareness could change how the [adjudication] process is perceived, who is on the committee and their intentions for being on it.”     

The peer-review process was established early in TAC’s history and remains a vital part of our operating structure. Both juries and committees make up the process; jury members change with each round of adjudications and primarily assess programs for individuals. They are paid for their time. Committee members serve as volunteers for an average of three years and assess all operating and some project programs. Jury and committee members are actively involved in the arts and culture community, and help ensure that TAC remains transparent, equitable and rigorous in its grants evaluation.

What separates the committee structure from the jury structure is, in part, the long-lasting connections and learning that happens. Eastcott, who is the Interim Executive Director of Tangled Arts and Disability and a practicing artist, describes her role as being a bridge between the arts community and TAC. “The officers have insight into how TAC is structured and how decisions get made, and as the Chair, I have insight into the discipline, the community,” she says. Working closely with Andrew Suri, Eastcott played a crucial role in developing the TAC Accessibility Grant, which provides additional funding for projects involving Deaf artists and artists with disabilities.

“Throughout my time as a committee member, Andrew and I have had conversations about how TAC could support artists and applicants with disabilities, Deaf applicants, and applicants who have mental illness. Because I am involved in the disability arts/ Deaf arts community in Toronto through my work at Tangled Arts, I was a good person to help develop the new initiative” explains Eastcott. She says that it’s not always easy to incorporate new needs into the structure of programs, however, “the first step is that it has to get on the radar.”  

Among other challenges, Eastcott notes the difficulty in selecting projects and organizations to fund, especially given the large number of applications of merit, and the subjective aspect of the process. Yet, there are also benefits to the job; the long-term volunteer role helps embed committee members further into their discipline. “After four years, you start seeing the same applicants, the same projects or organizations growing and getting better, becoming more professional, creating more opportunities for themselves,” she says. This close connection to the sector and the ability to see the impact of projects is what drew her to the position. Eastcott explains, “The Community Arts discipline this year really represents not just the diversity that exists in our city, but it’s very responsive to the contemporary social issues our city is facing.”

She continues:

“A question that artists and arts organizations go back to all the time is: does art help the world? Does it save lives? Does it solve social problems and issues? I don’t know that I have the answer to that. But I’ve definitely seen Community Arts projects use art to support communities in need, bridge different communities together, and different sectors together. That’s the most rewarding thing [about serving on the Community Arts Committee] – as cheesy as it sounds, you’re seeing the power of the arts actually having social impact.”

Learn more about TAC Committees