shifting governance policies and practices

As social or cultural researchers, we aim to activate research, for example, by changing governance policies and practices, as analyzed in From Process to Policy and Back Again. This is easier said than done. in this vignette, Mary Elizabeth (M.E.) Luka offers two examples that realized mixed success through the mobilization of social-justice oriented expertise and research. The first example concerns the challenges in shifting the composition of a provincial arts council’s staff complement and Board of Directors while Board Chair or Vice-Chair between 2012-2018. The other example describes attempts to shift eligibility within a Federal funding program for the arts and culture to become more inclusive as well as to bring the research consolidated for the Department of Canadian Heritage into the public sphere.

While demographic diversity and inclusion were legislated into the Act that created Arts Nova Scotia (Province of Nova Scotia, 2011), the fraught work of operationalizing ‘inclusion’ at the staff and Board levels within a more traditional organizational approach and a government structure takes time and trust as well as specific bodies and kinds of efforts. In Sara Ahmed’s words: “Diversity work is thus often about trying; that is, it not only involves effort, it often becomes about the [frustrating] effort required to bring about certain kinds of change” (Ahmed, 2017, p. 97, my emphasis). This is reflected in my experience with Arts Nova Scotia (ANS) over a six-year period. The organizational structure at ANS was a hybrid of two distinct systems in the Canadian arts council ecosystem; i.e. it was partially arms-length. Arts Councils in Canada provide grants to individual artists and the organizations that employ them (such as dance companies, theatre companies, visual arts galleries, etc.). What it means when an arts council is arms-length is that the budget line was allocated by the provincial government to the organization annually (similarly to other arms-length government agencies, tribunals, etc. such as the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) or the Canada Council for the Arts). However, at ANS, while staff work (in particular, the Director) was overseen by the volunteer Board of Directors, the staff are actually part of the civil service, which reduces the length of the “arm” from government. This is similar to the CRTC (discussed in From Process to Policy and Back Again), but unlike the Canada Council for the Arts, where all the staff are employees of the Council rather than part of the civil service: see Monica Gattinger’s (2017) account of this Federal arts funding body for more details.  

When ANS was founded in 2011, part of the staff complement for ANS was assigned from a general government pool of employees, which was at a very short arms’ length, and is predominantly white, cis-gender, and somewhat feminized. However, the staff Director was subsequently hired by a combined Board and civil service hiring committee (a longer arms’ length). All three staff had experience in running granting programs or cultural sector organizations and all three were white males. In the six years that Luka stayed involved, the size and composition shifted to between four and six (full-time and part-time) staff in terms of gender, sexuality, language and fields of expertise but not ethnoculturally, notwithstanding the significant Black and Indigenous population in Nova Scotia, with the exception of staff for a pan-Atlantic partnership for an Indigenous symposium. This was in part due to the nature of the civil service pool that ANS drew from, but also the specific skills that were prioritized for the few hiring opportunities that came up. 

The processes involved in renewing the pool of volunteer experts for the Board of Directors illustrated a different story. The Arts Nova Scotia Act (2011, amended 2012) required that:

4. The membership of the Board must (a) reflect the diversity found within the Province’s art community; and (b) where possible, include representation from differing art disciplines, generations and the Province’s cultural mosaic including, but not limited to, representation from the African Nova Scotian, Mi’kmaq and Acadian communities and balanced representation between women and men. 2012, c.8, s.3. 

While the initial composition of the Board, which was recruited primarily by civil service staff on behalf of the Minister, met the demographic requirements of the legislation and were then approved by the Minister, subsequent future Board appointments were researched, investigated and handled by the Board’s nominating committee at greater arms’ length, which provided a pathway to more deeply vary the composition of the Board. According to the legislation (Arts Nova Scotia Act, 2011), three of the eleven positions on the Board are reserved for direct Ministerial appointment, although in practice, are also discussed by the nominating committee of the ANS Board, with specific efforts made to encourage people to apply for the positions. As with most non-profit and cultural organizations, ANS policy on equity and inclusion emerged from the vision, mandate and values propositions of the organization, periodically revised by the Board. Similarly, the nominating committee uses a matrix delineating demographics, experience and skills to see who(se perspective) was on the Board, and assess where there were gaps in representation, perspectives and approaches. Such “diversity work [as Ahmed notes] is messy, even dirty, work” (pp. 207, 94). While the legislation committed to equity and the matrix revealed gaps, getting to inclusion in a meaningful way (i.e. beyond tokenism) takes time and repeatedly overcoming resistances within the broader civil service, the communities involved, and frequent incidences of “how what you introduce to unblock a [non-inclusive] system can be used to reblock the system [and] to theorize from our own embodied work: [to] learn from what happens to what we introduce” (Ahmed, 2017, p. 102). 

Over the six years I was a member of the ANS Board, the Board evolved into a space that did not just include Indigenous or Black bodies, but also aimed to practise and learn Indigenous, collaborative, and consensus-building processes that shifted how volunteer boards could operate in the provincial context so as to resist co-opting the ‘diverse’ body/ies of the Board. Nonetheless, normalizing these practices is precarious at best and can sometimes replicate the very systems it seeks to challenge (see white auhors). As Ahmed (2017) suggests: “Mainstreaming d[oes] not work…Unless equality and diversity are made to be what you attend to, they tend not to be attended to” (p. 108). Despite the demographic markers required in the ANS legislation, the gaps and lacks that were addressed to make a rounded Board and staff through the use of the matrix and the introduction of practices and value commitments, none were enough to shift the provincial government as a whole. Perhaps even more telling, the exercise of populating the Board and shifting its practices in a manner that was more reflective of the community resulted in those very community members contributing even more free labour to the process of governance. Even more broadly, revisiting the practices of arts council governance structures every few years might well show that these resistant practices and bodies continue to replicate the original problem each of these bodies continuously seeks to address. It is not just that the civil service(s) involved is/are still predominantly white or that the legislative framework builds on colonial systems to define and embed difference in the name of equitable representation. It is also that the hundreds of people involved in the dozens of volunteer boards that support and enable community engagement are compelled to continue to tend to(wards) existing inequities through the very dirty structures that were built to contain resistance to them.

A second example that addresses the difficulty of enacting research to ameliorate inequities lies in the assessment of creative hubs and networks in Canada for arts, culture and media creative workers that Luka undertook with Jacqueline Wallace from 2018-2020. Between us, Jacquie and I have authored three reports commissioned by the Department of Canadian Heritage in this area (Luka, 2018, 2022; Luka, Wallace, Yung, Ilona Harris, Sicondolfo & Walker, 2020; Wallace & Luka, 2018). The definition of creative hubs, according to the Canada Cultural Spaces Fund (funding program) under the Creative Canada Framework (Department of Canadian Heritage, 2017), states:

A creative hub is a multi-tenant facility which brings together professionals from a range of arts or heritage sectors and creative disciplines. Creative hubs feature diverse business models, such as not-for-profit and for-profit organizations and self-employed creative workers. Creative hubs provide multiple users with shared space, equipment and amenities; opportunities for idea exchange, collaboration and/or professional development; and offer space and programming that is accessible to the public. (Department of Canadian Heritage, 2018.)

Prior to undertaking our 2018 inventory, Jacquie and I challenged the restrictive nature of the definition, confined as it was to physical spaces. The definition, we noted, meant that Federal funding was targeted to larger urban environments, excluding rural, distributed and/or digital spaces, as well as the important roles of networked systems, many of which are predominantly run by less wealthy, more feminized and more likely to be racialized owners and users (Luka 2022). For example, some of the locations I looked at included the main streets of Flin Flon, MB, Parrsboro, NS or Quidi Vidi, NL, which faded away when farming, fishing, mining and other natural resources declined. More recently, they became affordable storefront spaces for artists, which helped turn the local economies to cultural tourism and export as well as becoming more socially dynamic. While those who revitalized these spaces created what was effectively a cultural hub in the middle of these towns, they weren’t eligible for funding. Similarly, when the social co-operatives known as Art Hives began to develop as a virtual organization, they too were ineligible for creative hub funding. Skwachàys Lodge, a combination of artist residencies, art gallery and a boutique hotel in downtown Vancouver that supports Indigenous artists, is also ineligible. The Indefinite Arts Centre, based in Calgary, AB, but networked together with other organizations focused on disability arts and social justice, is just about to become eligible for funding a new physical site but not its networked activities. The loose network of artist presentation and artist-run centres in northern Canada (Yukon and Northwest Territories, Nunavut, northern Quebec and Labrador) are too physically distributed as a collection of creative workers to be eligible. Such exclusions made Canada’s definition even less inclusive than other colonial states such as Australia, the United Kingdom, or the United States. 

While the current definition continues to be applied, the 2018 inventory included outliers that are excluded from funding by the definition, but are nonetheless known to be creative hubs by virtue of the work they undertake (Luka, 2018; Wallace & Luka, 2018). We argued (through our research reports to the Department) for the importance of including such outliers in the definition and funding of such spaces. But the definitions (and therefore eligibility for funding) did not change. Indeed, the commissioned report was not allowed to include formal recommendations on this front. Instead, I was left with finding a workaround: a scholarly solution that could make these more inclusive inventories and definitions public. With the help of student researchers and digital librarians between 2018-2021, I completely overhauled, updated and fact-checked the data inventories for publication as an open-access website resource in the late fall of 2020.

In early 2020, Jacquie and I, along with a team of four (Helen Yung, Katy Ilona Harris, Claudia Sicondolfo, Hillary Walker) undertook a second piece of commissioned work, building on research and writing we had each been doing to develop impact indicators in the field. The 2020 commission aimed to help the Department move towards an inclusive evaluation framework for creative hub funding in Canada, and resulted in a 145-page report, including an annotated bibliography, a theoretical framework that shaped opportunities for inclusivity and templates and analyses of impact indicators (economic and financial; aesthetic and cultural; social justice and impact; and sensemaking and knowledge-building). Our report, correspondence and meetings with Departmental staff referred back to the limits of the definition of hubs (and eligibility for funding) alongside suggestions that the information about evaluation frameworks for that report be made public, as part of an open access government initiative (Luka et al., 2020). While the suggestion was well received by some Department research staff, it has yet to find purchase in official government documentation, leading to two more workarounds. First is the revising and subsequent sharing of the annotated bibliography in scholarly and practice-based spaces such as the university library but also on websites (see, for example: Impact Assessment Bibliography). Second, Jacquie, Helen, and I continue to work on articles, blog entries and other reports that share the expertise we have gleaned, and that rework the scholarly analysis we conducted for the report, so that it may be shared in journals, conferences and elsewhere. We are also involved as Board directors and consultants with creative hubs and share what we have learned in those environments. 

As a researcher who is a policy maker, board member, and governance scholar, I am convinced that it is crucial to have sites and workarounds where the academy, the professional world, and  citizens concerned can come together formally and informally to do regulatory work. (See also chapter 8 on F-PAR, and the Curious Life of Social Justice in Academia for more examples of the inherent difficulties of such practices.) These sites act as environments where debates take place, certainly, but also where the dirty business of understanding who gets to be in charge, how policy is developed and when it can be changed becomes clearer and more malleable. (See chapter 10 for more on the latter.) To share power sometimes means to overcome obstacles, to take power, whether through protest, intervention or by joining a Board of Directors, including by understanding the existing rules, the lived experience that tells you when those rules are outdated, unfair or untenable, and the credibility with the community involved to be able to take action that will make life more equitable in some tangible way.


Ahmed, Sara. (2017). Living a feminist life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Department of Canadian Heritage. (2017). Creative Canada Policy Framework. Retrieved from: 

Department of Canadian Heritage. (2018). Canada Cultural Spaces Fund: Application Guidelines. Retrieved from:

Gattinger, Monica. (2017). The roots of culture, the power of art: The first sixty years of the Canada Council for the Arts. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press. 

Luka, Mary Elizabeth. (2018). Assembling collaboration in the debris field: from psychogeography to choreographies of assembly. Canadian Theatre Review 176, pp. 41-47.

Luka, Mary Elizabeth. (2022). The new ‘main street’: reshaping the Canadian creative ecosystem. Canadian Cultural Policy in Transition, eds. Devin Beauregard and Jonathan Paquette, pp. 210-221. New York: Routledge.

Luka, Mary Elizabeth & Wallace, Jacqueline, with Yung, Helen, Harris, Katy Ilona, Sicondolfo, Claudia, and Walker, Hillary. (2020). Towards a Measurement Framework for Creative Hubs: A literature review and analysis of potential impact measures and indicators for creative hubs in Canada. [commissioned report]. Ottawa: Department of Canadian Heritage.

Province of Nova Scotia. (2011). Arts Nova Scotia Act. Retrieved from:

Wallace, Jacqueline, & Luka, Mary Elizabeth. (2018). Creative Hubs Inventory Report to the Department of Canadian Heritage. [commissioned report]. Ottawa: Department of Canadian Heritage. 

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