Creative Export Strategy – Stakeholders’ Feedback


The creative industries are a key sector of Canada’s economy. In 2019, they accounted for $57.1 billion in GDP (2.7% of Canada’s overall GDP) and nearly 673,000 jobs and were economically important for countless regional communities across the country.

Exports are essential to the continued growth of Canada’s creative industries, accounting for one third of Canada’s cultural GDP at a value of $18.7 billion in 2019. Exports will also be essential for the post-pandemic recovery of the sector, which was one of the hardest-hit sectors of the Canadian economy due to restrictions on travel and in-person gatherings.

The Government of Canada currently provides support to creative industry exporters through the Creative Export Strategy (CES), which was launched in 2018, with an investment of $125 million over five years. The CES is led by the Department of Canadian Heritage in collaboration with Global Affairs Canada, and its main objective is to help Canadian creators maximize their export potential and stand out in the global market. To achieve this, the CES is divided into three pillars of activities:

  1. Boosting export funding in existing Canadian Heritage programs (i.e., the Canada Arts Presentation Fund, the Canada Book Fund, the Canada Music Fund, and the Canada Periodical Fund) and Telefilm Canada to better position creative industries for export and sales in foreign markets.
  2. Increasing and strengthening the presence of Canadian creative industries abroad to help them succeed in key export markets, including, but not limited to, New York, Paris, London, Los Angeles, Berlin, Shanghai, Mumbai, Mexico City, and Tokyo.
  3. Growing creative industries by funding export-ready projects through the Creative Export Canada program, building the relationships needed to make business deals through trade missions, events and partnerships, and leading the preparations for Canada’s Guest of Honour virtual presence at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2020 and hybrid presence in 2021.

Since its launch, the CES has:

The current iteration of the CES is set to expire in March 2023. In this context, input was sought from businesses and organizations operating in the creative sector in Canada (for example, audiovisual and interactive media, fashion and design, performing arts and music, publishing, visual arts), and those who may have an interest in this area, on the current CES and how the Strategy could better meet their needs in the future.

Who We Heard From

Stakeholders and partners were able to provide their input to Canadian Heritage and Global Affairs Canada between summer 2021 and winter 2022 by attending virtual roundtable sessions and/or by responding to an online survey. Four roundtable sessions were dedicated to creative businesses and organizations owned and/or led by Indigenous peoples and members of racialized communities. Canadian Heritage and Global Affairs Canada officials also met with some organizations individually on an ad-hoc basis.

Canadian Heritage and Global Affairs Canada sought input on the following areas:

In total, 385 individuals and organizations provided input to Canadian Heritage and Global Affairs Canada on the CES through these virtual roundtable sessions and the online survey.

Input provided through this process will help policymakers make decisions on future policies and programs to ensure they remain responsive to the needs of Canada’s creative industries.

Virtual Roundtable Sessions

Canadian Heritage hosted 124 participants representing all major creative sectors through four virtual roundtables between June 25 and July 9, 2021. Two sessions were held in English, and two were held in French. Most participants were from Ontario, Québec or British Columbia, with several national organizations representing their members from across Canada.

Canadian Heritage, in collaboration with the Federal Anti-Racism Secretariat, also hosted 27 participants through a virtual roundtable session dedicated to businesses and organizations owned and/or led by members of Black communities on August 16, 2021. Five panelists from various creative sectors presented remarks on their experiences in the creative sector and the challenges they have faced in the export space. Most of the participants were from Ontario and Québec, with several national organizations representing their members from across Canada.

On February 18, 2022 (English) and March 4th, 2022 (French), Canadian Heritage hosted roundtable sessions with businesses and organizations owned and/or led by members of racialized communities operating in the creative industries. The sessions were moderated by prominent members of the community operating within the creative industries. There were 26 participants in the English session and seven in the French session, representing a wide range of creative sectors and business associations. Most of the participants were from Ontario, Québec or British Columbia, representing the audiovisual and interactive media, music, and performing arts sectors.

Lastly, in collaboration with Creative Fire, an Indigenous-owned consulting company, Canadian Heritage hosted 14 participants through a virtual roundtable session dedicated to businesses and organizations owned and/or led by Indigenous peoples on March 31, 2022. Following remarks from an Indigenous business owner who had previously used the CES, participants were invited to share their thoughts on the future of export support for Indigenous-owned/led businesses in the creative sector. Most of the participants were from Ontario, with some organizations also representing Manitoba, Québec and British Columbia.

Online Survey

A voluntary and confidential survey consisting of 22 questions was available on Canadian Heritage’s website from July 15 to August 19, 2021. In total, 231 individuals and organizations from all major creative sectors responded to the survey. Most respondents indicated they were located in Ontario, Québec or British Columbia.

What We Heard

Overall, many virtual roundtable session participants and online survey respondents appreciated the support offered through the CES, but recognized that there are areas for improvement. In addition to feedback on specific programs and services offered by the CES, several themes emerged in the feedback provided, namely the need to support new exporters, the need for support tailored to Indigenous peoples and equity-deserving communities,Footnote 1 regional representation, and better communication of the CES overall. Interest was also expressed in the possibility of a Government of Canada-led creative industries “brand.”

Creative Export Canada Program

Minimum Total Project Cost

Projects submitted to the Creative Export Canada program must have a minimum total cost of $300,000 to be eligible for the program. This presents a barrier for many businesses and organizations seeking funding from the program as many creative projects do not have such high total costs compared to a project in the aerospace or automotive sector. This is especially true for small businesses (the size of most creative industry businesses), not-for-profit organizations, applicants from certain creative sectors (e.g., performing arts), and/or businesses and organizations owned and/or led by Indigenous peoples and members of equity-deserving communities.

Note: The minimum total cost of projects eligible for the program has since been lowered to $150,000.

Private Funding Requirements

Many businesses and organizations are unable to meet the minimum requirement of private funding sources needed by the program to finance the proposed project (projects must be funded at a minimum of 25% by private sources, which may include the applicant’s own contribution). This is especially difficult for smaller or less established businesses and organizations and those owned and/or led by Indigenous peoples as well as equity-deserving communities that do not necessarily have access to personal, family or community capital to invest in early-stage projects. Some virtual roundtable session participants felt that large organizations that were able to access private capital had sufficient capacity to maintain and expand their operations on their own without much government support.

Evaluation Criteria – Potential for Export Revenue Generation

Many stakeholders and partners were frustrated with the emphasis placed on the potential for export revenue generation during the program’s evaluation process. Often, a project’s export revenue generation can only be evaluated at its full potential three or more years after its initial investment, rather than the three-month and one-year timeframes indicated on the program’s application form.

Some stakeholders and partners who were successful in their program application also pointed out that not receiving the full amount requested in their application could change the initial estimate of export revenue provided in their submission.

It was suggested that the evaluation criteria for the potential for export revenue generation take into account the particular circumstances of each creative sector and applicant, comparing applicants only to those from the same sector or industry rather than against all other applicants.

Indigenous partners also suggested introducing multi-year funding and longer timelines to measure a project’s impact/success (e.g., three to five years), while also adapting success metrics to include qualitative impacts beyond export revenue generation. They also highlighted that many Indigenous businesses often follow protocols for seeking permission to enter the traditional lands and territories of other Indigenous peoples, which can increase conventional project timelines.

“We understand that we are not the center of the universe but just as far as transparency [goes] and also giving our industry the funding that we require in the right places, [it] did not seem to be there yet.”

Participant, Virtual Roundtable

Application Process

Many program applicants found the program’s application process onerous, particularly small businesses and organizations, and those owned and/or led by Indigenous peoples and members of equity-deserving communities. The process was termed “bureaucratic,” “complex” and “lengthy” by many roundtable participants. Small businesses and organizations have a limited human resource capacity to dedicate to completing the program’s application process, making it both difficult and costly to have a full-time resource committed to the application. Stakeholders and partners also pointed out that the Creative Export Canada program is not the only government funding program to which they apply, and the combined effort to apply to as many programs as possible is a strain on organizations that spend 100+ hours preparing grant applications.

It was also noted that the wait time to receive a response is not commensurate with the time spent by applicants to complete the application.

It was suggested that the program simplify its application process, provide a help line or concierge service to guide applicants through the process, and/or allow potential applicants to pre-qualify for certain components of the program. Some stakeholders and partners also suggested that projects in the exploratory stage be eligible to apply to the program (currently projects must be export-ready at the time of application), as the long wait time to receive an answer from the program could give applicants enough time to have a project ready for market by its anticipated start date.

Participants from the virtual roundtable session dedicated to Black entrepreneurs expressed a desire to see the Creative Export Canada program as well as other government programs become more integrated, so that stacking limits do not prevent a potential applicant from accessing funds from different programs (e.g., accessing Creative Export Canada program and Telefilm funds at the same time).

Post-Application Feedback

Stakeholders and partners felt there was a lack of post-application feedback, with many past applicants stating they were unclear about why their application was rejected. It was suggested that the program offer training on how to become export-ready and provide more information sessions on how to apply to the program to better enable successful outcomes for applicants. Stakeholders and partners also indicated that they would like to see examples posted on the CES website of successful projects, including information on which industries have been successful in receiving project funding. This information would be useful to potential applicants, so that they may have a sense of the kind of projects funded by the program.

Trade Missions and Events

Stakeholders and partners felt that Canadian Heritage was unclear on the selection process used to select trade mission participants. The way that Canadian Heritage selected events at which to provide trade programming was also viewed as vague.

It was felt that current timelines were too short for participants to attend events and trade missions. It was suggested that Canadian Heritage ensure consistent communication on key dates for trade events, preferably a year or more in advance, to allow ample time to plan and prepare.

The need to return to key markets over a prolonged period (i.e., two to three years) and with cohorts in similar industries was highlighted. One-off missions that focus on different markets and/or sectors are not conducive to business development goals. Stakeholders and partners expressed an interest in being consulted on events and trade mission calendars to find synergies between the Department’s objectives and stakeholders’ export goals. Some stakeholders and partners also noted that this would enable them to better prepare in advance of participating in trade events by doing their own research and preparing their contacts.

It was highlighted that the high cost of attending a trade mission is a barrier for most small businesses and organizations. Several stakeholders and partners noted that they would like to see financial support for businesses and organizations to attend in-person trade missions and events.

Participants appreciated the virtual nature of the trade missions in 2020 and 2021, especially the partnerships with Global Affairs Canada for the sector-specific missions to Australia (film) and London (fashion). The virtual format allowed stakeholders to pursue business deals at a low cost during the pandemic. The downside to virtual trade missions is that participants felt they missed out on establishing business connections. Stakeholders and partners expressed a desire for a return to in-person trade missions and events, when possible, as they are more conducive to networking opportunities and introductions to potential clients.

For both virtual and in-person trade missions, stakeholders and partners expressed the need for a pre- and post-mission service. They would especially like trade missions to have a follow-up element where they can receive post-mission assistance in pursuing contacts and potential business deals.

Stakeholders and partners also expressed a desire to explore markets that are not “typical” for Canadian Heritage. For example, many businesses and organizations owned and/or led by Indigenous people and equity-deserving communities indicated that their target markets do not necessarily align with those that have been targeted by the CES so far.

Finally, it was suggested that Canadian Heritage organize trade missions and/or programming outside of the large event cycle (e.g., after South by Southwest) where they can attract a potential partner’s attention more easily than during a major event where many businesses compete for a potential partner’s interest.

“It would be great if there were efforts for partial funding to go to London, New York or L.A. in times that are outside of a trade mission. That’s when we get time with clients and they will actually buy our stuff.”

Participant, Virtual Roundtable

Trade Commissioner Service

The feedback on the services provided by Global Affairs Canada’s Trade Commissioner Service was overall positive. According to the responses received from the online survey, the Trade Commissioner Service was the most used program/service offered by the CES, with half of respondents indicating they were familiar with the Trade Commissioner Service.

Some stakeholders and partners expressed frustration that Trade Commissioners who are very knowledgeable about creative industries are only found in select missions around the globe. Those who interacted with Trade Commissioners outside of major cultural industry hubs found that the degree of knowledge and support offered by Trade Commissioners varied. In addition, the lack of adequate knowledge proved at times to be a barrier for business development rather than a value-added service, since the Trade Commissioner could not support them in their business endeavours in their target market.

Stakeholders and partners also noted that most Canadian embassies and consulate offices with dedicated support for creative industries are located in countries where the predominant culture is Eurocentric (e.g., the United States and Western Europe), which perpetuates a singular image of what constitutes Canadian culture and Canadian content.

It was suggested that Global Affairs Canada place more creative industries-focused Trade Commissioners in missions abroad and offer creative industries-specific training to the other Trade Commissioners, so that they may provide adequate support to businesses and organizations seeking to do business in those markets. Stakeholders and partners would also like to see creative industries-focused Trade Commissioners posted in the major creative hubs (e.g., Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver) across Canada in order for them to receive support from the Trade Commissioner Service before going to an international market.

Lastly, stakeholders and partners who had participated in the Canadian Creative Accelerator in Los Angeles were very pleased with the format and the relationships they were able to foster for the duration of the cohort.

“The L.A. Accelerator is so good, that it was over three months, and it was intensive and digital. We had so much time with top executives.”

Participant, Virtual Roundtable

Support for New Exporters

The existing CES is focused primarily on supporting export-ready businesses and organizations. Several stakeholders and partners expressed the need for more support from Canadian Heritage to reach export-ready status. In fact, more than half of survey respondents that indicated an intention to export felt that they did not have the tools necessary to do so. Small and medium-sized businesses and organizations tend to lack the capacity to scale up and may require additional tools, such as training and mentorship programs and advisory services, to support them in their export journey.

Stakeholders and partners appreciated the business development support currently offered through the Canadian Creative Accelerator and Canadian Heritage’s partnership with the Trade Accelerator Program in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. However, the Trade Accelerator Program generally requires that organizations generate more than $500,000 in revenue to be eligible, a requirement that most businesses and organizations owned and/or led by members of racialized communities indicated they are unable meet due to their smaller size.

Stakeholders and partners expressed the need to expand training programs similar to the Trade Accelerator Program, with a focus on business development, capacity building, exporting best practices, and targeted coaching for organizations wishing to explore specific markets. Workshops on how best to take advantage of existing government programs to support entrepreneurs and on best practices during and after a trade mission were also highlighted by stakeholders and partners.

A need was expressed for a grants and/or contributions program that awards smaller amounts than what is currently offered by the Creative Export Canada program in order to support export readiness activities, such as marketing, travel to and from trade events, scaling-up business activities, and hiring a consultant. These smaller grants and/or contributions would have a big impact on small and medium-sized businesses and organizations that intend to break into new markets, but struggle to finance their activities otherwise.

However, stakeholders and partners cautioned against a “one size fits all” approach. Since the creative industries are not a homogenous sector, they indicated that Canadian Heritage should remain cognizant of the varying needs across the creative industries in the context of delivering the CES. For example, what could be helpful to performing arts organizations may not necessarily be beneficial to those from the interactive media sector and vice versa.

Support for Indigenous Peoples and Equity-Deserving Communities

Tailored Support

Canadian Heritage was urged to recognize the colonial impacts on socioeconomic inequity in Canada, which have led to many businesses and organizations owned by Indigenous peoples and members of equity-deserving communities to start at a disadvantage compared to other businesses and organizations in Canada. For example, Indigenous partners pointed out that, compared to non-Indigenous people, Indigenous creators are less likely to have financial support in their personal lives and are more likely to come from lower income backgrounds.

As a result, they may have limited financial and human resources to undertake business development activities (e.g., marketing and promotion, attendance at trade shows) and fewer developed business networks. This also means they are not able to take the same risks, such as going without pay for several months to develop a project and putting labour into time-intensive applications. They may not have access to personal, family or community capital to invest in early-stage projects. Some business owners are working multiple jobs to provide for themselves and their families.

This hinders how much they can grow without added and tailored support. Businesses owned and/or led by Indigenous peoples and members of equity-deserving communities also face further barriers related to prejudice and racism.

It was highlighted during virtual roundtable sessions that entrepreneurs from these communities need a more hands-on approach (e.g., pre- and post-trade mission support) when it comes to business development and exporting. There needs to be consistent funding to help these communities catch up to their peers. Participants suggested that targets, benchmarks and incentives should be built into existing CES programs to ensure that creators from Indigenous and equity-deserving communities can access available funds.

Indigenous-owned and/or led businesses and organizations also expressed the need for tailored training and mentorship opportunities and holistic export development services that reflect their unique experiences. Access to opportunities with a low administrative burden would be a value-added feature for Indigenous businesses.

Black creators indicated that they do not see themselves reflected in existing CES programs and services. For example, oftentimes only one person of colour is present on a Canadian trade mission or is part of a Canadian delegation at an international trade event. Indigenous entrepreneurs echoed this and expressed the desire to have trade missions specifically for Indigenous-owned/led creative businesses and organizations. There was also a desire to see more diversity in program recipients as well as in the management of government programs and services.

It was suggested that Canadian Heritage consider supporting exporting activities in smaller international markets, specifically countries that have strong cultural and community ties with Canada. These relationships could be leveraged and result in business deals.

Entrepreneurs from racialized communities stressed the importance of making information (e.g., programs and services available under the CES, market intelligence) more accessible and of having greater access to Canadian Heritage staff, particularly when preparing program applications.

Conflicting Definitions

Indigenous entrepreneurs expressed that the Canadian government’s definition of “trade” does not necessarily align with their worldviews. Trade measures or perspectives on trade that focus primarily on revenue do not fit with this worldview, as trade is about much more than exchanging money for Indigenous peoples.

Similarly, racialized entrepreneurs also noted that Canadian Heritage’s definition of “Canadian content,” which primarily focuses on white, Eurocentric content, can be very limiting and excludes the diversity of cultures that represent Canada. This leaves racialized organizations with content that deviates from the dominant culture at a disadvantage in terms of receiving the Government of Canada’s support and funding.

Exporting Natural Materials

Indigenous entrepreneurs shared that working with natural materials, such as skin and fur, as well as sacred items, such as eagle feathers and tobacco, can be a barrier to selling their products internationally. Exporting products containing these materials leads to increased paperwork and administrative hurdles, which are onerous for micro and small businesses to manage. Crossing international borders with seal fur, integral to Inuit clothing, can be particularly challenging due to perspectives and regulations that differ between countries.

Travelling with culturally important items and ensuring that they are handled properly has also been a barrier for many Indigenous entrepreneurs. Many explained that “there is a general ignorance of Indigenous art” and that there is a need for dedicated assistance to support Indigenous creators through the challenges they face in this regard when exporting.

It was recommended that Canadian Heritage provide more support related to transporting or travelling with natural products or ceremonial items. This could include information sessions, logistical support, and legal advice. It was also recommended that consideration be given to developing a policy or procedure that streamlines the process of transporting or travelling with natural products or ceremonial items, creating a guide for tackling common challenges, or working with international partners to find better solutions.

Cultural Awareness and Appropriation

Many Indigenous partners shared their experiences with ignorance and racism when doing business abroad. International buyers and potential partners tend to lack cultural awareness. For example, they tend to “think of Indigenous peoples in sepia tones” rather than recognizing that “[Indigenous peoples] occupy contemporary spaces and participate in contemporary arts,” and that “[Indigenous peoples] are from everywhere and are all different.” Some Indigenous creators mentioned that these kinds of interactions make them hesitant because they want to keep artists safe: “Artists are sacred to us.”

Indigenous entrepreneurs also shared that some international buyers were not interested in their products when they realized the products did not “look Indigenous.” Buyers have asked questions like, “Where are the feathers, where is the beading?” A roundtable participant emphasized that their non-Indigenous peers do not contend with these same issues and that Indigenous creators are rarely given the same freedom to “make the products the way we want to make them.”

Cultural appropriation—that is, the use of elements of a non-dominant culture in a way that does not respect their original meaning or give credit to their source—is a significant issue in the fashion industry, particularly affecting Indigenous designers. Indigenous designers highlighted that, in their experience, many large corporations tend to discount or devalue the emotional process of making and selling creative work.

It was suggested that Canadian Heritage consider informing and pre-educating international buyers about Indigenous peoples to improve cultural understanding and sensitivity during business-to-business interactions. Interest was also expressed in seeing the Government of Canada do more to promote Indigenous culture as modern, ever-evolving and diverse. Canadian Heritage could, for example, work with potential partners, buyers and/or other governments to build their understanding of how to work with Indigenous artists and creators. This could include education on the use of natural products, including flora and fauna (such as seal fur and eagle feathers), and explaining the difference between mass farming and finding materials in the wild following traditional sustainability practices. One innovative recommendation was to work with an Indigenous consultant that could vet potential buyers, offer buyers cultural sensitivity training or materials in advance, field cultural questions, manage relationships, and track and address any complaints that arise.

Building Meaningful Relationships

Many stakeholders and partners acknowledged that engaging in these roundtable conversations was a first step in the right direction. It was recommended that Canadian Heritage continue to reach out directly to businesses and organizations owned and/or led by Indigenous peoples and equity-deserving communities to build relationships, attend events, and visit communities for true long-term cultural exchange.

It was also recommended that Canadian Heritage share success stories about businesses and organizations owned and/or led by Indigenous peoples and equity-deserving communities who are exporting their work, so that others can see it is possible to be successful in exporting.

Stakeholders and partners encouraged Canadian Heritage to provide more direct opportunities to learn about funding and to lean on network organizations to host information sessions. Another suggestion was to host grant application clinics and to provide access to editors who can assist with writing and compiling grants.

Regional Representation

Stakeholders and partners from provinces and territories outside of Ontario, Québec and British Columbia expressed the need for more support for organizations outside of the three major provinces.

They also called for increased investments in national training centres in order to build a pipeline of creators that can thrive in all regions of Canada. While this is outside the scope of the CES, it is important to note the need for more support outside of Canada’s major creative hubs.

Better Communication of the CES

Several stakeholders expressed the need for better communication from Canadian Heritage and Global Affairs Canada officials regarding the suite of programs and services offered by the CES. Many stakeholders and partners responding to the online survey had little to no knowledge of the CES and its suite of programs and services prior to the consultation period.

Discoverability of CES

Small and medium-sized businesses and organizations in creative industries do not always have the capacity to search for information on various government websites. As a result, they may miss out on opportunities that could benefit their business. Communication strategies should be improved so that businesses and organizations can easily find the information they require and remain informed about the CES. The current tools used by Canadian Heritage (e.g., social media platforms and the website) are not sufficient to adequately communicate with potential clients and reach as many Canadian creative industry businesses and organizations as possible.

In particular, the CES is not well known amongst Indigenous peoples and equity-deserving communities. There is a need to improve recognition of the CES to the same level as Telefilm Canada, the Canada Media Fund, and other Canadian Heritage programs. Canadian Heritage should take advantage of existing communications firms and professional networks to promote programs and services that Indigenous peoples and equity-deserving entrepreneurs could use to their advantage in export. By using pre-established community networks, Canadian Heritage can also continue to build trust with Indigenous and equity-deserving creators.

Market Research and Analysis

Several stakeholders and partners noted that they had no internal capacity to undertake market research and analysis and would value assistance from Canadian Heritage in this area. This could, for example, take the form of market intelligence reports published on the CES website.

Stakeholders and partners would also like to have access to case studies of businesses and organizations that have benefited from CES support and information on how they successfully increased their exports abroad, particularly businesses and organizations that were successful in their application to the Creative Export Canada program.

CES Presence at International Events

Stakeholders and partners expressed frustration at the lack of clear CES presence at events. Oftentimes, several Government of Canada departments collaborate to deliver an event to Canadian creative industries companies, but the division of labour is not clear. Stakeholders and partners expressed the desire to see clearer differentiation between events supported or amplified by the CES and those supported by other Government departments or portfolio organizations in order to have a better understanding of the support provided by the CES versus other government organizations.

Canada Brand

Stakeholders and partners expressed an interest in a possible Government of Canada-led creative industries “brand.” Many felt that, while Canadian creative industries are very innovative, they do not have the same level of international recognition as creative industries do in other countries, which can be very beneficial. A cohesive country brand would support their export endeavors, as potential partners would recognize the value of their product or service more easily. Furthermore, a branding initiative spearheaded by government would continue to build credibility in the industry, thereby increasing the trust that potential business partners would have in products and services provided by Canadian creative industries.

Next Steps

Canadian Heritage and Global Affairs Canada would like to thank all individuals and organizations who participated in this consultation process and recognize the time and knowledge that they shared.

The input provided through this process will help government officials make decisions on future creative industry export-support policies and programs to ensure that they remain responsive to the needs of Canada’s creative industries.

Stakeholders and partners are invited to send further comments to Canadian Heritage should they wish to do so. Any additional questions or comments can be sent to

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