Chief Future Officer

Last August, Kelly Wilhelm was named Canada Media Fund’s first-ever chief strategy officer. With extensive experience in the cultural industries and in government policymaking, she shares her vision for the role, the organization, and why she believes this is the right time for the CMF to take a leap forward.

“Chief strategy officer” sounds exciting. What does your new role entail?

It’s really about trying to both figure out what a new financing model for the Canada Media Fund is going to look like going forward, and then how to implement it. We all know at this stage that the current model of financing is not a sustainable one. The funding that the CMF provides is critical to the industry, and I’m focused on figuring out the best possible way to achieve the objectives of both the CMF and the industry during this time of legislative change.

You worked with creators at the Canada Council for the Arts for over a decade, and you were also a policy advisor for Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, helping her shape the Creative Canada policy framework. How has that mix of experiences prepared you for the CMF?

In this role, I think it’s really important to know the country well enough to understand the diversity and the strength of its different regions. I feel like I’ve been preparing for this role for 20 years! At the Canada Council, my responsibilities—including, at different times, northern strategy and the equity office—had me travelling to every province and territory, working with diverse creators. Having that experience made it clear to me how important it is that we tell our stories to one another. It is a vast country, and we have so much to say to one another.

Under Minister Joly, I again had the opportunity to travel for the Creative Canada consultations. I was brought into close contact with every part of the audiovisual and screen-based industries across the country, from a political perspective this time. So I have a good understanding of policymaking in Crown corporations and in government, as well as an close familiarity with the industry across Canada. I’ve also been a fan of Canadian film and television for as long as I can remember and devour shows like Workin’ Moms and Tout le monde en parle. I have young daughters, so we watch a lot of kids’ content. We love Hilda, and Ballerina is one of their favourite movies.

How has the political and policy landscape changed since you served in the federal government?

While the industry has been feeling it for quite some time, I think that we have finally reached a consensus that it is time to bring the online platforms into the system in some way. The government has made some pretty clear commitments around applying a corporate tax and looking at a contribution to Canadian content. It takes time for government to make changes, but our sense is certainly that there is a will there.

You’ve joined the CMF at a critical time for the industry. What are your goals over the next five
years or so?

I think that the most urgent goal is to figure out a way to sustain or, even better, grow the financing that the CMF is able to provide to the industry. Five years down the road, I would love for us to have achieved that: to have actually grown the pie, and by doing that, be able to not just continue on the path that we’ve been on for 10 years, but to expand in areas that are quickly emerging as ones where Canada stands out in the world. For example, increasing funding to Indigenous creators through the Indigenous Screen Office. Creators coming out of Indigenous communities are doing astounding and unique work, and it’s one of the places where we really shine and can definitely grow. I also think Canada has something really important to contribute globally to the interactive and immersive side, both with the technology and the narratives that we’re telling through that technology.

Another thing we’ve got to accomplish: figuring out how to support the growth of the domestic industry alongside the foreign service productions coming into Canada. Both are important, but the growth of the domestic industry is going to help us stand out in a landscape where there’s infinite access to content from around the world. In that sense, my vision for the CMF is to carve out ways to help our domestic industry succeed here at home, but also to have the kind of capital, strategies, distribution and creative teams we need to create content that can succeed globally.

Final thoughts?

There’s a feeling across the industry—and the CMF shares that feeling—that the stars are aligned. We now have, across party lines, agreement that change has to happen. Regardless of what tools we use, there will be new revenues generated for government if the OTTs are brought into the system. It’s likely to bring in new sources of revenue, which makes this the right time for the industry to put forward a shared vision for what it needs to thrive in the future. I can’t stress enough that it’s all about the growth strategy: if we can figure out a way to raise everybody up, the industry is going to thrive. That’s really what we need to be working on together.