Musician Profile: Mark Zubek on the Canada Council for the Arts

Musician Mark Zubek

Mark Zubek is a successful musician, producer and composer originally from Toronto. He has worked with Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Wynton Marsalis and written jingles for companies like Coca-Cola, Dunkin’ Donuts and The Discovery Channel. Mark studied at the Berklee College of Music and lived as a working musician in New York City for 10 years before returning to Canada. In 1998 Mark co-produced the Grammy nominated jazz group, Red Time.

Over the years, Mark has been granted nearly $50,000 (all figures in U.S. currency) from the Canada Council for the Arts to continue his work as a musician. The Canada Council is an agency of the Canadian government that supports Canadian artists through individual grants.

We asked Mark if he would tell us a little more about his experience with the Canada Council.

Q. Is it difficult to apply for the grants provided by the Canada Council? What is the application process like?

It’s not difficult to apply, but you need to have outstanding music and an impressive bio and portfolio. You need a reference letter, a detailed plan of what you’re going to do with the money, and you need to make it sound convincing. The hardest part about it is filling out all the forms in six copies.

Q. Is the selection process for the Canada Council grants very competitive? How does the Council determine which artists to give grants to?

For the Canada Council, they usually get about 250 applicants and they select around 50 winners, so the odds are one in five statistically. They assess your body of work, they assess all your past experience and your planned project to determine whether or not the project would benefit the Canadian music scene upon completion.

Q. Does the Canada Council specify how the grant money should be spent? For example, did you have to spend the money on music-related expenses?

Much of the grant money is allocated for subsistence expenses – for example, on projects where you’re studying something to further your career, most of the money is allocated so you can quit your job and live off the Canada Council’s money while not making any money at your regular job. They have different grant programs for studying, for recording, for research on new musical endeavors etc. so each of the expenditures have to correspond with the particular program you’re applying for.

Q. How have the grants from the Canada Council for the Arts affected your life, career and music? Do you think you would have had just as successful a music career with or without the grants?

That’s difficult to say – I may have had a successful music career without the Canada Council grants but I could not have afforded the tuition to Berklee College of Music. They afforded me to go to Berklee for 3 years which later allowed me to move to New York for 10 years to be a record producer and a jazz musician there.

Q. You grew up in Canada, moved to the U.S. for over 10 years, then moved back to Canada. Could you tell us how you feel the two countries compare for quality, support and availability of the arts?

Since the population of the U.S. is 10 times that of Canada, there are 10 times the amount of good artists, ten times the amount of opportunities and 10 times the audience or market. However the U.S. doesn’t have these types of programs available. The reason Canada has these programs is so that we can flourish and compete with the volume of talent that exists in the United States. In other words, we don’t have the market support that the U.S. has, so we need a little help from the government.

For more information on Mark visit his website:

Published by

David J. Hahn

David J. Hahn

David J. Hahn (@davidjhahn) is the co-founder of and a former Broadway conductor. He grew up near Chicago, lived in New York City, and settled in California. In 2012, he left the music business to found California Surfcraft, a San Francisco-based start-up that makes high-performance surf gear out of fiberglass-reinforced cork. He is the inventor of the Bodypo®, a sustainable alternative to the traditional bodyboard. He is a cancer survivor, an advocate for unlikely career paths, and, beginning in spring of 2015, a father.

4 thoughts on “Musician Profile: Mark Zubek on the Canada Council for the Arts”

  1. Very interesting read. As someone who has had a lot of experience with arts funding with the Scottish Arts Council, I really believe in these programs. I understand the point about “living off” the council money – I can certainly think of a list of examples of people who know how to work the system. I can think of a much longer list of people who received arts council money for projects they never could have completed otherwise and that went on to generate revenue.

    Although programs can be mismanaged, I think investing in the arts is a good thing. Granted I would likely feel this way no matter what, but a productive arts community is good business. Good for exports, good for tourism..

    Also think that entry to the US market still costs money many US musicians don’t have, so I’d be in favor of a little more help for our musicians here.

    Anyway, my two cents. Really great interview.

  2. Great interview Dave, thanks! I had a few questions,
    Can Americans receive Canadian Council grants?
    Where should an artist look for grants and grant applications in the US?
    If you’ve never filled out a grant request, where would be the best place to start?
    This is the American Arts Council website: but a lot of grants are given through other foundations, like the Chamber Music of America Foundation or whatever. Where would you suggest starting for a comprehensive list of available music grants in the US?

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