Diversity: A Rolling National Conversation
Transcript of the Victoria Session – Audience Engagement

Sunday, March 26, 2017 | 2:30 PM – 4:30 PM PST
Open Space Arts Society – 2nd floor, 510 Fort St, Victoria, BC
Co-presented by the Canadian New Music Network and Open Space Arts Society
We would like to thank our partners and sponsors for making this project possible.

Transcript/Report: Emily Hall

Christopher Reiche Boucher, New Music Coordinator, Open Space (Victoria)

Rachel Iwaasa – Director of Development, Pride in Art Society (Vancouver)
Juliet Palmer – composer/collaborator/Artistic Director, Urban Vessel (Toronto)
France Trépanier – Aboriginal Curator, Open Space (Victoria)


Following CNMN’s first conversation in Halifax about communication, this second conversation in a three-part series focused on audience engagement. The topic was framed as follows:

As new music practitioners we engage with audience, and potential audience, continuously — from sending out the first notice, through our shared concert experience, to our continued relationship. While encouraging wide ranging discussion, the Victoria session of CNMN’s Rolling National Conversation on Diversity will delve particularly into the effort to deepen existing relationships, and to expand into communities presently untouched by our performances. We will examine current practices and how they tend to settle into methods and means that result in the same set of people coming out time after time. Do we justify this state of affairs by claiming that this is our “community”? If so, how might we define our community differently to encourage more inclusivity? And for the audience we do attract, how might we engage them more fully?

To begin, Christopher Reiche Boucher, New Music Coordinator at Open Space and moderator of the discussion welcomed everyone attending the event. There were 22 people in person and 14 people by live stream. He acknowledged the unceded and traditional territories of the Songhese and Esquimalt nations. He thanked the sponsors for making this event possible, and he invited the panellists to introduce themselves.

The Panellists’ Perspectives

Rachel Iwaasa is a contemporary classical music pianist. She works primarily in Canadian music and is interested in interdisciplinary explorations. She works for the Pride in Art Society, which runs the Queer Arts Festival (QAF), a multidisciplinary artist-run festival that happens every year in Vancouver. “We harness the visceral power of the arts to increase respect and visibility for all of us who transgress sexual and gender norms.”

Juliet Palmer is a composer, performer and artistic director of Urban Vessel, a platform for interdisciplinary collaboration. Originally from Aotearoa New Zealand, she has lived in Canada for nearly twenty years. “I’m curious about how our arts practices are evolving to reflect the society that we live in.” She was also a panellist at the Halifax rolling national conversation on diversity.

France Trépanier is an artist, curator, educator, mother, partner of Kanien’kéha:ka and French ancestry. She is the Aboriginal Curator in Residence at Open Space in Victoria BC. “I do not come from this territory but I’ve been a grateful guest for the past 16 years. “I’m not a musician, but I’m interested in questions of audiences, questions of audiences and communities, questions of ‘diversity.’”


NOTE: the following transcript was created and edited by Emily Hall via a high-quality audio/video recording and a set of notes. It was reviewed by Christopher Reiche Boucher, Juliet Palmer and France Trépanier. Thanks to Miles Giesbrecht for the audio/video recording, to Breanna Fabro for her note-taking.

Chris – The first question is about the relationship between audiences and communities. We are here today to talk about engaging with audiences. As people who do shows, performances, and exhibitions, what are your thoughts on the relationship between what we would call an audience and what we would call a community? Are they separate or are they one in the same? Are they any variation in between or are they both?

Rachel – I think they are overlapping. I think that it’s important to talk not about community but [about] communities. I don’t think any one of us belongs to only one community…[much like how] we often talk about identity. … We have poly-identities or mult-identities that overlap and intersect in many different ways. … [I work] in a set of communities that is so various that the alphabet soup that describes who and what we are, the LGBT2SQ+ [that is] ever growing and changing, [is] expressed as an acronym in recognition that it isn’t “a” community but that there are things we do share and come together for. When we’re talking about new music, we often talk about the new music community without necessarily an awareness of all the other communities that intersect [and without an awareness of] the various individuals with whom we share a new music space.

Juliet – I agree with Rachel [about the overlapping viewpoint]. From the perspective of a creator, often I am creating in a community setting. …In that context, you may co-create a work with a community who is also the audience. Or you may co-create with a community and there’s no audience, a purely participatory creative project.

France – The notion of community and audiences is interesting, my work is often relational in that sense. The community that I engage with is often not an audience, or maybe an audience in the making, eventually. I think there is a way of engaging with community that will, somewhere down the line, become an audience. It’s by engaging with the community that we can be aware of where [the community members] are and to define the terms of engagement not on our terms, but on their terms. So, when we want to bring in an audience, to start looking at an audience from a community perspective, and defining what an audience is and needs and wants, to not define the term of engagement from our perspective but from a community perspective changes the conversation quite a bit. Building relationship with community is a long-term endeavour. From an Indigenous perspective, wherever we are working [on], wherever on the land you’re working from, there is a First Nation community there. You’re working on someone’s land, always. We’re all working on someone’s lands, always. This is the first community we should be aware of, and that’s the first community we should try to at least acknowledge, respect, and eventually engage with.

Chris – It’s a valuable take-away to think about communities first, and then seek what might be audiences second.

Chris – The second question is a music-focused question about how we put our music out there. In new music, the concert-type experience is the most common type of engaging – with the material, with the music, with communities, with audiences. Is that system in and of itself a barrier to having people participate?

Juliet – Given what we see when we look around in general at the audiences at new music events, it would seem that there is a barrier, there are many people that we don’t see coming out. I think the structure, by its very nature, is exclusionary. What strikes me is that we live in a silo. Why is it that, even with a symphony orchestra, new music is cordoned off to a festival once a year rather than seeing what we do as a contemporary practice that evolves out of historic practice and as part of a continuum? I’m coming from a classical music background. Speaking to the contemporary practice within a classical music context, it’s usually split. It’s very rare that you have a group that plays historic repertoire and contemporary repertoire – perhaps out of fear of losing audience, but it also relates to the way groups are funded by government bodies. It can be very hard to actually mix that repertoire. That’s one angle on an enormous question.

Rachel – I think it’s obvious that when we look at audiences and new music and classical music concerts, if you’re looking for who’s missing, the list is very long, if you’re actually looking for it. The reasons are very many, and it’s hard to even know where to start on that. The new music concert-going tradition carries with it a lot of the traditions coming out of the classical music world. There are a lot of unspoken protocols and expectations that can make people feel shamed or like they can’t participate if they don’t know them. I still recall the day I was at a Victoria Symphony concert many years ago, and these two skaters sat in front of me. One of them said to the other, “Ok, so dude, this is not like a normal concert, you can’t just clap every time the music stops.” [laughter]. Because of course he’d been to a concert when he clapped in between movements and all the people around him turned and glared.

From my experience having presented contemporary music in a festival context that is pan-disciplinary, not primarily new music or even a music context, … who we present … has a huge impact on whether people feel like they belong or not. At the festival we find that there’s often a direct correlation between the communities that the artist belongs to and the communities that show up for the shows. Classical music and new music are very much dominated, particularly in terms of composers, by a single group who are represented to the exclusion of almost all others. It’s worth noting that a lot of the time when classical music or new music ensembles seek to engage with communities, whether that’s of various races or ethnicities or identifiable communities that aren’t the new music community, very often they will hire writers, choreographers, dancers who belong to these identifiable communities and then the composer they commission is a white man. There’s a real blind spot there.

Chris – I’ve witnessed such situations as well, where there are many different communities represented, and then the composer is a white man. France … are there similar situations you’ve witnessed within the visual arts community?

France – When it comes to white man being overrepresented, is that the question? [laughter] I think there are some similarities actually.

I’m going to try to take one step back, if you’ll allow me. I think we have to be mindful looking at the representation of white males in our cultural and artistic landscape in Canada. If we step back for a minute and look at how the art system was created in this country. We have a fairly recent history as an art world in Canada. It’s after the Massey-Lévesque commission of the 1950s that [Canada] decided to give itself an infrastructure [to support the production and dissemination of art]. The thing is, at that time, Indigenous cultures were … considered dying cultures. The Indian act, a piece of [federal] legislation, was banning any art practices from Indigenous people. … All of the art forms that were privileged, that were understood professional art forms, were all Western / European based art forms. In reality, we live in a very racist art system because it is based on race. It was based on privileging art forms from western European traditions. I think that’s what we’re struggling with. All these questions, all these conversations around diversity right now – and inclusion, a word that I detest – are about questioning our own history as an arts system. So why is it that these practices are privileged? Why is it that eighty percent of arts funding goes towards European-based art forms? … For me, it’s a bigger question, much more complicated and very uncomfortable at times. But that’s the question. For me it is, anyway.

Chris – You mentioned you detest the word inclusion. Can you speak to that?

France – I’m happy to talk about that. Before I tackle inclusion, I’ll tackle diversity – in a gentle way. Everybody’s diverse. This idea of talking about diverse audiences or diverse artists – what is that? It’s like ethic food. Well, all food is ethnic. We have to be careful about the words that we’re using. I think we have to be rigorous in our thinking. … We’re all diverse. Every culture by definition is different. So that’s the first step.

Then, the question of inclusion: think about it for a second. [We] have a country where, for thousands of years … had thriving cultures. Then Europeans arrive, taking a lot of space, banning practices, establishing art practices and organizations, and putting all the funding in those organizations. Then you have these organizations turning to diverse people including aboriginal people and telling them that [they’re] going to include them in [their] thing? Think about it for a second. It makes no sense at all. It’s actually kind of insulting, right?

The other problem with the word inclusion is that it maintains the centre. It maintains the centrality of your own culture. It maintains the centrality of your artistic and intellectual tradition that has been very oppressive. … If we really want to talk about diversity then we have to be rigorous enough and challenge ourselves enough to start thinking in terms of how we can be flexible – to allow practices of different tradition[s] and … different bodies of knowledge, and artistic practice, to come in the space and meet. How can we allow that? If we do that, we’re on to something really amazing. The product of that would be transformational.

Audience 1 – In order to do that, we have to stop talking like we’re in the 1970’s. … The multiculturalist paradigm insists that we use words like diversity and inclusion – the happy face of the whole thing. … If we’re ever going to … open the conversations that are really interesting (what does it mean to bring intellectual traditions, world views together), … if we’re going to respond to the actual reality of Canada, then we have to quickly get past … the access paradigm. … In order to do that, … the main institutions of Canada including the artist-run centres have to get their game together. … I’m not in agreement with [forcing] organizations to do diversity. This is a colonial history and a colonial arts system [that] has to play catch up. […]

France – That being said … it’s not a dismissal of [classical music or new music]. … [It’s about] situating it in a broader ecology of the art world.

Chris – [The prioritization of the western classical music practice is] … something that I’ve witnessed coming through the academic system. … We’re not even talking about other classical music traditions, we’re not talking about Indian music, we’re not talking about Chinese classical music. … If you are a practitioner in new music, [you’re] coming up against what we heard Juliet talking about earlier. … There’s the Classical, and then there’s the new music, which is even a smaller sub-section of that. … There are so many traditions there, and there is a … very strong emphasis placed on [only] one. […]


Audience 2 – I would also like to acknowledge that many Indigenous cultures … do not silo their arts – so it’s not theatre and music and dance. It’s [an] absolute experience that people engage all together, everyday. [That’s] a different [approach to] the entire process [compared to] western traditions.

Chris – Coming through a very western upbringing, it took me a long time to realize that there are different economies of music, and how music is treated and respected in different cultures. We have to acknowledge that in some cultures, presenting music in concert [may] not [be] an appropriate expression of that music. […]

Rachel – … Very often when … diversity and inclusion get brought in, it’s … because we don’t want to say the word racism, we don’t want to say the word sexism, we don’t want to say the word homophobia. If we’re going to get past this, we need to identify the systems … [that we] need to dismantle … to create a world where we have [homogenous] art forms. … Sometimes the necessary approach may be … [The 2017 Queer Arts Festival has taken such an approach:] a two-spirit curated festival. This is the least diverse festival we’ve ever had. The vast majority of our artists are Indigenous, from many different nations so there is diversity within indigeneity … [and] the curation is not in the hands of settlers. … [Though] this is not a diverse festival, that doesn’t mean that it’s not … fighting racism or colonialism. Diversity is not the only way to fight that.

Juliet – … Reflecting on [my] childhood … in Aotearoa … in the seventies, [during] a huge revival of … Māori [identity and culture], pretty much every child in the country regardless of their ancestry was … taught language, cultural practices, songs, dances. All those elements were … seen as part of an identity and a culture that was important to everyone who lived on that land. … I still have profound memories of being in a school assembly … of elders singing a karakia welcome in Māori, understanding some of the words, not all of them, but just this profound impact of culture that’s not about an event, a concert, selling tickets, it’s really something that is part of life. … I manifest [this] in my own work. … The most powerful experiences take place outside the usual settings of the concert hall. … Art and making art … should be for every day. That’s the big trap that we fall into with the whole mechanisms and structures to fund art practices as a profession. … Conversations … about marketing [and] diversify[ing] our funding streams, it’s a very narrow concept of what art making is.

France – … The notion ‘bum in seat’ is very Eurocentric. … [When I was] an officer for the Canada Council for the Arts, we had an Inuit theatre company from the north that was trying to follow the [marketing] guidelines … and it wasn’t working. …. [They finally received permission to market how they wanted] and they went to the grocery store and … organized a feast. The concert hall was full. The idea of food … and sharing music … are interconnected. From an Indigenous perspective, the idea of paying to go see art [art as a commodity] is a foreign idea. … When [we reach] out … [for] different audiences, [we] have to educate ourselves on how people understand art practices.

Chris – That’s a really interesting point. … As a concert organizer myself, I’m [always] thinking about ‘how do I get people to come here, how do I get people in?’ Maybe the question needs to be ‘how do I go out to the people?’


Have you [encountered] situations or events that worked very well in reaching communities, that were successful in encouraging a form of diversity that you hadn’t encountered before?

Audience 3 via the live stream [read aloud to the room] – A rolling national conversation on diversity where the panel is all white? Does anyone else see this as problematic? [Later, off camera, the same person wrote on the live feed comments: “My mistake, but as a visible minority in the field, is it too much to ask to have a person that looks like me on ANY new music panel? Isn’t that the very reason inclusiveness is an issue in this sector?”]


France – I’m mixed ancestry, Mohawk and French. I come from the province of Quebec … I live on Coast Salish territory for the past 16 years. …

Juliet – I am here as a woman and I’m a minority in this community. About 20% of composers/music creators in contemporary music are women. … I’m also [here] as someone who came as an immigrant to Canada.

Rachel – Here are my diversity credentials: my background is Danish and Japanese, Vikings and samurai. I am a bisexual cis-gendered woman. I get read as white [and] straight all the time. One of the words that doesn’t get bandied around nearly as much as it used to is ‘visible minority’ – the ways in which I’m a minority are … all invisible. … What I find interesting is that we often don’t even see the diversity that’s around us [because] we make assumptions. […]

Chris – There does seem to be a tendency to make those judgments based on appearance. … There is so much importance placed on the visual.

Rachel – Well, that is our first impression. … The look we present does, to some degree, matter – especially in organizations. We are trying to create an environment that [appeals] to a wider variety of people. … Human beings have responses in heart rate and breath rate that correspond to flight or flight response when they walk into a room of people that they perceive to be not at all like them. … It’s an involuntary physiological response. […]

France – There’s a lot to think about and it’s complex. This question of representation – who you put on your board, who you hire … who’s making decisions, who has the power. … We have to address [power relationships]. … It’s not pointing fingers at one person or one organization, but [looking at it] systemically. How are we going to address the … imbalance of power. … I walk with some privileges that are unquestioned just because of the way that I look. […]


Chris – … Truth in itself can be … an uncomfortable place, but it often needs to be … a first step.

Rachel – We are dealing with … a systematic erasure. We’re dealing with Indigenous children … removed from their families for generations and … many people are now just trying to get back and find their cultures. … [From a personal example, because of my parent’s Japanese wartime experience, being declared aliens, my generation is only now trying to reconnect. I grew up much closer to my Danish heritage. I met a composer who doesn’t feel he can be promoted as Métis because he is not knowledgeable about his heritage.] We see that … with a lot of the cultures that have been suppressed in this country.

Chris – The idea of someone’s personal journey does play into this.

Rachel – It reminds me of the kind of disconnect that queer refugees also faced coming to this country, where they had to then prove that they’re queer [after having] spent a lifetime having to hide it in order to survive.

Audience 4 – I’m wondering if any of you would speak directly to … organizations that work in the contemporary-classical world who would say that there are no composers of colour … ? [Or] who know of a composer of colour and say, … ‘well, that individual is going to be successful now that the Canada Council has shifted its language to prioritize diversity.’ There is systemic racism in that [even if unintentional or ignorant]. […]

Juliet – … It’s incredibly difficult … to relinquish that power, [to relinquish the] authorship of music. I’ve spoken with younger Indigenous musicians who say ‘I don’t get it. Why is this white guy writing the piece for orchestra about my experience? Why didn’t they ask me?’ … [If it’s a question of training], there are so many ways to make it work. If an orchestra, [for example], would bend over backwards to support a pop musician to create a work (they’ll hire an arranger, they’ll facilitate this expression), … they can easily do the same to support the voice of an Indigenous artist or a person of colour. … There are so many ways – mentorship, training workshops – to support artists [in creating new work outside the conventional processes]. … Find talent … and nurture it. […]

Rachel – There are already a great many composers who aren’t white men … who are looking for opportunities, who have created some marvellous work. Just because you don’t see them or don’t know them doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It just means that you haven’t met them. … When … [building the] two-spirit themed festival, … we talked to people that we thought would know [visual artists]. … Now, we have learned about a lot of artists … we didn’t know before. … It’s not that hard to find, if you actually look.

France – I’d like to also go back to the question of education – … who is teaching what; … going back to the question of assumptions – assuming that certain types of practices and certain types of composers are superior. … The universality of certain types of practices [should be put into] perspective. Universities can do a much, much better job of that. It’s the system that [surrounds] universities as well. I remember sitting on a SSHRC jury and the only Indigenous project that we were presented with was [from] this white composer who wanted to work with Indigenous people to enlighten them to classical music. I’m not talking 20 years ago, I’m talking last year. … I had to fight to explain why this was so inappropriate. My colleagues did not see why it was not appropriate. … Everybody has taken for granted that in the arts we have to be educated [in] the protocols and the practices of the western art world, but the reverse is not true. … [If you don’t understand the tradition, the protocols or the aesthetics from which the art is coming from, then you can’t appreciate or evaluate its merit or innovation.] … [Being] open to different bodies of knowledge and different tradition[s] is key. … Artists of colour and Indigenous artists are much more sophisticated [in this practice] because they’re versed [both] in their own tradition and … in the western tradition. It’s time [for] more reciprocity… and [to] not assume that the western art practices are at the top of the pyramid [where] everybody [else] want[s] to go.

Jennifer Waring via the live stream [read aloud to the room] – So, in the council’s attempt to promote greater opportunity, they perpetuate the centrality of the European cultural tradition. But if that tradition has spawned valuable artistic forms, how can we continue to support those traditions when they actually suppress other expression – in other words, they occupy the power position among all the different artistic expressions.

Audience 1 – …[First,] there’s a case to be made … [about New Music coming] from a classical western tradition. … I think that you can … push back on [the council] and say ‘look, we don’t want to be culturally diverse because we’re working in our tradition.’ … The idea … is not to denigrate those traditions, but to have those traditions in their appropriate place within this country, not at the centrality. If there are any cultures that need to be at the centrality, it’s Indigenous cultures, and everything else needs to surround that.

Secondly, Rachel has done a really amazing job of bring[ing] intersectionality into this conversation. But … [there are limits to address it] in a diversity framework, … It … either degenerates into a ‘who is more oppressed than who,’ or, it degenerates into some kind of multi-cultural mush. … If you’re going to talk about diversity, talk about it … within a frame. … Go ahead and talk about [LGBT], but don’t try to then talk about Indigenous people at the same time.

Thirdly, … imagine [a new] arts system: … an infrastructure, a funding system, a discursive frame that the popular discourse and the academic discourse surrounds. … [Instead of thinking about how to reform the existing system,] imagine that we didn’t have [one] in Canada and we were inventing it today. What would that actually look like given the fact that there are all these cultures on this territory called Canada? … It’s a bit of a utopian way of thinking but it might move the conversation forward a lot faster. […]

France – There is a real danger in what the council is doing. … The intention is good … but there are perverse effects to what they’re trying to do. [Ironically, you end up having] – and I live it – big, mainstream organizations that have received more than their share of funding for the past many decades … turning to Indigenous organizations … that have been underfunded for decades … [for help on how to] diversify so that they can tick the box of the council. This is not good. The other problem [is an artistic one: the large organizations] have way more resources [and] power, they’re poaching communities, [and ultimately,] it’s detrimental for the development of other art practices. … For those mainstream organizations [that] just want to do the work [because] they need to tick the box, I think it’s better that they do nothing, frankly. […]

Chris – It comes back to a question of intent.

France – My first question is always … ’Why do you want to diversify? Why? Why do you need to reach more audiences? Why do you want to reach out to Indigenous audiences or audiences of colour? Why in the world would you want to do that?’ It’s a real question. … Why do you want to include people?

Audience 1 – … Most white people don’t recognize that they’re white. Subsequently, they’re really shocked when they run into somebody that doesn’t want to be a white people. That maintains the power structure and leads to many of the attitudes that are exclusionary.

Rachel – The classical music tradition has had a long history … of practitioners who are not European. While the art form was incubated in Europe and has gone out from there, there’s been an erasure. … [I just discovered] a black composer working in Mozart’s time [Chevalier de Saint-Georges]. … To say ‘western classical music’ [is] simply a European tradition, [that it doesn’t] want to be diverse, is to deny exposure and opportunity to the many composers who have [worked], and [who] continue to work in that field, who come from backgrounds who are not exclusively European.

Chris – …We’ve covered an awful lot of territory today and have an awful lot of stuff to think about. […]

France – I just want to thank you for organizing this, for bringing us together today, designing these questions, and having the courage to go there, to open up this obviously necessary and complex conversation. Thank you, Chris.

Juliet – We’re going to take a little break, … let some thoughts, reflections [and] questions percolate, and then [we’ll come back and] break out into smaller groups [to dig in a bit more].


For the second part of the session, participants broke into smaller groups to discuss cards containing shortly phrased thoughts written by fellow participants and redistributed anonymously. The full group reconvened to share summarized ideas.

Community Cards from Halifax, Victoria and Montreal