Diversity: Report on the Victoria Session

Diversity: A Rolling National Conversation
Report on the Victoria Session

Sun­day, March 26, 2017 | 2:30 PM – 4:30 PM PST
Open Space Arts Soci­ety – 2nd floor, 510 Fort St, Vic­to­ria, BC
A CNMN project fund­ed by Fac­tor and pre­sent­ed in Vic­to­ria with Open Space Arts Society
We would like to thank our part­ners and spon­sors for mak­ing this project possible.

Report: Jen­nifer Waring

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)

The ses­sion in Vic­to­ria fol­lowed six weeks after the open­er in Hal­i­fax.  It resumed the dis­cus­sion of diver­si­ty, but from the angle of audi­ence engage­ment.  The two-and-a-half-hour event was divid­ed equal­ly between a live-streamed pan­el dis­cus­sion con­duct­ed in the round with audi­ence, and an in-cam­era cir­cle exer­cise that broke out into small­er dis­cus­sion groups.  Juli­et Palmer pro­vid­ed con­ti­nu­ity with the pre­vi­ous ses­sion; as with the pre­vi­ous ses­sion, she led the cir­cle exercise.

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.

In his open­ing remarks the mod­er­a­tor iden­ti­fied three dif­fer­ent groups: cre­ators, audi­ences and com­mu­ni­ties, then asked if audi­ence and com­mu­ni­ty are dis­tinct, or one in the same?

I think they are over­lap­ping. I think that it is impor­tant not to talk about com­mu­ni­ty but com­mu­ni­ties – we have poly-iden­ti­ties.  This is much the case with the com­mu­ni­ties that we belong to.  The com­mu­ni­ties are for­ev­er grow­ing and chang­ing which means that it is not just a com­mu­ni­ty.  When we talk about the new music com­mu­ni­ty, we don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly talk about all the com­mu­ni­ties that share this space. 

I agree with Rachel from the per­spec­tive of a cre­ator, I am cre­at­ing in a com­mu­ni­ty set­ting.  In that con­text, we make cre­ative work with a community. 

The notion of com­mu­ni­ty is inter­est­ing; my work is often rela­tion­al in that sense. The com­mu­ni­ty that I engage with is not an audi­ence, or an audi­ence in the mak­ing. I think there is a way of engag­ing with com­mu­ni­ty that will in time become an audi­ence. It is engag­ing the com­mu­ni­ty that we learn where they are, not on our terms, but on their terms.  Defin­ing what an audi­ence needs and wants, changes the con­ver­sa­tion quite a bit. It is a long-term endeav­or. From an Indige­nous per­spec­tive, wher­ev­er we are work­ing, from wher­ev­er you are work­ing from, there is a First Nation com­mu­ni­ty there, we are always work­ing on their land, this is the first com­mu­ni­ty we should acknowl­edge, engage with, and respect.

Key comments and ideas:

Bar­ri­ers to par­tic­i­pa­tion as audi­ence, as artists

  • By its very nature, new music is exclusionary.
  • In many ways, it is the cur­rent expres­sion in the “clas­si­cal” stream, with all the unspo­ken clas­si­cal music pro­to­cols that make peo­ple feel ashamed, like they can’t par­tic­i­pate if they don’t know how to take in the event. Con­se­quent­ly, how you present your­self on stage mat­ters; it can have a huge impact when try­ing to con­nect with com­mu­ni­ties out­side the nar­row ones already there.
  • France point­ed out that infra­struc­ture for art is recent in Cana­da. It was cre­at­ed in the 50’s at a time when Indige­nous cul­tures were not con­sid­ered liv­ing but rather dying cul­tures, their prac­tices still banned.  The peo­ple who designed the sys­tem only had in mind Euro­pean-based art forms.

We live in a very racist art sys­tem, priv­i­leg­ing west­ern Euro­pean traditions…it is very uncom­fort­able at times. – France

Diver­si­ty and inclu­sion ver­sus giv­ing space

Chris knew that France had an issue with the idea of inclu­sion and asked her to explain.

First, I am going to tack­le diver­si­ty. Every­one is diverse.  What is that? It’s like eth­nic food — all food is eth­nic. So we have to be care­ful about how we use these words. Every cul­ture is by def­i­n­i­tion dif­fer­ent.  Now to the ques­tion of inclu­sion, let’s think about that for a sec­ond. We have a coun­try where, for thou­sands of years, there was a thriv­ing cul­ture.  Then Euro­peans come, there’s mas­sive change, sys­tems devel­op that priv­i­lege the Euro­peans.  And then the Euro­peans turn around and are now try­ing to include these ‘diverse’ cul­tures, poach­ing their com­mu­ni­ties.  It’s as detri­men­tal their oth­er prac­tices.  – France

Inclu­sion main­tains the cen­tral­i­ty of Euro­pean cul­ture and an intel­lec­tu­al tra­di­tion that has been very oppres­sive. If we real­ly want to talk about diver­si­ty then we have to chal­lenge our­selves, be rig­or­ous, and flex­i­ble enough to allow prac­tices and dif­fer­ent bod­ies of knowl­edge to come in.  – France

And fur­ther: “It doesn’t dis­miss any clas­si­cal music or prac­tice, it belongs to the tra­di­tion it belongs to, but it needs to share the space.” – France

  • An audi­ence mem­ber voiced con­cern about the effect of man­dat­ed diver­si­ty. Per­haps it would be bet­ter to view all the dif­fer­ent kinds of prac­tices as diver­si­ty in them­selves, rather than mak­ing every­one be “diverse.”  Oth­er­wise, everyone’s prac­tices could become a mul­ti­cul­tur­al mishmash.
  • Anoth­er audi­ence mem­ber com­ment­ed that arts coun­cils can’t just impose and enforce diver­si­ty. The sys­tem needs changing.

Sys­tems and the per­pet­u­a­tion of the sta­tus quo 

  • It was observed that Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties don’t cre­ate silos of their art forms; they have a dif­fer­ent approach to the process than west­ern traditions.
  • Ghet­toiza­tion was iden­ti­fied by Juli­et as a prob­lem in the new music of the clas­si­cal stream, where it’s rel­e­gat­ed to fes­ti­vals, or spe­cif­ic con­certs rather than being integrated.
  • An audi­ence mem­ber called the eco­nom­ic class sys­tem the ele­phant in the room: tra­di­tion­al arts are sup­port­ed by a class sys­tem that den­i­grates folk arts – folk, in gen­er­al. While there is a place for elite art, there is lit­tle impe­tus to include those who are sys­tem­i­cal­ly disadvantaged.
  • Rachel sug­gest­ed that we need to iden­ti­fy sys­tems before know­ing how to dis­man­tle them. Tar­get­ed inter­ven­tions may help.  Exam­ple: the queer arts fes­ti­val encom­pass­es a range of iden­ti­ties, but in 2017 they mount­ed a two-spir­it­ed fes­ti­val, which end­ed up being the least diverse fes­ti­val they had had.  It was a nec­es­sary mea­sure, though, as they want­ed to spot­light that group – and it was a deci­sion of the cura­tors and not the result of any under­ly­ing system.
  • In edu­ca­tion there is the ques­tion of who is teach­ing, and what they are teach­ing. That sys­tem per­pet­u­ates the sta­tus quo.
  • Also per­pet­u­at­ing the sta­tus quo: most peo­ple who are white don’t rec­og­nize them­selves as white. Like think­ing you don’t have an accent.

Com­mu­ni­ty engagement

  • Art should be for every day. We fall into the trap of think­ing of it as a pro­fes­sion, which leads to the trap of mar­ket­ing and diver­si­fy­ing fund­ing streams.

Reflect­ing on her child­hood in New Zealand: In the 70’s when there was a revival of Indige­nous iden­ti­ty and chil­dren were taught dances and lan­guage. It had a huge impact on me – under­stand­ing cul­ture as a cer­e­mo­ni­al prac­tice. It was not about an event or sell­ing tick­ets, but a part of life. I man­i­fest this in my own work. It’s about mak­ing work togeth­er, not sell­ing tick­ets, and tak­ing things out of the usu­al venues and con­cert halls. – Juli­et

The idea of bums in seats is very Euro­cen­tric. When I was on the coun­cil, we had a the­ater com­pa­ny from the north that was try­ing to fol­low mar­ket­ing guide­lines… I gave them per­mis­sion to mar­ket how they want­ed, and they went to the gro­cery store and bought food for a feast. The con­cert hall was full. When we treat art as a com­mod­i­ty, it is very Euro­cen­tric. – France

Iden­ti­ty and assump­tion: how things look / how they actu­al­ly are and  also how things look influ­ences how they are

The com­ment com­ing in on live feed that all the pan­elists looked white, elicit­ed these responses:

I am Mohawk and French, I come from the province of Que­bec, and I live on Coast Sal­ish ter­ri­to­ry. – France

I am a woman and make up 20% of the com­pos­ing com­mu­ni­ty. I came as an immi­grant to Cana­da. – Juliet

My back­ground is Dan­ish and Japan­ese. I get labeled as white and straight all the time.  The ways in which I am minor­i­ty are not vis­i­ble. What I find inter­est­ing is that we often don’t see the diver­si­ty around us because we base our judg­ment on what we see. – Rachel

The mod­er­a­tor not­ed that there is a great deal of impor­tance placed on the vis­i­ble, with the response from Rachel:

yes, it is our first impres­sion. If peo­ple read my name, they see me as Japan­ese soon­er. I think the look we present does mat­ter, espe­cial­ly in orga­ni­za­tions — we are try­ing to cre­ate an envi­ron­ment that appeals to a wider vari­ety of peo­ple.– Rachel

Which led to the obser­va­tion that it mat­ters who you put on your board, who you hire, who makes deci­sions.  Pow­er is the issue.

It’s a white sys­tem – with­out point­ing fin­gers, how do we address the imbal­ances of pow­er and access to resources?  I walk with some priv­i­leges because I come across as white. – France

An audi­ence mem­ber com­ment­ed that if you’re Métis, then you’re not accept­ed as Indige­nous. The issue is not “who rep­re­sents our orga­ni­za­tion’, but “who do you have to be true to”?

Because of sys­tem­at­ic era­sure (Indige­nous chil­dren removed from their fam­i­lies, the Japan­ese wartime expe­ri­ence), we are now see­ing efforts to reclaim identity.


Author­ship and men­tor­ship / inclu­sion of peo­ple who are unable to break in

  • Audi­ence mem­ber – the new music com­mu­ni­ty seems to claim that there are no com­posers of colour. This is not delib­er­ate indi­vid­ual racism but sys­tem­at­ic racism.  How can we help inform these organizations?
  • There are many com­posers who aren’t white men, just look­ing for oppor­tu­ni­ties. You have to go out and find them.
  • When it comes to help­ing artists from diverse com­mu­ni­ties engage in these “white” art forms, its nec­es­sary to find some­one who can sup­port some­one else’s voice – men­tor­ing, see­ing and nur­tur­ing the tal­ent. The tra­di­tion­al mod­el doesn’t work, where the com­pos­er is unable to relin­quish authorship.

I was the only indige­nous per­son avail­able to take part in a project where a com­pos­er want­ed to work with Indige­nous peo­ple.  I had to fight to get the point across that this was inap­pro­pri­ate.  If you don’t under­stand the tra­di­tion and the pro­to­cols or the aes­thet­ics, then you can’t accept the mer­it or excel­lence. Dif­fer­ent tra­di­tions is key here. – France

Artists of colour and Indige­nous artists are more sophis­ti­cat­ed because they come first from their own tra­di­tion first and then they have to strad­dle the west­ern world. – France

Concluding thoughts

It comes back to a ques­tion of intent.

Why? My first ques­tion is always why? Why do we need more diver­si­fi­ca­tion? Why do we need big­ger audi­ences? Why do you want to do that? – France

Smaller group discussion

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