"Art Is Our Weapon": The Canadian Arts Community Reacts to Sexual Harassment and Misconduct

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Recent instances of sexual harassment in the arts and culture community, including the recent events at Soulpepper Theatre, which saw sexual misconduct lawsuits filed against the Toronto theatre company’s artistic director Albert Schultz, have seen a swift and powerful response from the arts community across Canada.

Canada Council for the Arts issued a statement promising a review of its granting policies to ensure that it can “effectively address” sexual harassment situations which involve funding recipients. The National Arts Council also launched a review of its sexual harassment policy this week.

A number of national and BC theatre companies and theatre schools have joined a campaign spearheaded by the Canadian Actors' Equity Association and the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres. Dubbed “Not in Our Space!,” it promotes a zero tolerance approach against bullying and harassment and includes protocols and support materials. The campaign was launched last fall, after a survey of members found 50 percent had been on the receiving end of inappropriate behaviour. 

The BC Alliance for Arts + Culture supports all programs and education that foster safe and respectful workplaces. We’ve appreciated wise words from many sources about ways to move forward on this issue. One eloquent statement comes from Kelly Thornton of Toronto’s Nightwood Theatre. To keep this pertinent dialogue going, we reprint much of her statement here, with permission:

“In the wake of the sexual harassment allegations made against Albert Schultz and Soulpepper Theatre, our entire industry is grappling with the horror these young actors went through to simply do their job, and to do it with the passion and commitment that brought them to their profession in the first place. The toxic cloud that has descended over the theatre, this life-affirming art form, has shattered our innocence (or perhaps our ignorance), but also, and more importantly, fueled our resistance and resilience. While this tragedy sinks in, one in a long line of recent stories on the abuse of power, we can also celebrate the massive sea of change our world is experiencing. Women have been silenced by power for far too long and this systemic imbalance has enabled this abuse to go on unchecked.

“Silence is the victim’s prison. And the bars are made of shame. The tremendous will and fortitude that has been summoned by the silence breakers can never be underestimated. #MeToo has unleashed a forceful movement, and this time there is no backroom slap on the wrist, no smug excuse of locker room talk, no “all in jest” justification for the demoralization and violence of another human being. The precedent-setting termination of Harvey Weinstein from his own company has set the bar, and as we witness the fall of so many “giants” we are left to process the shock that this behaviour has been enabled for so long. 

"One of the accusers in the Schultz scandal, Kristin Booth, said she does not feel brave, she feels terrified. But courage is not the absence of fear; it is the will to face it. In this David and Goliath match, women are realizing that their voices are more prevailing than the systemic powers that have controlled them. This expulsion is not a tragedy, it is a victory for many.  And let us be clear this is not a diatribe on the gender divide. This is about power imbalance, be it gender, race, class or sexuality. Our responsibility to humanity is to redress these structures, through our voices, through allyship, through love and through art. The world of theatre feels somewhat tainted this week, and all of us must look into the safety that we overlooked for our artists. But as these women reclaim their space by speaking out, we can celebrate our collective voice as theatre makers. Art is our weapon. Keep fighting.”

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