"A Labour of True Collaboration": BC Alliance's Brenda Leadlay Reflects on Transformation, Decolonization and Connections Without Restriction

This past week, on June 13-14, we at the BC Alliance collaborated with our friends at the GVPTA on Unrestricted, our annual conference. Now that the dust has settled, we're reliving our favourite moments and eagerly looking over your feedback on what you enjoyed and what we can improve for next year's conference. As we reflect on the lessons learned and relationships forged at this year's event, we asked our executive director, Brenda Leadlay, for some of her takeaways from two days of connections and collaborations.


Indigenous elders Margo Kane and Dennis Joseph (l-r) welcome delegates to Unrestricted.

Indigenous elders Margo Kane and Dennis Joseph (l-r) welcome delegates to Unrestricted.

Unrestricted, produced in collaboration with the Greater Vancouver Professional Theatre Alliance, was a big step forward in our struggle for equity and reconciliation in the cultural sector.

From the opening ritual, led by Indigenous elders Dennis Joseph, Margo Kane and Sharon Jinkerson-Brass, with members of the Full Circle Ensemble, to the closing ceremony when four witnesses shared their personal takeaways from the two-day event, it felt like we were all part of something bigger.

Squamish elder Dennis Joseph set the tone at the start of both days, encouraging us to be aware of what we were bringing into the space and reminding us of the importance of respect, humility, honesty, truth, wisdom, courage and love. The theatre was transformed into a sacred space by smudging and the cleansing of participants with cedar boughs as they entered. The boughs were then laid out to encircle the stage, where they remained for the duration of the conference,  reminding us to bring our best selves forward. And what a difference it made.

We heard from over 60 presenters over two days. People spoke from their hearts, sharing their personal stories of strife and truth, and inspiring us to come together as a community to build a better world. After all, as Margo Kane reminded us during the closing: we are all one family.

As I couldn’t be everywhere, here are just a few of my highlights from this year’s event.

Not your Usual Conversation About Diversity was an electrifying discussion moderated by Naomi Cromwell with panelists Rup Sidhu, Valerie Sing Turner, Megan Gerbrandt and Jerilynn Webster (aka JB the First Lady). I learned that “diversity” is not the word we should be using to talk about underserved artists. In fact, the word itself has been weaponized and used against racialized and Indigenous artists. My favourite saying of the day came from panelist Megan Gerbrandt: “Diversity without decolonization is like an umbrella with holes in it.”

Personally, this year’s conference was, for me, all about decolonization. It was about unlearning the nuances of my own behaviour and recognizing that I have been brainwashed by the patriarchal systems of politics, religion, health care and education.
— BC Alliance executive director Brenda Leadlay

Later, I sat in a circle with 50 women and a handful men and non-binary delegates, talking with panelists Joyce Rosario, Cicely Blain, Jamie Smith and Kim Senklip Harvey about Women in the Arts and how we can transform “from me to we.” The discussion felt like a political act of decolonization. I was energized to discover that I shared a lot of the same values and goals as my sisters in our struggle against patriarchal ideals. Hopefully, this panel will be the start of a longer, deeper conversation about ways we can work alongside each other to become leaders in our sector, and in society writ large. 

Building Transformational Networks was simply the most fun session of all. Using games and playful exercises, facilitators Navida Nuraney, Andrea Loewen and Nina Patel brought us together to learn how to lead with purpose yet remain humble, trust instead of control, and most importantly, think about ourselves as part of a web rather than the centre of a circle. They helped us quickly understand that we can effectively expand our networks by diving deep into what we care about and sharing it with others.  

Working with GVPTA executive director Kenji Maeda to develop the programming and the panels for Unrestricted was a labour of true collaboration. We literally ran everything past each other. Although it took a lot more time, it was worth it and it taught me a lot. We learned that we shared common values and a desire to decolonize ourselves. As theatre artist Marcus Youssef said during the opening panel, Collaboration Across Sectors, “we need to give a voice to those who don’t have a voice.” I felt that we accomplished that this year because of our strong teamwork.

Personally, this year’s conference was, for me, all about decolonization. It was about unlearning the nuances of my own behaviour and recognizing that I have been brainwashed by the patriarchal systems of politics, religion, health care and education. There are embedded values and practices so deeply ingrained in my life that I am barely aware of them.

Big thanks to everyone who attended the conference this year and shared a part of themselves. I look forward to deepening our relationships to ensure that we are heard, that our value is understood and that we are transforming our communities together.

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