Eleanor Stacey, executive director of The Civic Theatre in Nelson, recently penned a letter to the BC Arts Council expressing support for a robust approach to equity, diversity and inclusion. In the spirit of sharing what our colleagues around the province are doing to advocate for equity in the arts, we’ve reproduced part of Eleanor’s letter below, in her words and with her permission.
In BC’s larger cities, it seems that the conversation about Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) is well underway - with diverse populations, the climate is ripe for these conversations to take place, and within the cultural sector, it seems there is much goodwill towards being equitable and inclusive, and that there will be many voices to consult regarding how BCAC can support cultural EDI work in the future
In my community of Nelson, the 2016 census showed 11% of people in the City of Nelson identified as non-caucasian. Ethnic minorities stand out here, but have very small cultural communities, when they exist at all - many of the non-white people I know and know of here are married to a white person or adopted by a white family. In community meetings and personal conversations over the last five years, I have heard many people of colour voice that they have experienced racial discrimination, ranging from well-meaning people warmly professing to “not see colour” to people who have done covertly and overtly racist things to them. In these instances, it is difficult for people of colour to seek reconciliation because the local awareness of this need, and of white privilege and fragility, is not fully understood or accepted here. This is clearly a community-wide problem, and not limited to the arts.
Unlike many other communities in BC, Nelson does not have a provincially-sanctioned Organizing Against Racism and Hate Committee. While we have long-standing social initiatives for poverty reduction and support organizations for women, LGBTQ2 people, people with disabilities and seniors, in terms of supporting people of colour, I am not aware of other formal EDI work happening here. There have been promising conversations begun by people interested in social justice, and we have a thriving international program within our school district, but I don’t feel that these things have actually contributed to improving outcomes for people of colour who live here. I have not yet seen an interest in making EDI a broad civic priority, likely again because of a lack of awareness surrounding privilege.
However, within the cultural sector here, we have the opportunity to start this conversation within a willing and concerned population. In 2018, I established a workplan for an EDI working group within the Cultural Development Committee of the City of Nelson. In the last six months, we have sought to pull together a working group membership of local people who work in the arts and come from diverse backgrounds, including LGBTQ2, people of colour, Aboriginal peoples, people with disabilities, and women. We are now starting our work by looking at the respectfulartsworkplaces.ca concept, and investigating how it might help build EDI and awareness of EDI issues in our local cultural community. Where the working group will go from that point will be determined as we get to know one another and establish other goals. It is my hope that it will fuel the possibility for EDI to become a broader conversation across our community, and bring other key stakeholders to the table.
In small town British Columbia, it is not a given that our communities are safe and welcoming for people who are different from the general population. This issue cannot be addressed through multicultural festivals and other initiatives that enable majority groups to feel good about their curiosity and inclusiveness towards minorities. We need initiatives that give minorities strong voices and allow them to be heard and believed, to talk about difficult things, and to do so within the context of rural community living, rather than the urban experience, as they are very different. My hope is that if more rural BC communities gain the insight and vocabulary for EDI conversations, that more of rural BC will become truly welcoming to minority populations.
The arts have the special ability to be disruptive, show rage, invoke empathy and reflection among audiences, and build community dialogue around themes. I am delighted that BC Arts Council is seeking to investigate opportunities surrounding equity in the arts, and I hope that there will be outcomes from your work that will genuinely contribute to more equitable communities in BC, including rural communities.
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