This article is published through our Regional Reporter Program. We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts through the Digital Now initiative.
Many individuals and organizations throughout Canada are working towards personal and systemic change through a social justice lens. Kinetic Studio, a dance service organization in K’jipuktuk/Halifax, has taken a lead in its community and is encouraging artists, audiences, funders and peers to take collective action for social change.
In a small and mighty way, true to the scale and impact of the organization, Kinetic not only continued its core activities throughout the pandemic but also added new programming to meet the needs of its community. In early November, the organization produced Marking this Mo(ve)ment, a four-day symposium. This event exemplified the work the three-person part-time staff is doing to make the organization a catalyst for the arts in Nova Scotia and to commit to “building and nurturing spaces where artists can explore, create and grow with equity, justice and respect.”
The symposium launched with a thought-provoking panel on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) featuring a candid discussion between five local artists and organizers including Liliona Quarmyne, the company’s artistic director.
Quarmyne noted that the panel was conceived in response to a need articulated by the Nova Scotia arts community, particularly amongst smaller organizations like the one she leads. She observes that many of these organizations are invested in doing work related to anti-oppression, but there is still capacity building that needs to happen and more exploration of potential pathways to continuing the work collectively.
“We haven’t as a sector figured out how to collectively start dealing with some of these bigger questions,” said Quarmyne. “The work around EDI that is happening … it’s very piecemeal. In some other regions, I know there are some bigger sectoral-wide pieces of work that are happening, and I think that Halifax suffers from not having a wider-spread approach and from working in this very siloed way within our individual organizations.”
As a step towards this, the panel, Outside In: Getting Real about EDI, convened Raeesa Lalani, the artistic director of Prismatic Arts Festival; Nick Nguyen, a breakdancer; Jordan Farmer, a hip-hop artist; and Masuma Khan, an artist and community organizer. These artists shared their lived experiences of equity, diversity and inclusion actions as BIPOC individuals in the Halifax area. Without input or questions from the audience, participants engaged in a fishbowl-style conversation and brought forward a nuanced personal discussion that reflected on the successes and challenges of EDI initiatives.
“Artists, and especially marginalized artists and under-represented artists, have spent so much time adapting and shifting and trying to cope that we’ve really had very little time to reflect on what’s actually happening for us,” said Quarmyne.
The panelists agreed that the acronym and practice of “EDI” is frustrating; it represents shallow actions within organizations that do not centre the needs of racialized individuals. Instead, they desired a move towards using terms like justice and liberation and taking actions focused on listening, sharing the load and ongoing care.
The participants also expressed the bittersweet feelings they have when small steps towards equity are taken but the underlying issues remain because individuals and organizations don’t always continue to do the hard work outside one-off diversity initiatives. They advocated for self-care and community-care for those marginalized individuals who are contributing to this change.
Quarmyne sees a dance community around her that wants to change – to hear new voices and see new bodies in the professional space, to see organizations working through a justice lens. She hopes that the initiatives that they have taken to make this symposium and their organization a conduit for discussions on social issues will inspire larger organizations and sector-wide co-operation in her community.
Quarmyne expressed that it can be frustrating and mistakes can and will happen, but as the organizations that support dance and the arts change, she questioned: “How do we hold each other with compassion during that journey?”