2015, 2016 to 2017
I might be a little late at the year-end tradition of reflecting on the past year as we usher in a new year. I believe the intent is to remember good accomplishments and express new ones for the coming year. Now, it would be easy to be self-indulging and make a list of personal projects I was graced with the opportunity to fulfill; after all, I am an artist seeking to develop my art practice. Furthermore, I could plug upcoming projects I’m excited to present in the coming year, 2017. However, I think it’s more important to have a more macro approach. It speaks more to my role as an Arts administrator whose primary role is to support the arts. On the macro level, 2016 ended kind of on a sour note. As much as I’d like to argue otherwise, the US election has had a lasting impact on me (like many others)! Mainly because it engaged me in many unexpected and unsettling conversations about women in politics and women in high-end jobs. Now, better people than I will surely write a novel about Hillary Clinton and the glass ceilings she has had to face in many stages of her career. And I would hope someone wiser than I would also write a novel on how we in Canada also have our glass ceilings that remain un-shattered. Not to say some progress hasn’t been made (yes including the ‘Because its 2015’ gender parity cabinet of Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau) but far too much remains unchanged.
Sadly, this is also true in the arts. Recently Natalie Portman spoke out about the fact that while filming No Strings Attached she received a third of the salary granted to her co-star Ashton Kutcher. Both were making a wealthy persons salary, but still, one can not help wonder why Kutcher would get paid 3 times more than Portman, for the same work, and, one can easily argue, with the same celebrity status in terms of being able to draw an audience or give credibility to the project.
I remember taking a workshop with MAWA co-director and performance artist Shawna Dempsey on women in the arts. I happened to be the only man taking the workshop. I was also the only one whose jaw dropped upon hearing the stats on how women are still paid less then men as artists (in various fields), or not hired for higher paying jobs, have fewer roles, or have roles with fewer lines, or this, and that, all glaringly proving that inequality is not just a perception: its real.
And I find this surprising because women in the arts dominate most of my list of artistic highlights of 2016. It starts with Interstellar Rodeo, a music festival founded and run by women, thankfully, because they do things different, and for the better. The motto ‘just be awesome’ results in well thought out and adaptable planning that allows a space for all. But it also allows for powerful musical performances like those of the late Sharon Jones or Neko Case or spine-tingling awe-inspiring KD Lang (proving that aging women get finer and more powerful).
I was also awed by the exhibit Let them Howl presenting a dozen huge paintings of women who made history in Canada, hung on the walls of Fort Gilbraltar. A project partnering le Festival du Voyageur and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and allowing awareness to be brought to the fact that Manitoba was the first province to grant women the right to vote a hundred years ago. Walking along these women, I realized how chief Justice Beverly McLaughlin, the hon. Adrianne Clarkson and Secretaire-Générale Michaelle Jean have had a profound impact on how I understand my country.
It easy to smile and be inspired by newish artists like Caitlund Brown who with her partner Wayne Garette presented the magical art installations like Deep Dark and The Cloud during Nuit Blanche. Or Alexa Dirks launching her deeply personal musical project Begonia, which I have in permanent rotation on my play list. I can think of Arlea Ashcroft’s Journey to Standing Rock and her offering her capacity as an artist to use images to evoke change but also to see things through a certain prism and allowing those not present to understand what is at stake.
I could go on and on. There is not a lack of Canadian, Manitoban, and Winnipeg artists, who are female, who amaze me in their art offerings, who awe me with their talents, who inspire me by their message. It saddens me to think that they might not have equal opportunity and equal pay. It sickens me to think that they might not have access to the same opportunities as their male peers.
Where does this leave me? Well, in 2017, I was looking forward to seeing Patricia Gomis present her one person show moi, monsieur, moi recounting her Senegalese upbringing; and it did not disappoint. I look forward to seeing Ginny Collin’s work The Flats come to life on stage. I look forward to the Commission on Murdered and Missing Aboriginal Women to reveal truths that will be difficult to hear let alone address.
This does not mean I will stop my own art practice and stop seeking out my own opportunities. But as an artist and particularly as an Arts administrator, I will ensure my peers continue to include women, and that they have the same opportunities to speak and to lead. I am a better person because I count powerful and talented women as my peers, as my inspiration. I am a better person because I have opportunities to hear them through music, on stage, through art installations, through whichever medium they should choose.
We can cite success in 2016, and we should. We can cite some failures in 2016, and we should. But both can inspire our 2017, and it should.