Responsive Programing: a Dance
Akou Connell, Executive Director
Within a month of starting as Executive Director at artsnb, I was bundled off to Edmonton, Alberta for my first CPAF meeting — a national network of provincial and territorial arts boards, along with the Canada Council for the Arts. This was a meeting for Executive Directors on strategic issues – and the topic was equity. There was a lot to digest. A panel at that meeting introduced me to the concept of critical diversity — the idea that there are multiple cultural scales for evaluating what is excellent. The conversations there also forced me to ask some fundamental questions about the changing demography of New Brunswick, our challenges with population growth, how accessible our programs have traditionally been with equity-seeking groups of artists in our province in the past and present, and how we might identify where there are gaps in the programming we offer. We’re not Toronto or Montreal — and yet when we look at who is successful in artsnb programming, does it reflect back who we are as a society?
It’s healthy to examine and challenge the underlying assumptions of anything we do in life — it’s what keeps us relevant and honest. Why are we here? What are we doing? Why? When we look at the full picture, do we like what we see? After all, as the public art funder, artsnb is essentially one of the biggest programmers for the arts in NB. Do we like what we see? If not, what needs adjustment?
Our legislated mandate is clear: artsnb strives to support artistic excellence, unify the arts community, advise government on policy, and facilitate enjoyment, understanding, and enjoyment of the arts. We have good programs that meet the needs of our professional artists, and by extension, nourish our society. We have a rigorous jury process to ensure that unfair bias is eliminated as much as possible and we ensure that our Program Officers facilitate adherence to criteria but do not interfere with jury results. But how were we doing with our Francophone population’s application and success rates, I wondered? With Aboriginal artists? Newcomers? LGTBQ? Deaf and Disabled?
As it turns out, we’re doing pretty well with the Acadian community – 1 in 3 in our province are Acadian, and roughly 1 in 3 successful applicants in our programming are, too. Bravo!
When we looked at our Aboriginal population, which is 1 in 7. Success rate corollary? Not good. Two successful applications from Aboriginal artists/year is unacceptable. Vanessa Moeller, Deputy Director extraordinaire, plopped a box of files down on my desk; apparently we had worked on this question before, under Pauline Bourque, who had hired two Aboriginal Outreach Officers for a year and a half – and there had been a jump in the stats – 27 successful applications in one year. Then the pilot project ended and the success rates took a corresponding dive. We had proof that what we needed was to restore a missing culturally-relevant link to this community. So we applied for an AYIP grant from JEDI and hired two recently graduated Aboriginal Artists fresh from NBCCD. Our application rates are slowly climbing again.
We followed by more digging: research into our changing demography. Here’s the report we published to help us better understand where to focus next. So: what role artsnb might have, going forward, in partnering with other organizations to develop new initiatives and programs that address questions surrounding Creative Aging and population growth in NB? The programs we run must support our professional artists, but our responsibility is larger still, if one truly scrutinizes our mandate. For our programming and work to be truly relevant, all NBers need to experience the benefits of strong arts programming. This is why artsnb’s new strategic plan, launched last year, has Equity among its aims. We’re going back into the Aboriginal Communities for a second round of workshops this fall, in partnership with AAAPNB and ArtsLink. And we’re partnering with the Atlantic Aging Institute on a series of workshops on Creative Aging (stay tuned!). Working to ensure that our entire arts and culture sector is strong and well-resourced can only lead to a greater sense of shared identity and mutual respect as a society.
Keeping the questions coming…