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November 22, 2021

An end of year message from ArtStarts

2021 marks 25 years that ArtStarts has been working with artists and educators to inspire young learners with artistic and creative experiences in schools on the lands of 203 Indigenous communities throughout colonial British Columbia. We honour with gratitude the Indigenous Peoples who remain stewards of these lands, and we are grateful to have the opportunity to work on their lands and territories.

This year there were also significant events that brought to light the historical and ongoing impacts of colonialism and climate change on Indigenous Peoples. The uncovering of thousands of unmarked graves at the sites of former residential schools across Turtle Island, truths that Indigenous Peoples have long known, have forced non-Indigenous communities to reckon with the impacts of colonization and cultural genocide.

Extreme weather events have shown us that climate change is real and it’s here. The worst impacts have been felt by the members of our communities that are the most marginalized, such as seniors, elders, unhoused people, undocumented people, and those living in remote and reserve communities.

Increasing consciousness about racial justice has provoked calls to action to dismantle systemic racism against Indigenous and Black people in many areas of society, including the arts and culture sector.  In a post called The Problem With "Diversity" in Arts & Culture Nonprofit, Naomi Gracechild shares experiences of anti-Black racism at various arts organizations, including BC Alliance for Arts + Culture where I served as a board director from May 2019 to October 2021. Racism has had a profound and ongoing effect on many Indigenous, Black and racialized artists, arts workers, and administrators. When they speak out about experiences of racism, they often go unheard. Systemic inequalities combined with inequitable power structures make it challenging for marginalized voices to share experiences that hold us all accountable.

These are some of the most pressing issues of our time. At ArtStarts, we wholeheartedly believe that the arts have the transformative power to change how we relate to and treat one another and our planet. The arts can inspire us to create new ways to approach big issues through creativity, collaboration, and audacious conversations. This is the lodestar that guides our work and drives us to pause, question, reflect, and reimagine.

As we look back on this year’s events, we need to confront our own role and responsibilities in the arts and education ecosystems in which we exist. ArtStarts is enmeshed with institutional structures and relationships that uphold and maintain oppression, like funding sources, governance requirements, government partnerships, public education, and most significantly, doing our work on stolen lands. At times, this makes us complicit in or adjacent to harmful behaviour that is rooted in racism and colonialism. I experienced this first-hand through my involvement on the board of the BC Alliance for Arts + Culture. This complicity challenges us to examine how we work internally, and in relationship with our partners, artists and educators we support, and the young people whom we serve.

In light of this, we are working in relationship with artists, educators, schools, school districts, families, as well as arts and community organizations, to influence long-lasting structural change in the arts and culture sector. We commit to:

  • supporting peer organizations and education bodies through values-based collective accountability to alter systemic power dynamics and work together to identify and tackle anti-Indigenous and anti-Black racism,
  • hiring and listening to BIPOC artists and leaders and paying them accordingly,
  • shifting colonial patterns of private and government funding,
  • providing training for our staff and board to unlearn anti-Indigeneity and anti-Blackness so that we can make ArtStarts safer for Indigenous and Black members of our community to work with our organization,
  • adopting an Anti-Oppression Policy to embed these principles into all of our operations and program delivery.

Policies and training alone will not be enough, so we are striving to develop a culture where we are transparent about our mistakes and seek wisdom from the community when we stumble. We ask that you hold us accountable to putting equity and social justice principles into practice as we work to increase the representation of diverse stories and perspectives being shared with students and teachers throughout BC.

Centering the arts in young people’s learning and lives is more important now than ever before. In 2022, we will continue to move forward in our strategic direction to integrate anti-oppression and influence systemic change in the arts sector and education system, as articulated in our 2020-2024 Strategic Plan. Through artistic experiences, youth explore and express their humanity, their many diversities, and their intersecting identities which can inspire empathy and action toward social change, and nurture young people’s creativity and imagination in building a better, more just world. As always, we thank you for your continuous support as part of the ArtStarts community.

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