Racial Equity in the Workplace III: Video and Transcript

Racial Equity in the Workplace III: Video and Transcript

On Thursday, September 28, 2023 Calgary Arts Development hosted the final session in a series of three virtual town hall discussions focusing on Racial Equity in the Workplace.

Hosted by Toyin Oladele with guests Kadra Yusuf, Artistic Director of Calgary-based EMMEDIA Gallery & Production Society, and CONTRA, a director, producer, musician, curator and creative strategist, this was a conversation with BIPOC arts leaders to explore some of the challenges they have encountered getting hired in the arts community as a leader from a minority group.

Watch the video and read the transcript of the town hall below.

Toyin Oladele: Well, my name is Tony Oladele, and I’ll tell you a little bit about myself as we go, for those of you who are attending the session for the first time, we’ve had different sessions in the past focused on the same topic. And today is the very last one in this series, right? 

I have two guests, and I’ll tell you a little bit about them later. Kadra Yousuf, and CONTRA. Kadra is here, and we’re still waiting for CONTRA. 

Before we start I would like to say that I’m very, very, very, very aware and conscious of the work, the life, the people and culture that existed on this land long before it was called Calgary. I have been in particular, of the blessings, and ideally make a full commitment as a newcomer immigrant to contribute my knowledge, talent and skills to the peace and tranquillity on this land. I would like to acknowledge that we are having this session today on the traditional territories of the Blackfoot and the people of the Treaty 7 region which includes the Siksika, the Piikani, the Kainai, the Tsut’inna, and the Stoney Nakoda First Nations. The city of Calgary is also home to the Métis nation of Alberta Region 3. So thank you very much for joining us again.  

Well, a little bit about myself just in case you’re meeting me for the first time, and you’re wondering, why is she doing this for Calgary Arts Development, or what’s going on? Well, my name is Toyin Lafenwa Oladele, so just call me Toyin. I have been living in Calgary since I arrived in Canada in 2017. I am the founder of the Immigrant Council for Arts Innovation which some of you might know. 

I am an artist, arts manager, culture strategist, project manager, and EDIA advocate with a huge passion for equity in the creative economy. 

A little more about me. Outside the arts I love to see newcomer professionals grow and reach their full potential, especially if they are art professionals, of course, and they’re trying to find their foot in Canada, and that gives me the opportunity to volunteer on the board of organizations like the Calgary Young People’s Theatre, Contemporary Calgary, Chromatic Theatre, and CARFAC Alberta. I also volunteered for organizations like Business for the Arts, Calgary Catholic Immigrant Society and more, mentoring and supporting newcomers. 

I am a member of the Calgary Arts Development Community Working Group on EDIA and this Equity Town Hall session is a part of the initiatives and programs emanating from this group. And if you’re hearing about the group for the first time, I’d like to tell you about it quickly before I go on. So this group has been working with Calgary Arts Development for about two years now, bringing up initiatives, helping and supporting with some ideas and concepts that would help to make the art community a more equitable space. And we’ve been doing that for almost two years. And like I said, this initiative, this Town Hall session that you are today is part of the initiatives that came out of that group. Before I go on, I’d like to share with us some of the reasons why we’re having this session, or why we’ve had the sessions that we’ve had in the past. 

Thank you, Helen, for providing this information for me. So research has been done in the past, and some of the findings that we have, they are the reasons why we’re inspired to create this kind of session and have this kind of conversations. 

The arts sector continues to be significantly less racially diverse than the population of Calgary, and this is on the screen, you can read with me as I read, or you can just follow my voice, whichever works best for you. 

And while 41% of Calgarians identify as visible minorities only 21% of those participating in the arts share that identity. Those who identify as a visible minority are more likely to hold entry level positions and are like less likely to earn over $59,000 per year than those who are white. And you would see how this information is relevant to our conversation today, and all the past conversations, too. 

While women make up the majority of the sector, according to gender, like 59%, those who identify as male are still more likely to hold leadership positions either as board members or senior management. Those who identify as male are also more likely to earn over $50,000 per year. Those who identify as non-binary gender identities are more likely to have artistic and entry-level roles. So not necessarily leadership roles. 

Now, Indigenous representation in the sector is nearly identical to representation in the general population when compared to census data. While this movement is positive, participation numbers are not equal within organizations. 

Indigenous individuals are far more likely to hold roles in organizations at the entry or individual contributor level rather than at the senior or mid-level management levels. 

While the Federal census does not capture 2SLGBTTIQ+, data at the local level, those identifying as 2SLGBTTIQ+ are well represented in the arts sector, though they are less likely to earn over $50,000 per year than a heterosexual respondent. 

Income for those working in the arts lags those working in other industries. Only 32% of those working for art organizations, excluding volunteers, make over $50,000 per year, as well as earning a low wage in the sector. It is difficult to find full-time work. Of those working for art organizations, only 44% earn the majority of their income in the arts. 

It was important for me to read this out loud to provide context to some of our conversations today. Now, the next slide is also information based on race, and I would appreciate it if you take a look at my screen right now, and you actually read this to yourself. 

I will leave the screen for about a minute, and then a minute or two, and then I’ll go to the next slide if that’s okay. 

Thank you. 

So. Okay. 

I wanted us to read this ourselves, because I feel like it would maybe even give more interpretation as we digest it. But I hoped that we were able to get one or two things from the information from the research and survey. 

Now, this graph would only just visually show you some of the things you just read about, and some of the things I just read, and what the representation looks like. When looking at racial identity within the types of engagement in a sector, the greatest diversity that comes closest to matching Calgary’s demographics exists only in entry level positions and artist positions. 

Even in those positions the arts sector remains nearly 10 per cent whiter than the general population. The least diverse roles in the sector are senior and mid-level management positions. And that is why we have the panelists we have today. In the last two sessions that we’ve had, we’ve had guests from two large art organizations who spoke to us about the work that the organization has done regarding making their space, making space for, you know, racially diverse art leaders to be able to find expression and work in their space. We also had artist-run centres and a performing organization come in the last session. And we were really curious about how they were able to get to the leadership position that they got to in relation to their organization also. Today we have two guests in the house, I’m not sure if CONTRA is here. If you’re here, please let me know, I can’t see everyone. But I’ll introduce my guests to you. I’ll just read out of the bio so that you can know more about them. We have Kadra Yusuf, who is the artistic director for EMMEDIA in the house, EMMEDIA Gallery. Do you want to say hello before I read out your bio. 

Kadra Yusuf: Hi everyone. 

Toyin Oladele: Thank you. And CONTRA, who is the Bump marketing manager for Beltline Neighbourhoods Association. Is CONTRA here? 

Okay, not yet. Okay, thank you. And these will be the two guests today. If CONTRA is able to join us. If not, the conversation is going to be between me and Kadra, and we’ll go with that. That being said, let me say that if you have questions like I mentioned, feel free to pop them in the chat, and we’ll be glad to actually take them at the end of the conversation. With that I’m going to stop sharing my screen because this is going to be conversation-based. 

Thank you. 

Fantastic. Now, just so you know a little bit about the guests that we’re having today, and the work that they’ve done, Kadra here, Kadra Yusuf is best known as the first artistic director of 2001 of Calgary-based EMMEDIA Gallery and Production Society. 

She also currently serves on the board of directors of the Alberta Media Arts Alliance and the Independent Media Arts Alliance. Kadra is driven by her curiosity and desire to cultivate new voices. Her passion and appreciation for the arts inform every decision she makes. When she is not working. She loves dissecting comedy, spending time with loved ones and playing with her cat, Max. 

I would read CONTRA’s bio also, just in case she joins us as we go. She’s a director, producer, musician, curator, creative strategist. CONTRA is a multidisciplinary artist who navigates the Canadian arts and culture landscape as a musician, as a director, curator, and creative strategist. Her most prominent project to date is through her work in Cartel Madras, an expansive and experimental music project, now signed under Sub Pop Records. As a founder member of the Foreignerz art production house, her artistic journey has also brought her into the world of arts, direction, filmmaking and creative strategy challenging cities, industries, and narratives to allow new voices in at the very centre of how CONTRA uses all her creative endeavours, fostering culture, and allowing art to thrive. 

Her leadership in the arts has led to her being sought out for creative direction in artistic philosophy by various art institutions in Calgary and Canada, including Sled Island, Calgary International Film Festival, Arts Commons, Pink Flamingo, Pop Kultur Berlin, Debaser, BUMP Festival,, Calgary Queer Arts Society, Beakerhead, and more. 

Hopefully CONTRA is able to join us. I’ll just keep an eye on my email just in case she’s trying to reach me. Maybe she’s having some tech issues. Other than that, we’re going to start a conversation today with Kadra. Again, thanks so much for joining us, Kadra. 

Okay, my very first question to you. Honestly, as I always start with all the panelists is to tell us about yourself, your career in the arts, and what the journey has been like, how you started working with your organization. We just want to know you as an arts professional. How did you start? Did you start as an artist? 

Why are you working where you’re working? Whatever story you want to tell us today about your career trajectory we will be very happy to hear. So a little bit more about you and your practice in the arts, and we’ll go to other questions as we go. But please take it on. Thank you.  

Kadra Yusuf: Yes, Kadra speaking, and thank you, Toyin for the introduction, and thank you everyone for making the time to join this zoom site. 

I’ll start with my trajectory, which is that I never really had any specific credentials or anything by the way of like, I didn’t go to AUA or ACAD, I worked admin jobs and finance and separate places like that, and I had applied, in my desire to be an artist, for the Herland Director, Female Director Mentorship Program, and I got accepted there, and it was through there I met a community and created a community of like-minded artists and people wanting to learn and grow, and had met folks that had co-founded the Treaty 7 Film Collective, and that was a grassroots collective where we really just wanted to support our communities and help each other get resources and access to workshops or education, cameras, the gear, the equipment, and ways for them to tell their stories. Because… we saw a lot of access to, barriers to access, and we felt we could help as we were growing in our own artistic practices.  

And so really, my introduction into the arts initially started as an artist and then transitioned into an arts admin role without even realizing it from a grassroots perspective, and it was through that work that I just, equity was a big thing for me. Seeing folks have equally engaging stories and had the same passion, but didn’t have ways to get their stories out there really resonated with me, and I felt I wanted to help in any way that I can, and I think that was the biggest incentive for me applying for the artistic director role at EMMEDIA.  

It was, when I think of media arts, there’s this conversation about technology combining with art as a way of the future, whether it be AI or VR or all of this technology-based art. And all I could think about was the gap of equity in those spaces being bigger. How many kids and people from certain communities that I know, how many of them realistically have access to an oculus rift, how many of them have access to some of these tools, and here was a way for me to really bridge some of those gaps in a sector of the arts that I really felt I could see lagging behind from an equity standpoint. And I really wanted to create space for diversity in media art. 

And that was and continues to be the driving force of the programming, and that I try to create in my role as well as the workshops. We try to do pay what you can. And we also just say to people, we never want to exclude, again, we want to  remove barriers of access. Rather, I see EMMEDIA as an organization that through my role creates bridges to access, like removes the barriers and creates bridges instead. And that is like, I said, pretty integral to the way that I move through the space, the art space, and how I create my programming. End of thought. 

Toyin Oladele: Thank you. Sounds really good. I hear a lot of work there that you have done personally for yourself, and what you’re doing in your role with the organization you work with. I heard about equity I heard about, you know, creating access, removing barriers. This is the work that we all do. Sorry about that, Toyin speaking. 

And that is great. Thank you so much for doing that. I would like to know if, while doing this work. So I’ll tell you a little bit about the community that we have in the room right now. Even in the past and even today we’ve had representatives of different organizations register to be part of this program, part of the session, to hear experiences of leaders like yourself and what their journey has been because in the work that is going on in the arts right now in the arts sector, different organizations are also putting in a lot of effort to make their spaces as equitable as possible. And they’re creating that space that would give access to everyone to achieve and grow into leadership roles.  

And if you remember the survey and research results that I read at the beginning of this session, it shows the percentage of racialized folks who are able to thrive again, get into this role. So my questions would definitely surround what your journey has been. And like, I said, this is this particular session, the last sessions have been focused on the journey with the organization, of course, for this one, yeah, a little bit, but more so on yourself. How you kind of prepared yourself exactly to get to this level that you work in right now.  

So I’m going to step back a little bit and say that can you refresh your mind and tell us a little bit about some of the personal things that you’ve done, personal endeavours, professional development, whatever it is, or your own personal story in the community that prepared you to be able to advocate for things like this? What are those stories? What are those things that happened? What are those experiences that you had that made you feel? You know what this is very necessary, and the reason why I wanted to share is because you never know who is in the room who would be like, Oh, yeah, we still do that in our organization. Okay, it’s time we fix that. Oh, okay, we didn’t know that was a problem. Exactly. So if you want to share, that would be really great. Final thoughts. Thank you. 

Kadra Yusuf: Thank you, Kadra speaking. I, to be honest, I didn’t know how, I don’t think I realized the big hurdle that I, the leap I took in my like, art professional development trajectory. Taking on this role, I knew it was a big step. I don’t think I knew how big until I got into the role, and also saw all of these complications and tied up additional mini hurdles I had to go through as I got into this role at EMMEDIA. So I didn’t have any sort of, nothing really could prepare me.  

And I, due to a lack of BIPOC leadership in art spaces, there isn’t always, there’s not necessarily succession planning or handbooks or processes that get passed down regardless, let alone for folks of colour. And I’m working on trying to make spaces and create that, but you can’t have support if there isn’t support there to be given to you. And if you’re board is predominantly white, or if your organization is predominantly white, then they don’t realize that you might have a different set of needs that need to be met, and I, going to when I first joined EMMEDIA I was being a part of the conference for IMAA, the Media Arts Alliance, International Media Arts Alliance, and it was there that there was a BIPOC caucus, a room for the BIPOC arts leaders across Canada, and it was, they put no effort into, there was no itinerary, there was no planning. All of these other appointments and conferences and meetings that day all had been planned, and we’re on the itinerary prior to getting there. And then when we got there, they just kind of put us in the room, and there was no facilitator, and it was again that lack of forethought. And we sat there and said, You know, on higher levels, there’s no, there’s no, our needs aren’t being met, and we all were very sad, and because the conference only happens once every two years, and if there’s no support system, then there’s no retention, and if there’s no retention, you can’t continue to build that system of other leaders that we can help each other and support each other on, and I think when, I don’t know if I’m maybe explaining this correctly or not. But I, my biggest hurdle was a lack of a system or support, because no one was supporting the people, how can we support others when no one’s filling our cup right? If, how can I help create a system and be that leader for other people to lean on when I don’t have no one to lean on, and I have no one that I can maybe necessarily go to.  

And so we all had to advocate for ourselves, even in in higher positions, like, I think I was, another thing I was unprepared for was just how much I had to advocate for certain resources that I had assumed would be put in place, and realizing, Oh, okay, I have to advocate for my needs, but I’m new in this role, and I just got here and it is scary to put yourself out there when you’ve just got this job, and you feel as you get in this position of leadership, you want to help your community and you feel here’s a great opportunity to do that, and so you feel this ownership and weight to your role. And so it could be hard to then advocate and say, here are the things that I need to be successful. It can be hard to put yourself out on the line, because you, there might not be someone that gets hired after you that looks like you that might advocate for your community. So there’s just there was a lot of like navigating that I didn’t expect with this role that ended up happening. 

I don’t know if that answered your question. End of thought. 

Toyin Oladele: Yeah, thank you, Toyin, speaking. I hear a lot of advocating for yourself, like you had to advocate for yourself and for organizations here today, who are, if you’re aspiring to, you know, have that equitable space you’re looking to make your spaces more diverse as leaders. The leadership roles in your organization more diverse, this is a key takeaway. 

So the fact that you want something does not mean you’re really prepared for it. Some of the things that we need to be conscious of as arts organizations is, what are we ready to do, or what have we done, so before you put it out there that, oh, we’re an equal employment organization, is that how people put it? You want to make sure that these resources and these things are there? How do you intend to support this leader when they start at their processes and procedures that it can follow. And are you flexible with these processes and these procedures in such a way that they can come in and adapt to it in their own way, cause people adapt to things in different ways. Right? Of course there are standard, lay down rules and regulations, of course the organizations have to follow, but do we have a space that makes it possible for, especially by in this case, racialized, leaders from racialized community, to come into that space and be themselves without any shame and ask for what they need without feeling like they’re doing too much. And without them having to literally advocate for themselves to get the things that other people would get. 

So these are the key things, take aways that I can hear from the last from the last thing that you said so thank you. Thanks so much for saying that.  

I think my next question here is about, as a racialized person setting out into the arts like professionally, especially through the lens of an arts manager. I know you touched on some of these things a little bit. I just don’t know if we can dive in more, so that these organizations here today can further hear and understand how some of these things play out on our end. What are the like, top, I remember saying top three challenges when we had our chat, but it doesn’t have to be three, as many as you want to list, because we have more time anyway, challenges that you faced at the beginning, and even till now, like I said, I know you mentioned some things already. But what are those specific things that you mentioned mentorship like because there were you. You didn’t see a lot of people from racialized communities. And I just wanted to elaborate a little bit on that, like, what are those top challenges? 

The reason why this question is coming up is because if we can take the journey is just, it’s a journey. We’re not expecting that organizations will get there today, or they’ll be like, give us five years, and everything will be sorted. But if we know some of the top things that you faced in your own world, maybe that is a good place for others to start from, start solving problems and start creating, identifying these issues and taking them one at a time, can eventually, you know, get to that place where things are solved. So I just want you to elaborate a little bit on what that might look like for you, what I like your top three, top five major challenges that’s you encountered, especially transitioning from not just being an artist to an arts manager and getting into different roles. I’m sure this wasn’t like the first time you applied for something. So what did it look like. Thank you. Final thoughts. 

Kadra Yusuf: Yes, thank you. Kadra speaking. I think one of the biggest hurdles was navigating a what at times felt like… Hmm, sorry. Just give me a moment. 

Toyin Oladele: Of course, please. These things that I know how tricky they can be when you want to put them into words in such a way that you know, I know, please take your time all the time that you need. Thank you. Thank you.Kadra Yusuf: I think it was, some of the hardest things were part of the emotional. There is a weight of being this feeling the pressure of being, let’s say, a model minority or feeling the pressure to make sure you’re representing your community. Feeling the pressure, I’ll be honest, being, getting into this a role of leadership, a manager management role, there are times when you might be dealing with people who have their own racial biases. You might be dealing with, how do you navigate that? How do you then ask your board for support regarding that? If your board is at, you know, doesn’t have a lot, any racialized people on it maybe at the time, or they also are volunteers and can’t commit any, are at capacity of how much time they can give or support. There just seem to be a lot of limitations at times.  

Or, again, these walls of what, again, trying to get to my needs, but through a maze almost, I had to navigate all of these little things. And not feeling like I had other, there was not that many racialized leaders that I could turn to and reach out to thankfully. Now I’m seeing such a growth of it, but at the time, and oftentimes they’re dealing with, they’re incredibly busy, and they’re having similar struggles. And at the time it felt like I just didn’t know who to lean on, or who to look to for that. You can’t be what you can’t see. And here I am trying to be that for other people. But then, like I said, there needs to be, I just needed, when you’re trailblazing in that way like you’re, the path is rough, if that makes sense like you have to create… Yeah, I don’t know if I’m explaining it correctly. It’s, it brings up a lot of emotion, because when I think about the struggles at the time I just think about feeling very frustrated and the biggest hurdle was the job doesn’t end when you hire a racialized person in a position of management. That’s when the job starts, from the board’s perspective of hiring, you don’t just say, Okay, we did it, pat on the back. Yay, to us. You can’t I? Just at times it felt like there was a gap between the words that was being presented, of how much support that I would get versus what was actually within certain people’s capacity. And if you don’t have a racialized person or a black person on your board who understands the specific needs or supports, then they don’t even know how to help you, and you don’t know, how can I ask for what? I don’t know yet.  

There’s a dissonance and a bit of a gap again of like how can we… there was, I was the first, also ever artistic director. So there wasn’t even, I got to speak with Vicki, who was a part of programming, or like I got to speak with someone who was in a previous department, but this role was a merged kind of thing that didn’t exist before, and there was this consistent communication and verbal support of like we are here and we support you, but there was not as much tangible actual support at the time, and it felt it, it created imposter syndrome, it created like dealing with maybe I’m not really supposed to be here or should it be this difficult or the doubt creeps in, and you begin to doubt yourself, and like there’s a resilience I have now, thankfully, but It came, the way I got to it was through like a difficult journey. 

End of thought. 

Toyin Oladele: Thank you. Oh, my, thank you. Thanks so so much. I heard a couple of things that I just want to make sure, Toyin speaking, that I heard correctly. So the first time you mentioned board issues. But thanks for elaborating on that board. I think that arts organization needs to start from there, really. And I know that a lot of people are trying to work on that. I know that personally, I have been invited to like a lot of committees and boards to it, but it’s just overwhelming. There’s only so much you can take on, right. And then I think it’s important, even if your boards are not diverse yet. And it’s not just so today, in the series that I lead, it’s racial equity in the workplace, there are other, you know, aspects of this this subject, right? So I’m trying to remind us that I’m focused here today on racial equity. Even if your board is not there yet, you don’t have other racialized folks on your board or on your team. You want to start having that conversation right about how best to support them. You want to start imagining what they would bring to the space.  

One thing I’ve realized in my own journey again is that a lot of times people don’t really know what to expect. They kind of just want someone, a racialized person on their board or on their team and they’re not prepared for what you’re really bringing. They don’t really know why you’re coming, it’s just about that we’ve done it, put a pat on their back, and, like you said, the work, please, does not end when you hire an artistic director, or whatever position is for a racialized person. No, it’s actually where it starts. You would have done a lot, we’re hoping that with all this information, you would have put in effort to do some things before they start that would create support for them. But when that is done in the start, it’s also taking that conversation on, like, now you’re here, how best can we support you? And having realistic conversations, actionable conversations so that you can take it from there.  

I also heard about mentorship. It is not so much. If you know that you’re on that journey. It’s a new journey for you where you’re still trying to think about how you want to create that space. It’s okay for you to hire people. There aren’t a lot of folks but hire people who are like in leadership positions to kind of mentor this person that you’re just hiring. I’ve seen situations like that before where people literally, you know, be like, we just hired this artistic director. They are from this community, would you mind, Okay, is there anyone in this sector right now who can be a mentor to them? And there are, I believe there are grants that can even support that right? That so you might want to start thinking of options like that, instead of just thinking that you already created the space. So that mentorship bit is one thing I also heard you say, and I just wanted to echo that. And some of it were emotional issues that happened. It’s a whole lot, especially when you’re new, like in your role. It’s like the role wasn’t existing before it was new. So knowing how to even relieve that was also something that you had to deal with. Thank you for sharing that. 

Please go ahead. Final thoughts before I go to my next question. 

Kadra Yusuf: Thank you, Kadra speaking. I also wanted to say, for organizations or people on boards or anyone listening that might be still seeking ways to support their racialized leaders or arts, managers or arts, admin, is ensuring and reiterating that they are making space for them to fail, allow them to make mistakes, not fail. What I mean by that is like allowing space for them to make a mistake and not have it be the end of the world, and vocalizing that, and reiterating that because there is this sometimes expectation of perfection that can be placed, or if people can feel like it’s placed on them, and it took me a long time to shake that, and once I finally believed that it was okay to make mistakes like it wasn’t, yes, there I didn’t, I was taking the expectation of what it meant for a racialized person in this role so seriously that I felt I couldn’t make any. And it was something echoed by a lot of other BIPOC racialized leaders was, they felt that there was no room to make a mistake, and that in turn can lead antithetically to more mistakes. And so, making sure that that gets like consistently and continually reiterated during the training process, and throughout, and ensuring that they feel safe enough to ask questions and come for help. A lot of times there might be embarrassment or shame, or these, again, additional emotions that come with the weight of, or the pressure that maybe they feel in that in their role.  

End of thought. 

Toyin Oladele: Thank you, Toyin speaking again. Thank you so much. So part of the things that there’s a question in, I saw in the chat that I’m going to read out. But this might just be one very good answer to that also, part of the things that we need to know more humans like every other person, and there should be room to make mistakes absolutely. So this question says that, Can you give some examples of things that you wish you had, or you didn’t get in your role that you had to advocate for, like with, you’ve mentioned some of them, anyway. But I’m seeing this question, I wonder if there’s more specifics, kind of like it could even be things like, I don’t know, support, maybe specific support laid down in processes, policies, or bylaws and things like that. I don’t know what yours were, but you might want to mention one or two before I go to the next question. Final thoughts, Toyin. Kadra thank you. 

Kadra Yusuf: Thank you, Kadra speaking, I think at times it varied from microaggressions and macroaggressions that can happen on a daily basis that can, not having a board that maybe was trauma informed or had a sort of cultural intelligence, I guess, or like, it’s, I think that is a big thing. Yeah, and ensuring that people can be held accountable or be communicated when they when they say something that’s built on prejudice or uses of stereotypes. Often some of the biggest things that, the biggest concerns I had were that maybe more consistent microaggressions or the day-to-day interactions. If your work is in the arts you’re interacting with people. And there’s just miscommunication or ignorance, or a variety of things. But it’s more the frequency of some of those things that can, ways to reduce that. And I don’t know if I have the answers to that. I don’t know, even in workshops and classes and EDI training like these things still happen, so I don’t have the answer to those. But being trauma informed, and being culturally aware and, because the communication is, I think, where there’s the biggest potential for forms, communication is like not being able to communicate with each other or interpretations. Or, yeah, again, I don’t know if I’m answering this properly, but those are my responses. 

Final thought. 

Toyin Oladele: Thank you. Two major things stuck out to me. Cultural intelligence being trauma informed, and then accountability. So cultural intelligence is, I’m going to pick on that, it’s so wild and wide. And I, I’ve seen that, I would say that that is a very good place to start for a lot of organizations. If you just want to inform yourself if you just want to increase your knowledge before you start inviting spaces, I mean people into your spaces, you want to get some education about having a culture of diversity, so that you of you’ve already worked on yourself. You’re comfortable in your conscious and unconscious mind that you are not stereotyping anyone when they do anything, cause these things happen without you even knowing a lot of times. 

So get some education, even as small as watching specific YouTube videos to understand how some things work can really, really help. Just to answer the person’s question. Okay, I’m going to go to my next question here. 

What’s to go with time? 

Tell us what attracted you. I’m going to read it out as I wrote it. What attracted you, why, to your role to applying to the role. So let’s go back to the beginning. Why, what made you apply to your current role? What work, so when we do apply to your current role in searching for opportunities, right? We’re always looking for the next challenge, the next opportunity. Why was the role appealing to you. And now talking about yourself as an arts manager and your own growth trajectory. why did you think that was the next thing for you to do. And what about the organization made you feel comfortable to do that at that point. So personally from you, like, okay, I was at this level. I felt like, yeah, and then what made you think that was a suitable role for you? Thank you. Final thought 

Kadra Yusuf: Kadra speaking. I think it was the next logical step, because I had been doing equity work from a grassroots perspective or from a grassroots lens, I just didn’t have the tools. And so here was an opportunity to actually have equipment and space and free workshops. And here was the resources that I could actually have to give to help, because the desire to help and the work I was doing was kind of already there, I just didn’t have, and you know, an organization that had the tools in the space behind me. And so that was why I really wanted this role was to be able to, okay, who can I, where can I, just the more the stronger ability to like, make more equitable space? 

Oh, you’re on mute end of thought. 

CONTRA: And I’m here. Hello! 

Toyin Oladele: I see, I see. CONTRA, hey, welcome! CONTRA, thank you so much for joining us. How have you been today? 

CONTRA: Hello! So sorry, folks! I thought this was 2pm in my calendar. So I was reviewing my notes just now and saw an email coming from Toyin. She was like, Where are you? Hello! I’m good. I’m so sorry for joining in late. I was really looking forward to this convo actually, I had a lot to say. 

Toyin Oladele: Absolutely and thank you for coming. We’re excited to have you. I read out your bio just before you got in at the beginning, if that’s okay. But if you want to just talk a little bit about yourself and tell us okay, I’ll look at this, tell us about your career yourself, and how the journey has been for you as an individual and of course, with all the organizations you work for, for the organizations you work for, that’ll be a great place to start, and thanks Kadra for holding it down.  

CONTRA: Hey, Kadra. Thank you so much. Hi everyone again. Apologies I don’t know, according to my timeline, you guys must have been going for the past hour. So I hope you still have kind of patience with me as I kind of start this convo again from my end. 

So just to kind of answer your question from before so a little bit about me is I entered the art space probably about five years ago, and I kind of operate in it in, I touch the film sector, I touch the music sector, and I touch kind of the public art world as well as a programmer and a curator. So in between these sectors and within the arts I also take up different positions and different types of space based on where I’m moving from. But my journey kind of begins as a one-half of Cartel Madras, which is an artistic music project. So I come into this space as someone as an artist, and then from there kind of begin building my network and begin building my profile and start operating and touching different organizations. 

So that’s kind of like quick little backdrop about me. 

Toyin Oladele: Thank you very much. Let me say that, because we have ASL interpreters in the house and so I asked two things, that you please, just like me, I’m very fast. I’ll always have to control myself when I’m speaking. So that they can pick the words if we can please, a little slowly, and then, if you can indicate when you start talking. So when I ask you a question, if you want to go CONTRA speaking. And then you want to say final thoughts when you’re done, that’d be really, really great and helpful. 

Thank you very much. Yeah, thank you so much for saying this, I have said this before that with a lot of racialized folks, myself, you, Kadra, and a lot of people that I know, there’s a lot of similarity in our journey. There’s a lot of similarity in how we move around different practices, different communities, connections and things like that so great thanks for sharing that. I would say, let’s jump straight to this question. What would be the top three, like I said, you can go more than three, but top three challenges that you think you faced starting out, either as being a racialized artist in Calgary, especially as an arts leader, because our focus is on racial equity in the workplace, right? So especially as an art leader, what would be like the top three challenges you think you’ve experienced that you really, really you can share more than three, though my notes just has top three. So I keep saying, top three, but you can share more than three, please, thank you. 

CONTRA: CONTRA speaking. So the first challenge that comes to mind for me within the workplace, is especially kind of the workplace of the arts. I find that the most difficult thing for me is there’s no foundational or community connections I had in this industry, and it’s quite a significant barrier, and I am speaking, maybe, like specifically from the perspective of someone who is a South Indian immigrant to Calgary. But there’s a huge lack of racialized people from my background in arts leadership positions, or in positions of power, in film, in music, in public art, in curatorial spaces, in any of the major institutions in Calgary. And again, like I’m speaking specifically from an Alberta Canada perspective, not global, but that is a pretty massive challenge because I think when you are trying to move and expand in the industry that you’re in, in the workplace that you’re in, it is pretty natural to have folks from your community create space for you and root for you and forge connections on your behalf. You know, like bring up your name and rooms in which you are not in. And the biggest difficulty I’ve had kind of leaping into this space about five years ago is the absolute lack of seeing people who look like me in positions of power. So there’s a lot of, you know, it kind of always feels like I’m like pioneering the idea of the foundation that I’m building for people that are coming after me. That would be like one massive challenge that I’ve always kind of noticed, and you know, even now, and this is from both, like the arts leader, arts organizer perspective, and also artist perspective. As a programmer, as a curator, my eyes and ears are always open looking for people, you know, from my own community, and like there’s quite a lack of them. And I, it’s a challenge for me, but I also wonder like what that does for other people trying to get into the space. So I try to be quite vocal about my presence in organizations. So other people like me are kind of, you know, so their experience is different than mine. 

My second kind of big challenge that I notice as a racialized person in the workplace is the validity of my objective opinion about the arts versus the validity of my cultural experience. So what I specifically mean by that is, there’s quite a lot of interest placed in racialized folks in the arts space to lead the conversation around topics specifically pertaining to their background versus being able to lead a conversation, or maybe begin a project or initiative that is not immediately connected to their cultural background. So seeing you as an artistic leader in a space that must always speak towards their culture first. I find that like there’s been a lot of instances where you know, I’ve had like a programming opportunity, or a curatorial opportunity, or anything at all. And I think the expectation for me is I have to speak about or do something related to my cultural background. And there’s not that much interest in what maybe I have to say about arts overall. You know, so it’s like, there would be like significantly more interest in, or like more room made for me in an organization if I were to be like, I want to start an initiative specifically that caters to South Asian woman versus if I had like an idea that was, you know, completely like experimental, completely unrelated to my cultural background. And this is something I saw, more and more, you know, when I kind of began. It was a, so it’s a real tension that I notice quite often where it’s like I have things to say about the arts, I have things to say about the artistic space in Canada, I have things to say about the overall ecosystem here. My worth in an organization is not just limited to my opinions and ideas on being a racialized person. 

That’s a big kind of tension that I notice within lots of organizations in different ways. Even when I’m asked for my expertise, it’s funny what that expertise means in a space when you’re around, not racialized people. And then, you know, the third challenge, and this is kind of related to the second one is, I find, that racialized people are seen a little bit like a monolith, where sometimes it’s like, it’s almost like, Oh, racialized people can all speak on behalf of each other, and we can’t because we have pretty, you know, like intensely different experiences in different workplaces.  

And I find that there’s this kind of pressure where racialized people are almost expected to be kind of like the ambassador of their community, which can be interesting because there’s an opportunity there when that has never happened before, because, you know, 10 years ago, there’s just no opportunity at all for racialized people to speak on behalf of their community at all, right? Now we’re kind of in a space where you are asked to speak on your community, but I think that kind of flattens like your community in certain ways. And I’m speaking towards this specifically as someone who’s South Asian, there’s so much kind of, you know, differences between people from South Asian communities, and I think when you come to a workplace, and if you come to a white workplace you’re kind of flattened into this kind of amorphous blob, which is like brown people, which is so interesting because even that is just a reaction to like white people, right?  

Whereas if you were to go to you know your own country there’s so much different disparities within it as well that gets lost in the mix when you, you know, get neatly put into like the BIPOC box. Right? So I find sometimes I’m in groupings with people who are racialized like me, and I’m like, but you and I actually come from very different backgrounds back home, so how are we equals here, is something I think about a lot and sometimes I’m like, I don’t even think people are really ready for that conversation, because, even being like vocal diaspora is so new. 

Yeah, those would be the three kind of things that come to mind, as I think about the challenges of being racialized in in a workplace. That that is my final thought. Yes. 

Toyin Oladele: Thank you. Everything you said resonated with me. It was like you were, Toyin speaking, it was like you were literally saying, like describing some of my journey, appreciate you sharing all those things. Thank you very much. I heard, which is also the story here a lot of times when I get asked to be on boards, I always want to specifically say, What do you need me for, because there is so many things I can be a part of, I can be part of your programming committee, I can be a part of part of your EDIA committee, I can be a part. What do you need? Because what you find is that when folks really want to have racialized person, you know, on their team, on the board, especially on board, they don’t really, they’re just trying out things they don’t really know. They want you to come in and express yourself where you want. But what I find is three, six, seven months, a year down the line there is that question of okay, what is this person really doing on this board? Because you’ve not been able to find a way to express yourself? So I hear what you’re saying in the sense of there are so many things I can do. I don’t have to do something that is necessarily connected to my culture. I have a degree in the arts. I am an artist. I can do art. I can curate, I can… you know what I mean. Don’t worry about, it doesn’t necessarily have to connect to where I’m coming from specifically. So I hear that. And it happens, you know a lot. And of course, the culture piece people. Just yeah, major, thank you so much for sharing.  

And yeah, Kadra also mentioned a couple of things around that and around what her experiences have been. So I’m glad we can bring those thoughts together. And I just want to quickly acknowledge Taylor’s notes in the chat, Taylor, you know I’m your favourite fan, biggest fan, and thank you so much for this note here. Thank you, for I just want to read out. Thank you for all your sharing so generous to those of us witnessing and listening in the space today. It can’t be easy to share so honestly and vulnerably, especially to faceless boxes online. Appreciate your energy and generosity, as well as Toyin’s in holding the space and facilitating this conversation. It’s a massive gift, and I just want to collectively acknowledge that. Oh, thank you, thanks so much, it’s always great to get people acknowledge what you do. And now, CONTRA, thank you absolutely. I was going to say that to acknowledge what you do. So thank you so much. 

I just want us to take a moment to, so you know, just receive everything that CONTRA and Kadra just said, it’s a lot. And that’s why I appreciate this note. Just take a moment right now, like 30 seconds, 20 seconds to just breathe, and just imagine what that means to you. I’m just going to pause for a while. 

Hmm. Thank you. 

I’m going to go to my third second question. Third question for you. 

I know you’re connected, just like myself, to like different initiatives, organizations, and projects and all. Can you maybe choose one or two of them, and from that racialize that perspective racialized arts manager, arts leader perspective, just talk about what attracted you to that role, to that organization. What made you apply, because on the surface? Sometimes I’ll give you an example. So there was a role I was being interviewed for some times ago, and strictly, it looks like they really wanted a racialized person. This was like years ago, and I got to the interview, and there was not one racialized person on this interview team. I wanted to run back, I wanted to, just, you know, like end chat and take a moment and then come back. But that was my worst interview ever in my life, like I don’t do badly in interviews. I’m usually very good with interviews, but maybe I don’t? I really cannot put into words what happened to me, but being maybe because of what they said you were looking for, I was expecting that at least there would be one racialized person in the room that would understand some context that I would be bringing. So all the questions they asked I was, I was just answering opposite way I was. I lost my composure. 

But what attracted me to apply was what I saw at first, right? Eventually just didn’t turn out that way. In your case, you’ve been working with these organizations. Right? I just want to know some of those things that attracted you, and if it is still the real deal after you got the role, or, you know, got into that position. Thank you. Final thought. 

CONTRA: So CONTRA here. I assume, Kadra, you answered this earlier. Okay, got it. Great so I think I want to use two examples of organizations that I have worked in currently still touch and then, you know, working in my own arts org. So I’m a big part of Bump Festival. I’m one of their organizers, and I work on kind of the creative strategy marketing, comms side of Bump Festival. And then I’ve also been a curator for Arts Commons for a year for their launch of their incubator program. And both, in both these cases it’s interesting because, I think, in Bump Festival, I when I joined Bump Fest there was absolutely nobody of colour in Bump. Like, zero. And it’s a small org, so there is that. But I joined Bump, specifically targeting public art as a sector that I saw a profound lack of racialized people in and I did not know anyone who was South Asian in kind of the public art space, even kind of from, I can name four muralists across Canada who are South Asian, which is pretty wild to think about. When you think of how many muralists are in Canada, thousands upon thousands upon thousands, right? And I’m thinking in the major space, I can name them on one hand. So I joined Bump Festival specifically, knowing that there was nobody really like me in the space, but I noticed like, even take away, like South Asian woman, just look at it kind of from the perspective of a person of colour, I noticed in Calgary, working in the arts that most of the people making the product are people of colour. The kind of wave of artistry coming out of Calgary that’s really, I would say, shaking things up, moving the city forward, tipping the scale is, we’re all coming from a lot of people of colour that I work with quite closely, and that are in my networks. So it was kind of alarming that the decision makers are, like absolutely not an example of who is making the art which was quite concerning and I also kind of got into the public art space like through a very controversial public art project that brought to the fore a lot of ideas on being a racialized person in Calgary. So that’s kind of how I got into public art, and then I kind of, you know, saw the landscape, and it was like, Oh, interesting, there really is not a lot of folks like me in this space. And I’m someone who tends to go after positions or contracts or tries to get into the room with certain organizations that on one hand can be small enough that if I’m to enter it, I know I can make a lot of impact really quick. It’s something that you can get lost in a corporation, but if you are one of three you can make waves so instantly, especially in the arts. And that’s what I really noticed about Bump. I was like, Okay, this is a small org, the path up is pretty quick if you are effective, and you understand the industry, and you’re able to kind of like, bring in your network. And I saw kind of the capacity for Bump festival to grow.  

I kind of understood the inherent power of public art as a something that’s really can be quite incredible in the city. So I joined Bump kind of as a coordinator and then I made you know my connections within the organization, and it was just a contract and then came back full time when another position opened up and kind of knew how I wanted to position myself within the organization, saw that it was small, saw that it was tight and kind of was also able to, once I got in, bring a lot of people from my network into the organization who I knew were qualified, impactful people of colour in the arts who would be able to take something like this organization, move it to the next level. So that’s kind of how I operate within Bump. And it’s a, I have a lot of conversations with people about this where they kind of, they say this thing to me quite often, like, Oh, you go into a space and you kind of flip it, and you bring a lot of your folks in. It’s like, absolutely that is absolutely what I do. Because if I don’t, who will, right? It’s like, I think, sometimes people almost say that to me in a funny way, like they’re almost like Oh, my God! you know, you’re bringing in, all of your people, and it’s like, yes, and you know because no one could bring me into this space. I had to kind of, find my way in and then I see so many people around me who are so qualified, who often don’t even know how qualified they are to work in these spaces. Right? So then, like a lot of what I do when I work in these organizations, is, you know, try to find the ways to create space for more people like me to come in, but I also want to say that I’m pretty cognizant of like I’m pretty, I don’t like it when people are just trying to like fill you in, because you check their box right? I hate it when it’s done to me and it’s not something I try to do to other racialized people, either. I try to bring in people into organization within arts that I know are strategic and can make a lot of impact who have their own kind of agenda within how to move the city forward. 

Those are kind of the types of folks that I try to hire into my team. I recommend, you know, for many of the organizations that I’ve worked with. So that’s kind of like my experience within Bump. And you know, Bump today is mostly people of colour, which is, you know, quite interesting, right, like what two years can do. And I think the effects of how the festival has grown can speak for itself when you have people from the community actually running, you know an organization like this, like, how much can it grow? What waves can it make? What connections can it make like with other organizations? How, you know, how much is it really in touch with the city and the arts community here? So that that’s the one thing I’ll say about Bump. 

The other organization that I want to speak towards is Arts Commons. So in 2021 myself and Jae Sterling were asked to come on board as the curators of the incubator program, which is a program that was launched in 2021 specifically to bring equity-seeking artists and communities into the Arts Commons space frequently to give them professional development, to give them, you know, a stage, to give them almost like a pipeline into the industry, because Calgary, as all of you know, has struggled with, I think, artists operating in silos, artists operating in the underground artists operating in different sectors, and then kind of the arts industry of Calgary. Like the organizations, the granting bodies, these things often don’t talk. And the incubator program was kind of Arts Commons way of being, you know, looking at all of this and being like, okay, let’s start a program where we’re kind of making more of an effort to connect these artists together not only giving them a platform, but also having them, it almost felt like, you know, giving them a residency with Arts Commons for a year. That’s kind of what it felt like, and Jae and I were tasked with creative directing the kind of performance and the exhibition parts of the program for a year, and programming and curating the artists who we would work with for a year. And when we were approached there was a lot of, there was a considerable amount of time we spent really wondering if we should take it because it’s quite obviously a program that was launched so that, more racialized people would be able to come into Arts Commons. But I appreciated the transparency and the mission. It wasn’t like a, We hope you bring in people from your communities, it was a very obvious, this is a gap, and we want you to help us understand why it’s a gap. I appreciate arts organizations that bring, when they bring me in with this kind of overall goal in mind, they understand specifically the type of artist I am, and are aware that it is not going to be easy to do what they do, and perhaps the way I go about doing it is not going to be exactly how they imagine. 

I was very lucky with Arts Commons, because the folks who brought me in was Josh Dalledonne and Sanja, who are both really incredible, have worked in the arts sector for a while, and kind of are always making room for people who are not just from their own community. 

And those two wanted this program to work for reasons beyond just Arts Commons, right? And I think that was the big sell for me. It was like, this isn’t really about Arts Commons, it’s about the city like, what are we doing to change the city, what are we, what foundation are we laying to bring in like new minds into a very celebrated, you know, quite an established space like Arts Commons and what will happen 10 years from now because of this program? 

And I, and I’ve, you know, seen like, now they’re going into their third year of the incubator program and it’s quite a great program. It’s quite successful. I’ve seen the relationships that have been forged between different artists. I’ve seen waves come out of it. I’ve seen people’s career really move, and that’s I think, one of the most important things in, you know, when you’re given opportunities like this, it’s like, Are you going to let me make space in the way I actually want to make space. Are you going to let me kind of do what I need to do to get this like, ball rolling? 

Yeah. So those are kind of the two organizations I can give examples of that, I’ve had a good experience working within it, and it is because of, it wasn’t an accident, it was very, you know, with Bump, it was like what I wanted, and I was able to kind of execute and with Arts Commons it was like what they wanted, but I think they brought in the right folks for the job, and we knew what we needed to do, but we were also given a lot of freedom. 

Toyin Oladele: Profound. Thank you for the details, Toyin speaking. Thank you so much for all that information. I was my, I ran out of paper and had to start typing in on my computer. So thank you so much for saying all that. Definitely, I can feel the energy in these things. I remember having that conversation with Josh about the program when it was about to start, and all that. So I appreciate each of this project. 

Some things I’d like to echo back to the room and to our guests today. Transparency was something CONTRA mentioned throughout, literally, directly or indirectly, be very transparent, right? Let folks know exactly why you’re engaging them, what you want them to do and if you don’t know what you want the, to do let them know, like we don’t really know. We kind of just want you in this space feel free to do whatever it is you want. So it could be an Arts Commons style, it could be a Bump style, whatever it is. You visualize all you envisage would also work. 

Transparency is just the most important thing results oriented. Right? So what are the results? You’re expecting? What are your expectations? What are the support? Kadra mentioned a lot about the support that you have in place well, touching, based on right now on the things that you’re expecting from racial art leaders from racialized communities. So thank you so much for breaking it down. Those were actually very deep. Thank you. 

One question that I have here this is to both of you and either of you can go first. Maybe we’ll go to Kadra since CONTRA has been speaking. What are the specific things that you’re involved in right, now I know that CONTRA touched with a bit on this within your organization that would further support racialized art leaders. So CONTRA I hear, when you said that, you know, even bringing in more people from your network, from your community and encouraging them to grow. I do that a lot also, people from, you know, the newcomer community who are just trying to get into art leadership and all that. So absolutely, I hear you. But outside that, other things that you’re doing right now, are you working with policies? Are you working with processes? Is it the programs? Is it the language you use? What are those specifics? This was a just a question, someone maybe mention one or two before I go to my next question, and we’ll be done for the day. But I’ll go to Kadra and then CONTRA. Thank you. 

Kadra Yusuf: From the programming side it’s a lot. It comes with a lot of like my programming, for example, I’m creating an Indigenous media arts incubator program that transitions from the education and workshop side and ending with an exhibition where we aim to partner with people with different organizations or festivals, and kind of in the sense of like yeah, with racial equity from the programming side, and then from the arts admin side we are looking to apply for like a funding ticket to assist in mentorship, like being able to like CONTRA was saying about bringing in the network, I want to support others that are looking to get into arts leadership or arts managing, higher positions that are racialized and ways that they can shadow me or we can work together, or things that would allow me to further it to create more space for more yeah, arts leaders that are racialized. 

So from the arts leader end and on the programming end, and I try to do both.  

Toyin Oladele: Thank you. So it’s about providing that leadership that come and see what I’m doing. This is it? You can also do it. And even in the programming end, like creating programs like the incubator program you mentioned, that would encourage more people from that community or from racialized community to be a part of what you do. Fantastic? Thank you. Those are pretty profound. Thank you. CONTRA? 

CONTRA: So for me, I think a lot of the work I do creatively is constantly trying to expand the industry to allow more folks in who typically weren’t there and currently, a lot of, I’m quite entrenched into the film space, and I’m learning a lot about it in real time, I am seeing in real time you know there’s like such a lack of female directors. I see in real time, who is in what crew, or you know, when we’re on a film set who’s really above the line, and who ends up being like the PA all the time. These are things I’ve been kind of learning from in the past two years. So for me, the first thing I can always do is ensure who I hire for my crew on my set, and who gets opportunities, whose stories are we even going to tell when it comes to film or documentaries? Right? But that’s a more kind of immediate thing, but on a larger scale when I think of programming leadership and stuff, within Bump I think we program the festival on the arts and culture side and kind of you know the visual arts like the mural side, with this in mind all the time like who doesn’t get access to these spaces. We try to change you know, change what we ask of people when they have to apply. We are trying to expand the conversation in public art, so that a lot of people who perhaps did not go to school for this have easier access to information because the art world is so, it can be so academic. But I think the way a lot of like racialized artists are coming into the public art scene in Calgary is not with that fine arts background. So it’s like, how do we bridge the gap through our programming? How do we offer how do we knowledge share about the sector that we’re in? It’s something that we’re kind of trying to build out into 2024 Bump festival. And then, you know, you mentioned like policies and initiatives, kind of within the city. This is something that I’m really interested to kind of start looking into more beyond just, you know, being on the boards of organizations it’s like, how can I really be in the room when we are trying to figure out where we want to go in the arts is something that I’m kind of quite keen on involving myself in a bit more, just because there’s so many organizations that I’ve kind of touched but I think the perspective I bring is I can operate as an arts leader, but I also operate as an artist, so I kind of see it from both ends quite often. Final thought, sorry. 

Toyin Oladele: Of course. Thank you very much I heard a few things that I just want to go back programming. You’re doing a lot of work there already. Mentoring, Kadra, thank you so much for mentioning that. And, of course, CONTRA, for, you know, opening up things, spaces to your community. That’s great. Being able to see things from different perspectives and engaging in policy, development, strategy and things like that. It is very key. I just want to echo that for organizations here who interested in learning more about things like this. When you’re creating a strategy, your strategy, plan and stuff like that, it is important to, you know, have these conversations with maybe members of your community that are from racialized for communities who might be able to tell you a few things about the strategies that might help in opening up your space to more people like them. So absolutely. Thank you very much.  

And just because this is like 1:40, we can take one more question which would be the final question for today. To achieve an equitable arts sector, creative economy what would be the most important and urgent issues to fix right now. And I know that that’s like putting both of you on the spot. It’s intentional, I kind of discussed this question with you. I’m trying to do something here and feel free to express things from your perspective. What might be urgent to Kadra, it might be different from what is urgent to CONTRA, and different from what is urgent to me, but from your perspective as two racialized art leaders, as individuals, not necessarily even in connection to your organizations, but for yourself, for your journey, for where you’re coming from, for where you are, for where you see yourself going what are those things you think you know what, we really need to fix this because there are folks working with Calgary Arts Development in this meeting and in as much as they can’t fix the whole sector overnight, and even organizations cannot fix these things overnight, it’s good for us to have this conversation and know these things so that we can start talking about them. So I’ll go to Kadra and then to CONTRA. Thank you. Final thoughts. 

Kadra Yusuf: Kadra speaking. It is kinda hard to think about like these world-solving type of questions where the answers are like, so complex and I don’t know if we have enough time. But I think it’s about something that really resonated with me that CONTRA had said was about once the space was made, or once someone gets in that role, like, let them do their thing. Don’t micromanage, let them have the space to do what it is that they need to do to get the goal achieved, or to get the thing done, micromanaging and like that kind of tend to come along with microaggressions and things when it comes to in the workplace.   

And the other thing is starting from the top, whether it be staffing from the start, whether it be creating policies, implementing in your programming but also doing it with intention like, don’t, there’s this line of like, don’t also just treat me as simply my community, or like just a number as well like there needs to be see myself like, see someone also for the individual that they are as well and like I’d spoken earlier about when it came to cultural intelligence, make sure that the teams that are like again all the way from the top. If it’s not emanated from the top you can expect it, it sounds kind of silly, to be able to be the change you want to see. But if you, if it’s in your policy and you talk the talk, make sure you’re walking the walk all the way from the CEO to the contract worker. End of thought. 

CONTRA: So I think some of the stuff I’m saying, going to say, will relate to what Kadra has said, but I have, maybe, three things I think of when I think of the art sector right now and again, obviously, this is like a profound and large question, but speaking from my perspective. One thing that I think would be helpful, maybe helpful isn’t the right word, but I think we have to ensure that decision makers in a city are related to the industry they are making a decision for. 

So, I always find it strange when, you know, a jury is completely unrelated, you know, there’s folks in a space making decisions for where a certain amount of money is going to go and their experience in that sector, for the decision they’re making is quite limited like, if I’m to be more specific, it’s like, if we have to decide, if 10 people in a room are deciding which musician, is going ,whose album is going to be funded. I would hope that all those 10 people are musicians, or kind of related to the sector pretty closely. I would also hope that decision makers in the city are a part of the fabric of the scene in the city, if you are not going, and, you know, like experiencing art in the city, how do you know who should be funded? How do you know who should get into positions of power. How do you know who has the capacity to make impact? Because something I find is sometimes I’ll come upon something that I’ve never heard of, and it’s kind of fully operating in a silo, and I’m like, how did this project happen and who decided that you guys should carry this project forward and where is it going, it’s so completely random, and like, Okay, it feels like a bunch of people got together and, I think, decided that this project needs to happen but the project is so unrelated to any artists in the city, it’s completely siloed and isolated. The folks even moving the project forward, are completely unrelated to people in the city. So, and I’m not saying that, money has to move, and grants have to move always to the same bodies. Not at all. I’m just saying that like, there has to be a certain level of experience, and you have to be a part of the contemporary culture in the city to know what it is that needs to be funded, and what the gaps are. 

And I do find that like there’s a lack of some of the people that I would want to see in more juries, in more you know, decision making bodies, there’s obvious people that should be in certain spaces, you know, who can be who can be a bigger voice to be like, actually, this is where it should go, and I even say, say this, towards like a Bump festival, where, when I joined Bump, I found that the amount of visual artists that I was touching, and how entrenched into the art space I was, that wasn’t really there before I joined in a in a certain way, right? I came with a completely different background of artists that I was working with, and seeing and culture that I was a part of in the city that it changed like, you know, some of the names that I would be able to bring up from the people who were applying to our festival, are names that no one would have thought of, because they’re not in that scene, right? So I wonder when people are making decisions on where funding should go and whatnot it’s like how many names get skipped over because the decision makers are not actually on the ground. You know what I mean, experiencing art in the city every day. So that’s one thing.  

And another thing is like, this isn’t necessarily something the art industry can solve or art leaders individually can solve, but it’s more of like a larger philosophical cultural thing about like our art sector is, I think there needs to be a return to bodies that story-tell about our arts and culture. There’s, you know, everyone knows this but there’s a pretty profound lack of journalism. How can your art sector grow unless people are writing about it and sharing stories about it, and kind of spreading the knowledge and kind of speaking about what’s going on here. That’s you know, and that’s just something I think about all the time, isn’t really, necessarily something that we in this room can solve, but something that I do notice.  

And then the final thing I would say is perhaps don’t do tokenized hiring. Think about the racialized people you’re bringing in to make sure that they are the folks who are right for the job, who have connections, who are a part of the communities that, you know what I mean, that they say they’re serving. We want to make sure that people are being put into positions of power who can make change, we also want to make room for people who typically would not be able to get into a certain space and it’s like a delicate dance of knowing who is right, for what job, who is right, for what space, and I don’t think everyone has the answers, but I think it goes beyond just trying to ensure that your jury is stacked with one person of every colour. I think you have to go beyond that, and really do your outreach. 

Toyin Oladele: Thank you. That is just literally echoing some of the things I’ve been saying in some of my circles. It’s not just about what people look like even when you bring them in. It’s also about the experience they have, what type of jury members would you like, see, and what experiences specifically, are you looking for? So thank you both of you.  

For today I am going to go into the chat. I have not seen any question in the chat. I don’t know if you noticed, Sayo, but if you have questions, please put them in the chat, and we can take them. Now we have about 10 minutes more to the end of today. While we’re doing that, I just want to say that another thing that I personally feel needs urgent fixing is from the policies. The people, I think one of you mentioned it, I just want to echo it, like the people making these decisions. Who are they? Can we have that room filled with diverse people, people who can actually speak, not just speak for racial equity in the arts, but speak for the arts itself, like advocate for the arts, because it starts from there. When people who are diverse as we can, if you look at other professions. I always say it’s also hard to see some of these things, but we want to make sure it’s the same in the arts. We have people up there advocating for the art, for the arts from different backgrounds. You would see that automatically these things would be fixed. We wouldn’t even need to work to have racialized folks in these rooms, it would be fixed automatically. So thank you. I just wanted to say that. 

No questions so far, thank you very much anybody that wants to see anything. If there aren’t, I’ll go back to Kadra to say final thoughts today that you would like to share before we go, and then I’ll go to CONTRA if there are any final thoughts, and then we’ll say bye to our guest over to you. 

Kadra Yusuf: Thank you, Kadra speaking, nothing that I want to add, except for I really agree with a lot of CONTRA’s sentiments. And like, I found myself trying to hit the reaction button for the applause, because a lot of what was being said really resonated with my experience. And I hope that people are taking what is being said in and really processing it and finding ways that they can implement a change or make a difference back in the spaces that they’re in because we’re accountable for the spaces that we’re in, we can’t change the world, but we could change like our part in it. And so I’d like to say that. End of thought. 

Toyin Oladele: Yes, please. CONTRA. 

CONTRA: Sorry I was waiting for the question. I think my final thought is, my final thought that I maybe, like I can put into the room for everyone to think about is the way Calgary looks and feels is changing really rapidly and a lot of the conversations we’re having around being like a racialized person in the workplace and in the arts specifically, is going to change pretty rapidly in the next 10 years, because this is going to be the moment that you see many, many, many people of colour enter the art sector. It hasn’t really happened before now. I think, like a lot of you know, immigrants to Calgary like, especially like people in my generation, my parents’ generation were people who absolutely would never even imagine being in the arts sector. They came in and kind of stuck to the silos that they were put in, and entering into the art sector was not even in their like wildest realm of possibility. But the children of that, you know, era of immigrants are now, you know my age, and we’re entering into the arts, and we are fighting for positions of power in the arts, and you will see more and more of this. So the industry is going to change pretty massively, I think in the next decade, the artists are going to change, the people who make decisions are going to change. So I think as long as everyone knows what’s coming and knows we’re going into this kind of era of change, expansion, it’s not going to all be like simple and easy, right? Like there’s a lot of new people, there’s a lot of new conversations. I think even interculturally, racialized people are looking at each other within these sectors and positions of power and understanding their relationships to each other, and how everyone takes up space. So that’s like a big thing that I just want people to think about, the change that is coming and like where do you want to be in that change? How do you want to be accountable? What space and room do you want to make for people who typically wouldn’t be in this space but deserve to be. 

Toyin Oladele: Thank you. That’s profound. I would say quickly that I’m very, very proud of what a lot of organizations are doing like the incubator program, all sort of programs, if you have observed since the pandemic, since George Floyd, a lot of programs were created then for different diverse communities. Specifically, I want to, I work on the northeast public art project. I’m going to talk about that, even the newcomer programs that we now have in the arts. Look at all of them happening just in the last 2, 3, 4 years. So yeah, if you’re an organization here, you want start preparing yourself, because, like CONTRA said in the next 2, 3 years, in the next 10 years, you’re going see this pool of racialized folks from diverse communities who are trying to grow and trying to get to those leadership positions. And you want to be prepared right, to be a part of that movement. I’m very happy and proud of what everyone has done and what we are all doing to contribute to this movement. And I’m really looking forward to the future. So thank you very much. Today was a very robust conversation.  

The question in the chat was about being prepared for a board like what you should know before joining a board. I’m not sure I understand the question very well, but if that is it, I mean, there’s so many, so many opportunities. There are so many programs that you can either take or resources. I could, if you want, I could put my email in the chat because of the time, and if you want to talk about it I could probably send some resources to you to take a look at. And even, like I say, even watching YouTube sometimes has really helped me to learn some things and be mentored and talking to other folks on other boards that you think are doing well. That’s a very direct way of also learning really fast. And there’s so many other ways, but that’s one. So thank you everyone for staying with us till the end, and for folks that had to leave really appreciate your contributions today and all your, a big shout out, big thank you to Kadra and CONTRA, thank you so much. Big, thank you to Calgary Arts Development for helping us hold this space, create this space to be able to have this conversation. Thank you to everyone. The interpreters, Helen, Taylor, Sayo! All of you really appreciate you. Thanks a lot for the guests. Go back and have your, enjoy the rest of your afternoon. I’ll stay CONTRA and Kadra, if you want to stay for just one minute, that’ll be great. But everyone, thank you. Thanks for coming. 

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