The Feels are Strong These Days

The Feels are Strong These Days

Continually learning from the community with space and care

It’s January 2021.

The last year feels like the longest year and at the same time—a complete blur.

I can say with confidence that it was indeed the busiest year (by far!) of the nearly four years that I’ve been working with Calgary Arts Development on the community investment team. While you can never quite plan or prepare for all of the unexpected hiccups, shifts or SURPRISE PROGRAMS, that I’ve slowly come to expect in this field, 2020 definitely kicked it up a notch (or 12)!

The pull to reflect and write about this past year is strong and, in some ways, it feels silly to write about anything other than that… especially when I have all these FEELINGS sitting right at the surface. I don’t know if it’s just me, but the feels are strong these days. So, I doubt this will be my fieldnote about grant tips, program changes or assessment committees (but maybe next time).

A lot of my colleagues have done an excellent job reflecting on the past year in recent fieldnotes; the challenges, the opportunities, the learnings and the hopes we have moving forward. Reading through them brought me a sense of comfort, closeness and togetherness during a period that has been filled with a lot of uncertainty, anxiety, discomfort, and grief. I am grateful to them because I know they were right there in it with me, even if we were doing it apart on tiny rectangular Zoom windows from our makeshift home offices with kids, cats, dogs, construction, and pajama bottoms.

The same goes for all the artists, assessors, and community members that I had the pleasure of connecting with throughout what has been a really difficult and emotional time for many.

My role is pretty special in that way—I get a lot of one-on-one time to just listen to artists, learn from them, and do my best to support them in their goals and endeavors. My job is also really hard in that way—I see and hear on a really personal level a lot of the impacts, challenges, disappointments, and struggles that artists face pursuing their passions and building their careers.

These challenges and barriers that I often hear about or witness occur at a personal, interpersonal, and community level but also at the institutional, sectoral, and systemic level—Calgary Arts Development included. There are a lot of systems, like public funding, that are designed in a way that benefits some groups over others and leaves people out.

In my role I am continually learning from community—from artists, activists, Elders, educators, colleagues, and peers from across the country—to try to better understand what the current needs are and how we can reduce, if not remove, the barriers that exist and find more equitable approaches that benefit everyone—not just those who are equity-seeking (or as a friend of mine recently re-framed it, equity-deserving).

I won’t pretend that I don’t struggle in my role—being an empath in a position that is so relational, I sometimes feel like I am a vessel for, or a conduit between, many conflicting interests, desires, needs, perspectives, and priorities—it can feel overwhelming to hold that amount of space and care. There is so much wrapped up in granting and the biggest challenge for me is the scarcity aspect.

When I am designing programs or working with artists, giving feedback or training and facilitating a jury process I am acutely aware of the scarcity and competition that exists, of the vulnerability and effort that is required to even apply for a grant, and of the disappointment and self-doubt that can come when you’re unsuccessful. The ideas, initiatives, projects, and goals within grant applications are so personal and deeply connected to the artist, their livelihood, what they care about, and to their communities. Reading applications now during a time when artists and organizations have been so deeply impacted by this pandemic just compounds these feelings of scarcity and lack and exacerbates the challenges and inequities that already existed.

This is when I do my best to focus on abundance, opportunity, gratitude, and equity. So, to end this fieldnote and to start off this new, and sure to be complex, year of granting, I’d like to share what I am grateful for.

I am grateful to be employed and working in a role that I care deeply about that continually challenges me. I am grateful that our annual budget was sustained by The City. I am grateful for all the private donations we received which are further supporting artists in the community. I am grateful that we are still able to offer multiple programs to support individual artists, collectives and organizations this year. I am grateful that we have had so many brilliant, vulnerable, and eye-opening conversations with our communities about really important topics.

I am grateful for every piece of feedback an artist or assessor has shared and the time they’ve devoted to helping us serve the community better. I am grateful for the changes we are making to our programs, particularly around equity and accessibility. I am grateful for the stories of success, growth, learning, and failing-forward that I’ve heard from grantees. I am grateful for the big hearts on my team and in my community, who are showing up, doing the hard and necessary work and holding each other accountable.

I am grateful for my friends, my family, and even strangers who have brought me small moments of joy, care, and hope. It’s those moments that help make this collective load we carry feel a little lighter.

Here’s to finding more of those magic moments in the coming year together.

A black and white photo of Taylor PoitrasTaylor Poitras (she/her/hers) is a grant specialist at Calgary Arts Development, where she works with a team to develop and administer granting programs for artists, collectives, and non-profit arts organizations in the city of Calgary (known as Mohkinsstsis in Blackfoot).

When Taylor isn’t attending as many art events as humanly possible, she enjoys reading in the only room of her apartment that has natural light (and therefore plants!) and day-dreaming about one day having a big ol’ yard and a big ol’ dog.

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