Building An Arts Impact Community Event - Reflection and Inspiration

In the Zoom Where it Happened

Reflecting on the June 23rd, 2021 event Building An Arts Impact Community hosted by the Association for Opera in Canada and Mass Culture.

You can find out more about the event by checking out the dedicated page found here.

July 28th, 2021

When I jumped into the Zoom room for the Building an Arts Impact Community event, I thought I knew what to expect. I was eager to listen to the insights offered by Senator Patricia Bovey, Christina Loewen and Dr. Gladys Rowe, who are all remarkable advocates of the arts sector. They promised discussions around the frameworks they’d developed, including Arts & Societal Impact, the Opera Civic Impact Framework/Platform, and Decolonized Community Building with collaborative Action Table conversations to follow. They delivered on these areas, but would ask me to go even deeper into what I thought I knew about the arts sector.

As a person raised in an arts family and who has always pursued an artistic life, I quickly appreciated there was a lot I needed to learn. There were dozens of sector members that participated in the event, Zoom-ing in from across the country to listen and bring their own perspectives on a topic I hadn’t realized was so crucial: a wholly connected arts community means success for all.

Photo by Dstudio Bcn

It’s no surprise, especially since Covid began, how reliant people are on the arts and yet treat it so flippantly when the economics play in. Everyone in the sector experiences this whiplash if they stick around long enough. That’s why this event held such relevance. What better time than now to build each other up in the digital age when distance isn’t an issue?

DE-SILOING THE ARTS - SENATOR PATRICIA BOVEY

Photo by John Schaidler

We started Building an Arts Impact Community by listening to the words of someone who has supported the arts for decades, spanning into the place big changes can occur: Parliament. Senator Bovey spoke about how frustrating it is to be the third largest employer in Canada and still be treated like our sector is voluntary. We’re treated and viewed as a community siloed from the rest of the country’s sectors and issues. This, as she pointed out, is simply not the case. She broke it down through her Arts & Societal Impact framework titled, Multiple Societal Tentacles of the Arts: The Octopus where she used, as you might guess, an octopus analogy. In this analogy there are eight ‘tentacles’ that make up the key issues our government cares about. These are:

 

      1. Jobs and Job Creation
      2. Economy
      3. Health
      4. Education & Learning
      5. Crime Prevention
      6. Rural Revival
      7. Environment
      8. Tourism

 

Senator Bovey rightfully made the argument that the arts sector is the head of the octopus in her analogy, directly impacting each of the tentacles listed above. She spoke about some of these connections, which included that people involved in the arts as either audience members or artists themselves live around two years longer, miss less work, enhance learning, and were some of the first to bring awareness to climate change. It’s discouraging then that those in the arts sector continue to be the largest group working below the poverty line, many of whom are from marginalized backgrounds.

While she brought up problems, the Senator also included problem-solving actions. In terms of advocating for the arts toward the government, Senator Bovey pushed to think of the octopus analogy. The key is using all tentacles simultaneously when advocating for policy change and greater support. The perception of the arts is where change needs to occur. We cannot be seen as the Oliver Twist sector begging for a handout, but as serious investments that build up our country and society. In some cases, we don’t value ourselves to seek these investments either, perpetuating this cycle that leads to no substantive change. Believing we deserve true investments the same way another sector does is the first step in changing the ongoing perspective and receiving legislative support to back us.

We cannot do this in our separate corners though. Building the arts community together as one unit is key while recognizing areas and people within the sector that have been historically underrepresented and need deeper assistance. Senator Bovey mentioned some initiatives she’s currently undergoing. Two of them include honoring Black Canadian artists by presenting artistic pieces in the senate and uplifting Indigenous artists with nineteen recommendations for improving representation and presentation of their work. A quote that stood out to me was this, “The arts do grow communities, but to do so they must be healthy.” Without nurturing all the areas that make up this sector, it will continue to be lopsided in who receives the benefits, harming us all in the long run.

A Framework for Artistic Data – Christina Loewen

The Executive Director of the Association for Opera in Canada opened with a quote from Dr. Kate Ruff, “Standards are communities, not documents.” With this perspective in mind, she dived into a framework she and her team have been developing for a few years now. It’s called The Opera Digital Impact Platform which has gone through a notable journey to get to where it is today. Christina explained how it used to be called The Opera Civic Impact Framework, which started as a five-year strategic plan to develop a platform to explain the impact the Association for Opera in Canada made on the communities they were a part of. It was all about the bottom-up approach with five avenues to work under: Experience, Access, Education, Community, and Truth & Reconciliation.

After overcoming some hurdles like COVID, Christina pivoted the framework to become a digital version of its predecessor and added five more avenues titled:

      1. Make it Live (Tool for Collection of Data & Impact Reporting)
      2. Track Recovery (Tracking StatCan Data, Arts Recovery Indicator)
      3. Build Back Better (Self-Assessment for Arts Resilience)
      4. Scale (Arts Impact Standard for Larger Social Sector)
      5. Go Global (Connect Impact of Art to Community & Global Outcomes)

 

These measurements are being used in the framework to provide a dashboard of complex data collection through means of tracking arts recovery from Covid, annual reports, connecting impact of the arts globally and much more. This platform is still in its pilot stage but is actively being tested by those in the opera sector. The best part, though? Christina has full intentions to give this platform to others in the arts sector, so it can provide knowledge on how all areas of the arts can grow. This to me was an inspiring example of what actionable work looks like to build up the community we all want to see thrive.

Christina went on to talk about a concept many in the arts would rather shy away from; that is, the role of standards because of the worry that standards would cause uniformity instead of uniqueness. She argued that we all work for social good and operate under a similar social contract but lack a common language to describe our good. This in turn harms our work to make swift change toward anti-racism, climate change, reconciliation and more that an art standard would provide. It would connect us across geographies–even across sectorsand enable technologies to understand the arts in a way they have yet to. Otherwise, Christina argued, change will continue to be slower, and impact will be fragmented. Worse, it could result in a waste of everyone’s time and money. She ended with the reassurance that a standard wouldn’t compromise the uniqueness of art. Instead, it would act as the core to ground us, so we can continue to develop with the surety that we’re creating with the same foundation. That’s something I can get behind.

Photo by Jason Leung

Actionable Steps and Collaborative Discussion - Dr. Gladys Rowe

Our last speaker, Dr. Gladys Rowe, connected how we must continually consider the impact our actions as settlers have on Indigenous Peoples, Organizations, and Communities. Do our individual and group goals benefit or hurt? For too long, Indigenous voices have been left out of the conversation, silencing their right to be a strong part of the arts sector. She spoke about how it’s our responsibility to destructure the historic inequities put in place and to not focus solely on the economic benefits that the arts provide. The social and positive community factors created through Indigenous participation provide just as much, if not more, value to the arts sector. There are multiple truths, perspectives, and knowledge pieces that exist. Although it’s easy to focus on the economic impact alone, these equally important factors make for a richer, healthier, and more educated sector. The role of Truth & Reconciliation to Indigenous Peoples should not have an economic value attached to it.

With Gladys Rowe’s discussion in mind, the participants of the event broke out into four groups to further examine these principles by collaborating on Action Tables. These tables were designed by Mass Culture in the online platform Miro, allowing the participants to discuss key points emerging from Dr. Rowe’s presentation, as well as additional points put forward by their Action Table facilitators. Each Action Table was assigned a scribe, allowing participants to engage in conversation while seeing their notes transcribed in a visually pleasing format. 

I was in Action Table 3: The Learning Centre led by Meghan Lindsay, where we examined the biases referenced by Dr. Rowe, what we were contemplating about the arts sector before the event, and what new information we learned in our discussion and the event. Afterwards, everyone came back together to explore all the tables and the main takeaways. I had appreciation for each, though the one that stuck out the most was Action Table 2: Discovering the Commonalities led by Meredith Davis. It reflected on how our own biases create different meanings when collecting data, and how we can consciously work against those biases with Dr. Rowe’s principles in mind. It’s easy to safely maintain our existing viewpoints, but reshaping our often limited perspectives to make spaces that are equitable for all is worth the endeavour.

The Way Forward

As the event came to an end, I was filled with admiration for everyone’s passion  to improve and reshape the sector. It was clear to me how deep the work must go to build a stronger arts community for all, and I found the plainly outlined actionable next steps encouraging, as they succeeded in paving the path forward in a concise manner:

      1. Connect/Maximize Relations brought forth by Gladys Rowe’s framework principle for Maintaining Relationships with Indigenous Peoples, Communities and Organizations.
      2. Recognize locational knowledge, evolving narratives, and revitalizing communities as Senator Patricia Bovey discussed in her Multiple Societal Tentacles of the Arts framework.
      3. Educate to enhance human connection through stories to sustain and develop our communities.
      4. Evaluate our impact and the individuals around us in our shared communities.  
      5. Discuss beyond the economic value of the arts.

 

We aren’t alone in building an arts impact community, nor should we try to be. The arts shouldn’t be approached with an individualistic mindset, but instead one where we can work as a collective to support the sector from the ground up. Something Senator Bovey said during her talk illustrated the key purpose of the event. It resonated with me long after I’d logged out and took some time to reflect.

 

We are all better off when we are all better off.

Photo by Roberto Arias

Meet the Author

Elora Cook is the Marketing & Communications Coordinator for Mass Culture working with the team to spread the word about the great research and impacts the organization has created. She is also a writer represented by William Morris Endeavour in New York City and Beverly Hills.

She attended Ryerson University and earned a B.A. in Creative Industries with a specialization in communications and publishing. She plans to continue using her marketing skills to uplift organizations and other artists within the arts for the duration of her career. You can find out more about her by going to her website or connecting with her on LinkedIn.

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