Mass Culture, Mobilisation culturelle.

Mass Culture is an arts support organization that strives to harness the power of research to learn and generate new insights, enabling the arts community to be strategic, focused and adaptive.

‘Reflections on T.R.A.I.N: Arts, Culture & Heritage – Past, Present & Future’ by Soni Dasmohapatra

Soni Dasmohapatra shares her reflections on the workshop series she facilitated for T.R.A.I.N, Arts, Culture and Heritage – Past, Present & Future. T.R.A.I.N took place from September 2022 until March 2023.

The impetus

It’s interesting for me to understand the arts, culture and heritage ecosystem. How is it equitable or inequitable? My inquiry to curate this workshop series is focused on learning about the past to understand where we are in the present in order to dream of pathways for an equitable future. This invitation is to call people IN –  to recognize whose narratives are told and whose narratives are sometimes silenced. Examining how historical systems are set up through legislation, policy and practice to be exclusionary, provides us with an understanding for where we all stand as active participants in the arts ecosystem whether it be as consumers of art, the artists who create and organizations run by arts professionals today. 

The context

Each T.R.A.I.N workshop in the series followed the arc of the three listed themes below. The workshops were grounded in geographic narratives of the Arts ecosystem in the Prairies. The attendees were encouraged to reflect on the experience in workshop participation and share their own narratives of threads which emerged in relation to their locality and lived experience during each workshop.

Theme 1: The Past: Historical Presentation of Arts, Culture & Heritage in Canadian context

Theme 2: The Present: Where are we today?

Theme 3: The Future: What can we dream for Canada’s arts, culture, and heritage ecosystem? 

The process: Somatic Experiencing

Using somatic experiencing and arts methodologies in the facilitation process of each workshop, the ultimate goal was to collectively identify pathways to build equity practice for consideration and implementation in the arts eco-system. Somatic experiencing includes locating oneself in the ecosystem, getting in touch with the self by recognizing breath, conducting body scans, humming, and tapping the body to acknowledge where the content and collective energy is sitting and moving beyond the intellectual experience.

Connective thoughts across the series

Across the seven workshops there was generative discourse that informed each topic and built on the content of each other. The ebb and flow of the workshops led to the emergence of different spaces, places, experiences, and narratives that spoke about sustainability, models of leadership in arts, connection to the land, and art creation. Participants shared their lived experiences of arts, culture and heritage expression, as well as knowledge gathering and sharing.

Participant thoughts which were shared that ran across the series:

It (the process to equity) is contextual not a set of rules to define who plays what? Interaction in a fluid way.

We need to shift from Facilitation of conversations that are conflictual, to empathetic and then to generative. We need to question: What does leadership mean?

How to move colonial organizations out of the structure they are stuck in?

Disruptions are not planned. The intention to try something different, make space and include new elements is. The feeling (of disruption and change) is somatically experienced.

The Workshops and what was learned

Workshop 1, Asynchronous – Thriving Through Ritual

An opportunity to join Fawnda Mithrush and I to understand how ritual can enhance and emphasize our desire for meaning, and how it can be a powerful vehicle for thriving in a creative, healthy, and authentic life. This asynchronous workshop is available to view on the T.R.A.I.N website

Workshop 2 – Arts and Heritage Documentation to Impact Social Change

A platform for an examination of the concept of Canadian heritage. Sharing a method of social innovation and human centered design, this workshop will explore power, positionality and creation of stories that disrupt dominant narratives to impact social change. 

Many of the participants shared local heritage stories such as the Black settlements that were set up in Montreal along the river; the resting place of a Sikh soldier near Kingston, who fought for Canada in the war. The first South Asians to settle in Edmonton in 1906, when Alberta became a province. The first Mosque in Canada, the Al Rashid Mosque was built in Edmonton in the 1930’s. Many other stories were shared that emphasized erasure of historically underrepresented communities’ narratives that have shaped the arts, culture, and heritage ecosystems across the country. It highlighted the need to collect stories of the past to inform the present state and imagine how to collectively build an equitable future. 

Workshop 3 – The Spirit of Indigenous Culture through an Arts lens

Explored Indigenous arts through the links between self, community, and culture; why revitalizing (or re-imagining) self-worth through art takes back ownership of identity. Let us share the story that was told that community tells, the story that we tell ourselves now, and how we can shape the story through activating and celebrating Indigenous arts today and for the next seven generations.

“Respecting artists and expressions through Natural Law,” Kyra Brown shared this teaching in the presentation which was documented as a key take away and something new expressed by a participant.

Multiple worldviews were shared providing insight as to how participants enter the arts ecosystem and are shaped by their lived experiences to inform and gather knowledge that is informed by the past and present.

Workshop 4 – Origin Stories, Rest and Somatics

This embodied workshop created space for participants to make room for creativity by taking time to give attention to their origin story. The yoga nidra activity was a time of rest and reflection.

Participants shared: 

Reflection on origins in this kind of public space was a great exercise in understanding the complexity of our world and our multiple connections within it.

The time to think on origin stories before the nidra practice was so insightful.

On experiencing yoga nidra, the swirl of the paintbrush is an instant rebalancer and energizer.

The focused body scan in nidra is very helpful in turning down the noise in my brain.

Workshop 5 – The role of the arts in gentrifying and displaced neighbourhoods

The workshop designed by AIYA – Chinatown youth arts collective and I provided an opportunity for the arts community to unpack power dynamics and analyze the complexity of living in/working with racialized working-class communities. We invite artists and cultural workers to join in solidarity by practicing ways of relating that honour, respect, come alongside and place-keep existing communities.

Starting with sharing the history of Edmonton’s Chinatowns, the workshop explored displacement, and the difference in place making and place keeping.

Participants shared the following:


Erasure may impact language, from many cultures of origin, with English being the overarching language. This includes Indigenous languages, and French, particularly.

Acknowledging that oral stories are not as reliable as records, objects, artifacts, statues, sculptures.

Lack of concern over gaps in cultural awareness


Art can contain a people's history.

Art can express the moment; some art can create a movement.

Canadians should collectively negotiate their culture.

Artists need to be empowered to articulate their practice, vision, mission, representation.

Funders and managers do hold the purse and have sway even without having enough cultural awareness.

Community Gathering

So many festivals, curated by a variety of other origins of cultures.

Unofficial tours

Find space to invite others to a conversation. The challenge is inviting those whose voice you want to hear from, but you have no network into their space.

Currently, affordable housing is bringing many people with a common goal together. It is not specific to artists but is definitely building community.

Meeting in spaces where stories can be shared.

Add stories to Google maps!

Workshop 6 – CanNatyam: What was that?

CanNatyam was conceived as a curated festival in Edmonton for Canadian Indian classical artists with full length, remunerated, new productions with technical and design support. Shreela Chakrabarty and I share the development and application of this forum. A proven festival concept unveiled in November of 2022, the audience found the program emotionally, aesthetically, and cerebrally fertile. This workshop will explore what the next iteration of the festival can look like.

Participants were interested in this format and suggested that funding be secured to continue the festival. This particular forum can be brought to rural communities and shared to build intercultural exchange and understanding of diverse forms of dance within Canada’s arts ecosystem.

Workshop 7 – Reimagining the future of performing arts

How can we engender new online and physical spaces where artists working within and between marginalities can explore their practices together? The workshop was a primer on the work of Postmarginal in relation to its explorations of ethical relationality in practice and communities in Canada. I interviewed Peter Farbridge and Arts Babayant about the history and current day status of Postmarginal. Postmarginal is an artistic movement that sees inclusivity as a creative opportunity in the theatre. We experiment with artistic practices and rehearsal processes that are inspired by the pluralism of our cities and regions. We believe that all of our cultural backgrounds, physical/mental differences, and gender identities can fuel a new approach to theatre.

Participants shared:

A reminder of how powerful arts are in terms of conversation and different ways of entering conversations.

Reframing "marginality" as the boundaries of the practice. Breaking the expectations of who, what, when, where, why of the art

So, it’s about embodiment of the essential human rather than performing the social observances of the other.

Diverse = historically marginalized? Love the language of "colonial organization.”

I feel more permission to make mistakes. To make room for all voices and mistakes to be heard and seen and move from.

Margins, boundaries, contexts, spaces are moving and occupied quickly - it's hard to get a foothold.

Future pathways: next steps!

This series was an opportunity to bring diverse artists, cultural workers, heritage practitioners and anyone else interested together to learn, share and be in community to consider the possibilities of the future of the arts, culture, and heritage ecosystem across Canada. The time spent curating this series and building embodied learning can not be quantified in words. The experiences shared because T.R.A.I.N created a national platform is immeasurable and the outcomes, sharing and thoughts that emerged have impacted each and every person who attended or was exposed to all the workshop series offered in T.R.A.I.N. This model is a testament to the passion and commitment that is reflected in the participation of numerous peoples across Canada. It is vital and important that these conversations continue in order to support and nurture the next generation of arts, culture, and heritage ecosystem evolutions. 

Participants shared the following ideas for future gatherings to keep the momentum going……

Fireside chats with artists!

More invitations for artists to participate at the front end of planning discussions, regardless of topic area or sector.

Find new ways to connect to those in positions of power to educate the necessity of artists for societal benefit.

Meet the Author

MC Minds

MC Minds (our blog, podcast, and videos) will inspire, educate, question, connect and journey through knowledge on arts and culture research topics across Canada.

Would you like to recommend someone for an interview with MC Minds? Contact Kathryn at [email protected].