Introduction From October 24-25, 2013 the Equity Office hosted a two-day equity sounding to solicit community input on the current ecology, needs and aspirations of artists from culturally diverse, Deaf, disability arts and official language minority communities. The sounding was intended to explore potential areas where the Council might strategically intervene—through policies, funding programs, mechanisms or partnerships—to assist these equity-seeking groups in realizing their artistic vision.
The sounding brought together a focus group of 27 artists and other arts professionals (e.g. presenters, curators, artistic directors) from the designated arts communities for the purposes of dialogue and information sharing. The majority of these individuals belonged to the equity groups currently funded by the equity office, i.e. culturally diverse artists of African, Asian, Latin American, Middle Eastern and mixed race descent and Deaf and disability arts practitioners. Representatives from the official language minority and Aboriginal communities were also invited to contribute to a broader dialogue on equity and the arts. In forming the focus group, the Equity Office consulted with all sections/offices at Council and endeavored to represent a plurality of disciplines, practices, regions and perspectives.
The sounding was part of a larger program redesign process that the Equity Office is currently undertaking in light of the sunset of the Capacity Building Initiative, the implementation of the Deaf and Disability Arts, Access and Equality Strategy, and a potential partnership with the disciplinary sections on the Roadmap for Canada’s Linguistic Duality initiative.
In addition to assisting the Equity Office in identifying the most pressing needs within the targeted equity-seeking communities and some priority areas for investment, the sounding provided participants a valuable opportunity for networking and exchange. The intention was to cultivate better understanding and build alliances amongst the various equity-seeking communities serviced by the Canada Council.
The sounding consisted of a combination of panel discussions, breakout sessions and whole-group discussions. In building the agenda, an “appreciate inquiry” approach was utilized. This methodology differs from a “problem-solving” approach in that it focuses on affirming and building on past and present strengths, successes, assets and capabilities to create “shared images of a preferred future”. The intention was not to completely avoid speaking about anything difficult or controversial but rather to start from the perspective of “what’s working” and build on these positive developments to move towards a collective, desired outcome.
Over the course of the two-day sounding the participants were asked to share their expertise, thoughts, aspirations and preoccupations with each other and with Canada Council staff, which included representatives from the Equity Office, the broader Council Secretariat and Strategic Initiatives unit and the Arts Disciplines Division. The following report provides a detailed summary of these discussions and is based both on audio recordings of the proceedings as well as some excellent notes taken by professional note-taker Trina Whitehurst. As will become quickly evident to the reader, the participants’ input was deep, varied and far-reaching.
The Equity Office intends to use the knowledge gathered in this report as it develops new strategies, policies and funding interventions with the goal of maximizing its impact and effectiveness in serving equity-seeking communities across the country and realizing the global objective of furthering equity and access within the Canada Council and the broader Canadian arts sector.