Waterloo Region Needs to Break Down Walls to Build Innovation In the Arts #gatekeeping #newcomers #WRArts #WRAwesome

I have a dear friend who has made it to the top, has done great and unusual things like play Massey Hall. When they moved to Waterloo Region one of the the things they noticed is that it isn’t just the politics or the cultural climate. If you aren’t in a certain group in Waterloo Region, you will constantly struggle to get ahead, no matter how accomplished you are.

Something about Waterloo Region arts wants artists who are already beyond accomplished. There is almost no wiggle room to grow, test new ideas, or learn how to be an artist here. There is no room for innovation. No way to cut new teeth. If it isn’t the replication of a current western culture (blues, jazz, classical, paintings, Shakespeare, even though I love many of these things, they are not the bleeding edge) in the most stringent and academic of ways, it must be already perfect or bust. When I say arts, I definitely mean the large streams and not art as strictly a visual thing (which is a silo that needs to stop…. really stop). I mean music (new music, but also trying to get a band started as an “outsider”), theatre (for all the plays done by the various companies here, theatre by women or PoC, or Indigenous is pathetically low), visual, inter arts, multimedia, media, film, literature, poetry, performance, dance (where the heck is dance in WR? Where?)…

I think the downfall (I refuse to call it failure – it wasn’t a failure… Waterloo region failed Night\Shift) of a placehacking festival here is a real point where a white techie geek festival of trying new and innovative things can’t work is real a litmus test for the geek culture not even able to push their own beyond the gatekeepers..

My partner brought up that there are very rigid gatekeepers here, and I myself have butted up against them. I imagine many have, especially those that transgress colonial Germanic or white narrative. I imagine that this goes further as well with a lot of women, and PoC, but then also many folk who have even expressed an opinion about the issues I am trying to address have likely found themselves feeling blacklisted. There are lot of us who have invested our lives, homes and careers in Waterloo Region who do not fit the old guard. Who exactly is this old guard? (Really no names in the comments, I will delete it as soon as I see it.) What do they value? Who do they fund and why?

These questions likely have real targeted answers, but I also think there are deeper forces at play with this sort of thing. One person can say “so and so” is the one who holds the money. But then there are relationships that work to outcomes beyond a single name, a single instance or org, a single entity. Mostly, it is really hostile here to newcomers, to those who do not fit some kind of mould or model. And I do think this influence starts with certain aspects of misunderstanding of the process and practice of making art itself, but ranges deeper into an almost “who owns whom” chain of allegiance. The problem with this is that culture does not survive by chain linking, but instead thrives by the powerful multiverse matrix of a rhizome.

I want to research this somehow. I am not even sure how to proceed. It is cliquish and insular here, and I would love to find a way to find out what this is, how many people feel it, and how to address it.

I am posting mostly to learn if anyone else would be interested in looking into this. I know it isn’t just me as I have talked to a many other artists about this. Does this sort of research project ring with anyone else? I would like to work through this in an artist process as much as reveal sentiment about here. I love living here and would love to see it become a better place. Message me. I really do want to hear from people who find it hard to practice here, but also I want to hear from people who have left.

I would love to hear from you. If you are ok with your comments in the open, please leave them on this post. But also, if you would like a greater discretion, I can be reached at terre@mycontention.com

5 Real honest and good actions to build a relationship to your community: Philanthropy for the modern age #WRArts #WRHealth #WRAwesome

I have been thinking about another response to Michael Litt and the tech sector leaders, and not just one that explains why arts are the way they are but goes beyond into how we can fix real issues in the community.

My partner asked at a dinner party to “name me ten important business people from the 18th-19th centuries” – and we could name a few. All were white, all were men. But also, all were philanthropists. Several, I struggled to name what they did as a business leader, but I could remember them for their support of culture. Carnegie and his libraries, Rothschilds and their arts, Guggenheim and the museum. They all gave back in massive measure setting up some of the most important cultural institutions in the world, with several entirely changing the tide of literacy and culture forever. The obvious point of this exercise is also that that we could only name a few business people, but literally hundreds of artists and culture makers. And the business people we could name were because their contributions to the world extended well beyond their crumbling offices.

There is a funny bit of irony here: We had one of the most important scientists of the 20th-21st centuries living here in Waterloo Region, and I cannot for the life of me think of anyone outside of Waterloo who knows the story of this. Even most residents here have no idea that the top floor penthouse on Princess on Waterloo, above Loloan Lobbby Bar was home to Stephen Hawking… The time to support the arts is long, long overdue. What a critical lapse in telling the story of our community.

I touched on it just a bit in my last several paragraphs on supporting the arts directly. But there is so much one can do.

1 – Support the Working Centre

Few organisations have more direct impact on our civic core than the Working Centre. With multiple locations and a full suite of services that directly assist all members of the community, there is hardly a Waterloo Region home-built and maintained service that touches more community members than this. From poverty relief and street level advocacy and aid, to excellent food and cafes, and even a sophisticated storytelling unit in Commons Studio which also serves as a film equipment rental for working artists and creatives in film, The Working Centre has a bit of something for just about everyone. We even enjoy a cleaner downtown because of programmes devised by the Working Centre that pay folk a few hours to sweep the streets several times per week. There are co-working studios, a small film studio, community kitchens, thrift stores, training programmes, settlement programmes, affordable housing, tax filing assistance, neighbourhood programmes, community supported agriculture – in the city, job counselling and work support, bicycle recycling… Their programmes and outreach are darn near endless and the good they do is uncountable.

2 – Give directly to hospitals, care centres, but also community outreach.

There are cancer hospices, palliative care institutions, treatment centres, cardiac centres, and many health related charities that need a bump. They exist and are fantastic here with many people finding themselves better cared for in our small community, connected to their families and their doctors’ practices locally. But all of these need financial support beyond government.

Check out the Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network.

There are hundreds of health related charities in Waterloo Region. These include ACCKWA – a charity working entirely around blood born and sexually transmitted infections. SPECTRUM, OK2BME and Plan B Cooperative KW – charities and not for profits organised around the holistic health of sexual and gender diverse people. There are homes for the care of young mothers who have found themselves without supports in their families and communities, there are places that directly support women’s health, trans health, and several initiatives around the health and well being of immigrants and refuges, and people who get targeted with hate crimes. There are Indigenous outreach centres that are critically and chronically starved of resources, lost in the shuffle between layers of bureaucracy who could deeply use an infusion of philanthropic funding. Find something to care about in health, and contribute. Definitely add your funds to their pots, but also find a way to speak about what they do when talking about the strength and diversity of our community.

3 – Support arts organisations, use your voice to get behind their bricks and mortar.

I mentioned in passing that the Kitchener Aud is a budget line building. Parks and recreation and several other departments at the city and municipal levels in Waterloo Region maintain buildings and programmes at auditoriums and pools, and in many other great places in the region. This makes sense. These are city-owned assets representing the homes of cultural gems – like the OHL Rangers.

Did you know that the cities and region largely own most of the cultural institutions as well? Unlike auditoriums and recreations centres, these are not budget line. These institutions have to individually fundraise to repair a leak in the roof, and the entirety of the staff comes out of operational budgets. These are supported from a variety of places. But one thing also rings true – when it comes time to make decisions on cultural funding, a large – extremely large piece of cultural funding goes to operation of these city-owned properties instead of the artists and culture makers. Having these buildings and their operations become budget line would allow the organisations to “up-level” (power up? level up? insert an action sounding term here) their programming and support of community initiative.

In a good circumstance, cultural institutions serve as pillars of a cultural community. They not only support the cultural needs of their communities by providing excellent programming (as ours currently do) but have a positive outreach into a community that then can foster programming, arts and culture existing elsewhere. Strong public galleries make for cities that can home strong private galleries. And the infusion of all of these can make a scene. Same with music houses and large concert halls. Music lovers will go to large shows, but music lovers also support the strong current of new music seen in small, private venues.

As a short list: THEMUSEUM, Centre in the Square, Kitchener Waterloo Art Gallery, IdeaExchange, Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery, Homer Watson House and Gallery, Button Factory Arts, and others all need support around their buildings. Advocating for these to be supported as the locational gems that exist is a start. The little theatres in Waterloo Region are home to excellent community creation for those who want to be involved in the deeper processes of amateur creation (and don’t be fooled by the word “amateur” here – which bespeaks more the collaboration of community way over any lack of proficiency and excellence in their theatric output – many of these productions can stand with some of the best theatre companies in quality).  Another one not to be forgotten is the ever beloved Registry Theatre with their fantastic business model. However, if the Registry needed a new roof, this would be a separate fundraising initiative. Libraries also serve as cultural underpinning for everything from the arts, to literacy. The connections they have to community are deeper than a home for books – with poverty relief, places for engagement, or necessary detachment. All of these need support, and the young community concerned should include them within their philanthropy.

Also support the development of more. We desperately need another theatre space with the Registry packed to the gills with success. We need more studios for artists, and storage for completed works. We are desperate for jam halls that are safe, secure, and are clean enough for real working musicians. When a call comes up for community support, you should be among the numbers clambering for more accessible, and downtown spaces for these practices. This is how you will have a safe, active, and diverse downtown.

4 – Support arts organisations and festivals

The buildings host programming and their day to day constant areas of culture. Sometimes these host organisations such as the Kitchener Waterloo Symphony, the Grand Philharmonic Choir, and a veritable cluster of smaller but stunning music initiatives. They also play host to the multiple theatre and music creation and production companies located here, and many, many of these have toured the world, been featured as some of the best theatre in the country in festival and have created festivals to showcase their work and the international best of the best in emerging contemporary work. Look at IMPACT, Kultrun, CAFKA, Open Ears, NUMUS for a small taste of the world come to Waterloo Region.

Also here are several ad hoc and organised collectives who build shows based on fair remuneration to artists, or cooperative efforts around generating sales. Notably, these include Collective Identity (link opens to Facebook page), The Art District Gallery, Uptown Gallery Waterloo, Kitchener Waterloo Society of Artists, KW Artists Co op, Globe Studios and many others that you can find once you descend down the rabbit hole of amazing initiative.

The festivals need direct fundraising support in the form of corporations, businesses, and companies giving back to the community and its stories. Many of these have been stripped down to barebones in the past 6 years, which is stunning because they were lean machines well before. Some of the collectives need funds to be able to pay artists for the loans of their work. Others just really need people to attend shows and purchase pieces displayed.  All need you – the philanthropist community to attend and talk about their work.

5 – Give to the United Way.

I know I sound pretty old fashioned in this one, but the United Way has a laundry list of vetted and important charities ranging from poverty alleviation to education, to neighbourhood support programmes. One of the distinct challenges in Waterloo Region is that neighbourhoods are stated as being dull and lacklustre. This isn’t without whole existing organisations trying to make a difference. But a difference requires investment of time and money. The United Way is hands on, neck deep in to what the community needs and has stringent requirements around their support. No need to reinvent the wheel with this one… the United Way has decades of doing what they do, and doing it well.


If you really care about our community, about “attracting talent” – then care about the health of the community that lives here. If you think that areas are underserved and you have a platform of publication like the Globe and Mail, instead of delineating our weaknesses, tell people how they can build better communities for themselves and others. Waterloo Region may have one blight that rises above the rest: we are becoming known as a communities that don’t care. We are seen as a civic area that continually fails women and minorities, that continues to underperform in culture, and that lacks a diversity of places where people can enter and participate into a civic life that matters. Use your public platforms for good. Start building a new generation of Guggenheims.

You say divisive, I say DIVERSE #WRAwesome #WRArts

Artists of Waterloo Region – Don’t even allow them to entertain the thought that we are “divisive”. We are not divisive. We have different needs. I also have a sneaky suspicion that this is a term used deliberately to undermine the grassroots from organising. We are not some tidy economic development package. We are a sector that represents plurality and multiplicity.
Because we present different needs, they think we are divisive. I have a better word. It’s another “D” word. We are DIVERSE.
The theatre company is not the same as the individual visual artist. The poet’s needs don’t match the small group of musicians. Some of us need quiet rooms that require sound proofing. Others need proscenium stages. Others among us can make due with a place to store equipment and a computer at a desk. Some folk need a storage locker for old work, a studio to build new work, and a gallery to show them all. This does not make us divisive.
When someone says the Waterloo Region arts community is divisive, match them with the word DIVERSE. We are diverse. And in our diversity, we are like any diverse culture: strong, resilient, and beautiful.

I Love My City, Always Have, Always Will. But I Need YOU to Support It: A Letter to Michael Litt and the Tech Sector Leaders

Culture isn’t expressed through clean, gentrified space.

I wrote this in 2013 (Why The Art and Culture Fail: Waterloo Syndrome), long before so many other cool initiatives came about. Since then, NIGHT\SHIFT, a festival almost tailor made for tech (STEAM) has come and gone. Neruda Arts has pushed Kultrún World Music Festival into bold existence despite a city that has constantly undermined it by placing the epic failing Big Music Festival on the same weekend, twice. Summer Lights Festival has started up in spectacular ways as well. NUMUS is beyond cool, has been successful for decades, and I bet you have never even heard of it… it isn’t for their lack of trying. 

We bring in world class talent, Michael. We have for decades. I invite you to comb the lists of artists presented in many of the festivals I have mentioned in this and the linked posts. Check out the institutions and look at the artists that have presented in this community. But also… In 2009, seven artists in downtown Kitchener alone received emerging artists grants from the Ontario Arts Council (OAC) – this is a distinction and honour indicating that a practice is well received and supported by the second highest level of artistic funding available to Canadians living in Ontario. We bring in interesting and beautiful things from all over. We export world class talent as well, with many many artists who start here find themselves unsupported and unable to stay. Only one of those seven remains in the region. Many more have been conferred this honour, and most have left for better places to build an artistic practice.

We attract world class because we are world class. Many artists from here have moved, toured vastly, won international acclaim and awards, only to come back without a whisper of their actions and wild successes cracking through the provincial veneers of our media, or indeed your own scene: The Tech Sector.

Oddly, 2009 was the last year I felt like we had a real crack at making multiple scenes emerge. By 2011, I knew we were on a sinking ship. This lines up with two major changes – the Prosperity Council making noise and arts and culture eventually falling under Economic Development (big, big mistake), and tech pushing its way into downtown. If there was any combination of two substances made to kill creative practice, this was RoundUp to the grassroots.

It isn’t just the lack of support for our festivals, our work, it is also that between you, Communitech, and so many other heavily funded, sponsored, coddled and supported tech initiatives have entirely displaced our workspaces and homes.

Tech leaders LOVE to talk about how the Lang Tannery was an empty shell, disgusting and unused before they received millions of dollars of funding to retrofit it into being an office space. This is such a ridiculous misplacement of truth. There were large unused spaces in the Lang Tannery, much like there are in many buildings downtown, but it was also home to several artists, artisans, skilled trades people, dance and yoga studios, and other creative workers. Large “unused” spaces were sites of massive and tremendously cool art parties like the legendary Blue Dot parties (which attract art and culture lovers from as far as Berlin and New York for a single, very cool event that has become increasingly rare because of the lack of space and support). These are things that you and other tech leaders have displaced and removed through your own occupation of space. Know your history. Know especially those you have snuffed so that you can understand now why you miss their contributions, because what you are bemoaning is exactly what we used to have.

The Boehmer Box Factory on Breithaupt was our final large, extremely run down area that we could afford that didn’t have a waiting list a mile long for space. It was unsafe, terrifying especially for women, lacked any security so theft was such a thing, and had leaks in the roof that could transgress a first floor studio, and often packed with studios. It is now being gentrified for… can you guess? No, not cleaned up to provide space for the folk who build the identity of a community that lives into eternity. No. It’s offices. And this last space gentrified is a nail in the coffin for new inexpensive and viable studios anywhere accessible to a community of creatives.

(Also, just to be clear… a small office is not a studio. I know someone is going to make an argument about the Gaukel building so I am stating it ahead: We have a micron of space for minuscule offices for organisations of two. Great if all art was a person and desk… but that is you. Not us. I do imagine your office is not cubicle-sized even still. And this space represents administrations, which are important and do need this affordable space, not the practice of art making itself. Plainly put: it’s just not enough, and simply unsuitable for the bulk of creative practices.)

Any small bit of infrastructure we had left was destroyed by the tech sector.

City of Kitchener Council

Government is so clean looking… so is bureaucracy and red tape

It is true that art gets made in these places when they are run-down. So many good and great artists have occupied downtown walkups, run down factories, and many other areas that would not be deemed fit for most of your colleagues but this has a lot to do with the fact that a huge purse of money in the arts is in the thousands, nowhere close to the millions. The arts, especially in this region, cannot get a break. Where tech has seen literal millions of gvt funding in just the last couple years, the arts are displaced, moved, underfunded and completely left without space. And it isn’t just a lack of space, there is an almost complete lack of interest in making viable, affordable space. But then there is a lack of support around every aspect of art making in Waterloo Region, and yes, you are indeed a major part of the problem. 

In the article linked above, I made a single proposal to fix this. Keep in mind that this was 5 years ago, and nothing has been done to amend this creative drain. The need has grown but the fixes are still remarkably simple. But they require support, funding, and political will. They require you and others like you to listen.

The problems have only gotten worse, but it isn’t because artists don’t know what is happening, it isn’t because we haven’t been attempting stop gaps (literally a small festival here is called Stop-Gap, and Collective Identity partnership with THEMUSEUM has also been about giving artists a much needed platform), and then collectives like Art District Gallery. It is because we haven’t been listened to, and instead, patriarchal approaches have reigned with leaders such as yourself who do not have the research, the knowledge, or the simple facts of creative practice under their belts. You and your equally unknowledgeable colleagues are listened to and regarded as experts instead of the real experts in our community who live this reality, study this reality, research this reality and watch other communities overcome this reality through measures well considered, well researched, well applied work there, and are ignored here. Or even worse – turned into talent attraction schemes – money thrown at symposia or yet another consultant that confirms what leaders in the arts and culture communities have been saying for the better part of a decade.

“Biggest point is that you’ve got it wrong. You can’t use the arts solely as a talent recruitment device… cause then you fund the wrong things. You build the wrong things. You focus on arts that you think make sense. What you aren’t seeing is that the artists who live here moved here for the same reasons why anyone else does. They are also in love with the vibrant and crazy stuff in the water that makes Waterloo Region shimmer and pulsate and their arts reflect this. Pulling in one-off acts and shows may be good for a night, but they do not celebrate that common thread that we all possess that only this geography can lay claim to. They are not the bread and butter, or the culture development that we need.”

It isn’t about the great outfits. It’s about having grit.

Clean cities aren’t great and interesting cities. Jane Jacobs had a lot to say on this but a thing that stands out to me are that cities that are truly exciting and vibrant are cities where the narratives, the voices, the creative heartbeat of the city rises to the surface in a cacophony of joy. An interesting city is a messy city. Toronto’s Queens Quay is a dead zone despite its clean glass towers but Kensington Market is thrumming with life, thriving and breathing with every person rich or poor, every walk of life, pigeon, millionaire or rat blended in to a crowd of bright shining beauty, and the tireless beat of curious and living feet on the streets – art, music, live theatre, and economy singing from the very asphalt, especially before it too started to gentrify because it was so damned cool. San Francisco was seriously interesting when it was messy – a hodge podge of queer folk, sex workers, artists, People of Colour all finding homes in the Mission, in the Castro. It is a paling and increasingly sad version of its older self, especially when I talk to those very mentioned who made the place interesting get displace into further reaches, and dangerous accommodations outside of the cores they built.  Heaven forbid we ever, ever become the sad, gentrified, racist, classist, sexist cities of Silicon Valley. We are already deep in with hate crimes and being uninhabitable for women – tech isn’t going to change this.


It isn’t the artist you pay to graffiti your walls who is making a statement, making a change. They are delivering a corporate statement to a corporation. Their narrative isn’t a community narrative. It is your company narrative paid on your company dime. Yes, office art is important and please keep giving artists opportunities to make your walls match your aesthetic sense and sofas. But art that sounds like the heartbeat of a community isn’t clean. Hamilton is exciting for a reason. It isn’t clean, polished, devoid of the messy corners. Now that it is beginning to gentrify, Hamiltonians are railing against it. There is a creative pulse because of the affordability of space and support for artists to settle there.

But this didn’t happen because a business leader painted a corner and said “artists come here”. It happened because the arts community could have a chance to organise, and make their city worthy of an artistic practice. In 2013, I also wrote an article about how it was less expensive to put an entire audience on a bus to a theatre in Toronto that has been been rented, buy this audience dinner and drink, and then get them home – cheaper than renting space in Waterloo Region for making theatre happen here. This has deepened significantly in the last five years. At this point, we could charter a coach, bring the audience to a casual fine dining restaurant, serve several premium cocktails or whiskeys, bring them to the show, and take the chartered coach home with a bottle of wine and gift bag for each person – all for the cost of space rental. This is without the audience paying a single red cent.

You are starving us.

And your talent attraction schemes makes even the most beloved of artists cringe. Gross.

monty python fart trumpet“I am more and more convinced that we fail so miserably at retaining artists, building arts and culture scenes because we use the building of these scenes as a marketing device. There is barely a market in the city for the most commercialisable arts (paintings and take home items that you can purchase), never mind a market or even an appropriate case built for creating, building and maintaining artists, an arts scene or culture beyond the most banal. There is a place for marketing an arts scene, and we are in desperate need. However, using a non-existent culture as a centre point for attracting talent is really not wise, and creating a scene for this purpose is desperately misguided.

Somehow I think the arbiters of taste (those who make financial decisions on culture) either don’t understand their constituents, or don’t understand the implications of supporting mostly banality – it’s quite likely both.”

You want brain drain? It isn’t engineers that we are missing. From Arts and culture fail miserably in Waterloo Region – I need to hear from YOU

About this Vital Signs report

It’s only gotten worse.

“From 2011 – 2012, people working in the culture sectors have declined from nearly 9000 in Waterloo Region to 6000. That is a whopping 3000 fewer arts and culture workers in a region that already suffered from too few to begin with.

“Now look at that pie chart. The largest piece of the pie represents all the gears and mechanics going into the arts and culture sector: technical employees.

“The creative arts on that pie represents 1120 workers. That means just a little over 1/6th of people doing cultural things in the city are actually involved in the creative arts instead of creative commercial business. Not negating the rest of the culture pie you see there, but this is a miserable number. Half a million people in Waterloo Region.. 1120 working in creative arts – likely includes organizational administrators and others similar – not purely the creative artists themselves – I wonder what that number would be. Your odds of meeting someone born  with 11 fingers or toes (1:500) are close to your odds of meeting a genuine, bonafide working artist in Waterloo Region.

“This is abysmal. What a hell of a failure, Waterloo Region.”

And then the part that I never wanted to attach to you because I have such memory of you as a compassionate person who lets his strength flow from a deep and good place…

The lack of authenticity and concern

“Can we stop listening to business people about building the arts community now, and start talking to the arts community about building their own? If I need to know about a car, I ask a mechanic. If I need to know about my persistent toothache, I talk to my dentist. Why does the city think the mechanic can cure the toothache without making the pain worse??

“Successful business acumen doesn’t lead to understanding in the arts. These operations run on a shoestring budget – some hiring up to 200 artists in a year (MT Space) on an operating budget less than a single C-Level executive salary in a tech company – and they persist! Condescension on behalf of enabling organizations (there’s a backward thing for you), goonish behaviour on behalf of our bureaucrats and a serious desire to be hands off is destroying the core culture of this Region. The problems are extensive: From funding to facilities. From zoning to endless red tape covered permits. Art here needs to be more than a function of economic development, even if it does develop the economy.”

So for goodness sake, Michael Litt, and all the other tech leaders bemoaning our lack of scene – you are killing the thing you are crying over.  If you want it back? Start supporting what’s here.

Put your money where your mouth is. I challenge you, and other tech leaders to stop with the bs rhetoric about how we need the arts to attract talent and start supporting the talent you have.

We should have a Christie Digital Centre for Inter Arts

We should have CAFKA and IMPACT both floated with unique budgets of over 200k just by industry/tech here alone

Kultrun needs to be supported as a cultural home for the many, many people who benefit from their programming in music that makes the soul connect to here even if “home” is a notion of distance and separation

We should have Night\Shift (most recently defunct and deeply mourned) and Summer Lights be thrumming with energy for their one-night art party wonderlands, instead of having them struggle to pay the artists who make this happen for the entire region

We should have the Vidyard Grand River Film Festival

We should have the OpenText Kitchener Waterloo Symphony

The Conrad Centre should be the Waterloo Region Centre for the Performing Arts

We should have KWAG have a list including you and your colleagues as diamond level sponsors

Boehmer Box art throwdown

If only they didn’t treat artist like children.

Much like a startup’s needs are wildly different from OpenText, an individual artist has entirely different needs than a theatre company. A big complaint is about our lack of unity… and this, frankly, does not exist. We are all artists, but we are not cut from the same cloth. Asking us to toe a line and ask for the same things is like trying to sandwich Christie Digital in with company of two that develop wicked websites. There is no lack of unity but instead a diversity. And this is what makes us so damned strong, so completely resilient enough to stay in one of the toughest cities in Canada to get a break despite the endless attempts to throttle anything from happening here in any real, connected way.

We should have an arts centre that is strongly supported, funded, and a home for an arts council who can express the diverse needs of our community. There needs to be homes for visual arts, for theatre arts, for music that are not top down governmental impositions placing banal and boring speakers and workshops in front of our talent.

We should have governmental support around our bricks and mortar institutions. Where the Kitchener Aud building is budget line, Centre in the Square, THEMUSEUM, the Canadian Clay and Glass, the Button Factory all struggle to keep their roofs from leaking. And most of these are owned by the cities and region… This is egregious and desperately sad. We are a region that does not cherish its cultural assets and this needs to change. By saying this, I am saying that we are a region that doesn’t cherish its stories. We are a region that doesn’t cherish its people. Because always, and ultimately, art in all of its differences and manifestations are narratives representing our reality as a society. By killing the arts, you kill your own stories, the voices of the people who live, work, and play here. You drop out of the timelines of history and out of public importance. No wonder your perception is that no one wants to move here (despite the ever growing vast suburbia encroaching on wild and farmlands at every turn). No wonder you think we don’t exist. You haven’t listened to our stories.

We need you to support us because you need us. Just like we need you. Symbiosis.

So I add to my challenge of supporting the arts financially – get outside, here in Waterloo. You chose to stay here for good reasons but you seem more divorced than ever from these. Go to openings. Go to shows. Get to the galleries. It may be intimidating at first but just in the same way I used real, alive language here, there are so many of us who would love to tell you the stories about why the things here, made here, being shown here matter – including me. I would love to be a docent to show you an entire world of voice that you and your tech sector colleagues are missing. Support the arts, Michael. Don’t just be an industry leader but become one of the many important Canadians who truly help to build our cultural narratives representing diversity and change right here in Waterloo Region. Stop spouting this nonsense put out by the bureaucrats and bean counters. You and your colleagues are the people who can make a difference – a real honest difference, just by looking into the grassroots and putting your time and work into caring.

#Exnovation – Collective Identity Call for Artists

Innovation has been a major characteristic of Waterloo Region and how things get made here. In a process of innovation, a team creates change within a product, process, item, or service. This has marked every industry of the region, creating a spirit of inventiveness, and an ever changing and diverse economic backbone. An exnovative process is a little different. In an exnovative process, a person from outside of the team creates changes.

In this show, we will be asking artists to enter into unusual collaborations that could take different exnovative shapes. An artist can:

  • begin a project on their own, but with finding a partner with whom they can hand off the project for this person to finish.
  • collaborate with an artist with whom they have never worked with before.
  • two artists from different disciplines working in tandem to create a new work.
  • pertaining to a theme of interrupted process.

The work can take any form, any shape, but the spirit of collaboration and interrupted process is thoroughly encouraged in the ideas presented. Individual artists will not be turned down for solo projects conducted in a spirit of exnovation but consideration around projects that show interrupted or collaborative process will be given higher priority.

Artists from Waterloo Region, or who have lived in Waterloo Region, as well as artists living in the counties touching the region at its borders are encouraged to submit ideas for consideration in this show which will take place in January 2017 at THEMUSEUM.

Compensation will be made to artists based on fundraised amounts. We work hard to draw sponsors and donors to the show so that we can pay artists.

To apply to this show, please include the following:

  • Your CV and the CV of the artist you are collaborating with
  • A description of the project (500 words or less)
  • A description of how exnovation will be used in your project
  • Supportive documentation will be accepted if included in the package (not more than 5 files)

All files must be submitted with your name and the title of the file as the save name (ei: yourname_filetitled.pdf). We will only accept text (.pdf, .txt, .doc), image (.jpg, .png), video (.mpeg, .mov, .mp4), and sound files (.mp3, .wav) as the formats indicated. We will accept applications until the 7th of October 2016 at 5pm.

Media submitted outside of the package will not be considered in the application (websites).

Email all submissions to terre@mycontention.com

Ableism in practicing art – how to create a healthier practice

There’s a cliche that tells us to set off as we intend to carry on. As a woman with a disability and lately, some pretty dire health issues, I thought that in creating art, I would have a pretty good perspective on how to build an instance with a collective where our disabilities and health would be something that isn’t negated. This isn’t just important to me as a person whose disabilities and health requires some consideration, but also important as a person who cares about the people I work with.

Under the pressure of creation, we can fall into ableist patterns – we find ourselves in a place where the consideration is on the deadline, the creation, and not on the creators in the project. The health and abilities of everyone can be a priority, but must be considered in advance.

Here’s some things I learned. I’m sharing for others who wish to consider their own ableism in the function of art building. This is from my own point of view – that of an aspie artistic director of a feminist, diverse, mixed gender, age, race, discipline collective. I do think these can translate to any collaborative practice. This is by no means exhaustive, but for the health and ability of a group of strong creators working together:

  1. PREPAREConsider ability and health at the outset, long before you start working. When you get into the middle of a creation, things move so fast under the tension of deadlines and the aspect of losing yourself in the zone that health can become problematic without even noticing. Do this in your team-building if you can – in those meetings where you are facilitating relationships.
  2. Keep water in the room in which you are creating. If you are working with a collective, keep a jug of fresh water in the space – for yourself, whichever container floats your boat. Keep cups/glasses, wash them daily. Foster a policy of respect around water and the pause to rehydrate. This bleeds out into the routine of water getting, and the deliberate short breaks that the mind needs in intense intervals. Respect that the call for a break for a drink may be a way for someone who needs a moment for their body or mind to ask for a pause while they stay in the energy of the room or activity without outing themselves or asking for sympathy. Also, a water break may just be a water break. Either way…
  3. Country-805222---Water-Pitcher-3-Pint-White-BG-High-ResMaintain a healthy, caffeine free alternative tasty beverage that your collective can agree on – whether this is juice, tisane, lemon or lime water – you get to be creative and inclusive… And maybe also fun : ever try warm pineapple and passion juice? Also keep caffeinated beverages (coffee, tea, mate) to keep personal budgets intact. But really, consider that not everyone can or should have these and at the same time, they are a bonding piece between people. If you can, a wee fridge may be your best friend.
  4. Arrange ahead of time potluck and brown bag lunches for your collective – make it fun by planning daily menus and themes. Consider dietary restrictions and allergies – be open and honest about the ingredients in the food. It’s wonderful to carry on the energy of a new creation over lunch, but having that lunch not be cheese covered nachos, fries, or other restaurant foods are better for your body, and better on your wallet.
  5. Build timelines with lots of testing time front loaded if you can. For some, renting of equipment can only happen on a tight schedule. If this is the case, test the equipment as soon as it’s delivered. Remember that the tech people in your show are a part of your creation. Also, this could take some serious pressure off of the last minute. Able bodies and minds find the last minute pressures hard. Disabled bodies and minds are taxed beyond coping when the details wrapped in stress overwhelm the final ability to push.
  6. list.2Make lists and order them according to priority and time. These will help to allow the flexibility in a timeline, and can also breakdown something like “Tech Setup”, “Strike” into granular, and orderly parts. These lists can and should be built with the consultation of the people involved, and then they can be built into being a checklist for the larger, complicated tasks. I know this one seems so elementary and project manager 101 – but when things get tight, being able to hand these off to a stage manager makes their life easier, and it keeps you, the collective, and the creation in a headspace where complicated process is in simple black and white.
  7. If someone discloses a health requirement to you, take it seriously. Ask them what you can do to accommodate them and then work your hardest to do so. Try to have this conversation before you get into heavy creation and deliberately build accommodations into your process. If done right, maybe you stand a chance to make the whole process not focus on what limits people, but allows every strength to shine within a disabled context.
  8. bf1Some people will not want to disclose to a whole group but will tell the director – make sure you understand the privacy concerns around what they live. Some people are happy to share much of what they live. Many want to be able to work in a context where things just work for them enough so that they can contribute in the meaningful way that they were asked to be in your project – maybe this means that you do research, and ask them to help you understand. Remember, the one who lives a disability is an expert in their own lives, treat them as such. Remember to listen, and truly pay attention. Disabilities can sometimes impede the ability to communicate needs but with even small effort, modifications, accommodations can be made to make a process more disability-friendly.
  9. Never, ever assume you know someone’s needs. Someone may require a ramp for a mobility device, but do you know if the bars in the “accessible” washroom are placed in the right location for your fellow artist to be able to help themselves? Are they needing/wanting additional assistance and how can you provide it? There is nothing wrong with asking an entire group of creatives if they would be willing to have a conversation about what they require in a space or creation. Leaving open several options for how people would like to communicate is critical – from email to open forum, it should entirely up to the person disclosing on how they want to go about this.
  10. Scarcity is an unfortunate part of art making. From unheated, dusty, and sometimes unhealthy spaces, to lack of time, we all have to push too hard. Remembering that even the most able and well person is more likely to succumb to illness or injury when they are stressed and tired is a most basic and simple consideration.
  11. SpoonsBecome familiar with Spoon Theory.  Use it if you need it, and advocate for the understanding of spoons.
  12. Take the time to find accessible space that is suitable to the needs of everyone. It’s so much easier if you find a building or space that is good, but have the ability to work with the owner to create even better access.
  13. Keep a roster of who you have worked with, and who is above the board for building accommodation. Share this list widely.  Tell other companies and artists about good places and good people for access. Do you part in creating a culture of better space.

A bonus ten to consider:

  1. Zero imposition on yourself and others when not directly at work in studio. Having firm hours with little-to-no homework beyond work hours allows the mind and body to rest easier. People will still come up with ideas over washing dishes, but having the off times as brain wandering, other life task times will add strength to everything. It also allows for better nighttime sleep which benefits everyone and everything.
  2. Using meditation techniques and visualisation as a group to deliberately leave the work behind may be an amazing way to separate off time from creation time.
  3. Deliberate mental health breaks. There is nothing like pizza on a night of stress – everyone has to stop and eat, even if they don’t eat.
  4. Open continuous communication on the wellbeing of everyone in the creation for the entire creation. Foster acceptance, and trust. Kindness, sincerity go a long way.
  5. Treat health emergencies with sincere concern. The lives of the creators you work with is more important than the creation.
  6. If you are directing a creation, keep a notebook near you at all times while in creation. Unload everything into the notebook. Separate ideas for the creation, from personal, from operational elements. Take an hour before you start in the morning (or an hour in the evening, whatever floats your creative boat) to code these things and determine if the are important enough to consider.
  7. Make sure every aspect of a project has an owner. I mean this. Those lists I was talking about? Make sure that the items that make the cut are assigned to someone.
  8. For goodness sake, if anyone has a health emergency, delay the outcome. We squeeze by so often. I would hate for anyone I know and love, or any creative person who is loved by anyone, including themselves, to have any of the worst things happen because they prioritised a creation over a life. A call to a granting officer, or a co-presenter can often go a long way to building understanding around delays.
  9. More of a clarification to the last point: Your definition of a health emergency may not match someone else’s. Someone with arthritis or fibromyalgia may not be able to function on a day. A person with depression may require a month off.
  10. Take all of these seriously and for heaven’s sake, do continue to work with people with disabilities. Our unique experience adds so much to a creation. We have a different way of working that requires us to push our own limits daily in the ways we can, never mind the limits of a creation. Not only will the projects be stronger and more meaningful, but everyone who works with a person with a disability will find themselves in a place of diversity and strength by adding and respecting our voices.

Please, do comment on this. My considerations are not comprehensive, and I am learning on my feet. I would love to know what you do to consider health in these heavy and stressful times!


Text from my talk Monday 14th of December to City Council

Here’s the text from the talk that I couldn’t give in its fullness due to finding out a change in funding to the CEI. It is still pertinent. The CEI should not use another pinch of money to close its doors.

Presenters from the arts community included Janice Lee, Martin de Groot, Robert Linsley, Duncan Finnegan, and Gordon Hatt.

City of Kitchener Council

Thank you councilors for allowing me and my colleagues to come and speak to you on a matter that is near and dear to us as a functional, organised, and very active sector in this city.

I want to start by expressing my respect for both Roger Farwell, and Debbie Currie as two hard working, well intentioned, and great people in the city. They have tried hard to build something meaningful, and it wasn’t without successes, but at this point, the successes are over, and belabouring the closure of this organisation with the building out of two unwanted initiatives is only directing money away from where it most necessary: back into the arts.

Thanks to the CEI’s own work we realised that the arts sector is short by up to 5 million in funding based on 50 arts organizations – not just the 5 pillars.

Thanks to the municipalities for recognising the need and moving money to the arts.

The dollar per capita amount was critical, but it didn’t help the entire sector. In going strictly to the pillars, the real needs of those who animate the city: the creators and innovators were left to starve. In the past years, dozens of artists have moved away from this community, and we have seen next to no growth in new organisations that create art.

As a sector, the makers of culture, the makers of art are more than ever critically underfunded, and underresourced. And the CEI’s current priorities do not address any of the critical priorities or needs facing our sector. The new priorities are entirely duplications of other services (as they have said themselves), or are not repairable (in the sake of Grand Social) in the budget and timeline indicated.

So, what do we need?

In the formation of the CEI, We were promised access to private sector and increased funding through capacity around this access – Many arts organisations had private sector funding prior to the CEI that was diverted to the CEI through their closer business connections.

Most of the money given to the CEI did not see its way to the small to medium arts organizations. Some organizations saw support, but the ability to build new, and grow became completely absent. The lack of transparency, and the determination of who was funded and why became a point of contention. There was the “hot dog cart” fund, but of $750k, this represented only $53k. Access to private sector is critical. This is a dire need for any organisation to assemble a good financial portfolio to build sustainability.

We desperately need space. My colleague Majdi spoke to this matter so eloquently just last week. I must, however, add that every single practice in the arts from film, to the individual visual artist, to the musician looking for a jam hall is desperate for infrastructure to build, to practice, to create. Artists are not culture industries, artists are not content creators, their work often lies in a different business model that cannot sustain the increasingly high costs of space in Kitchener.

Money could be used to create a space building initiative, like ArtScape in Toronto – a very successful model of public and private funding to create permanent and meaningful infrastructure.

Lastly, we need more funding into sustainability and innovation. The Arts Fund and similar ventures are best suited to making decisions about the arts. We have experimented with good intentions over the past five years without artists active in decision making around things that concern them most. And it shows.

We see successful models of peer-based decision-making in funding in other cities, at the provincial level, and at the national level. We need support around innovation. We need to be able to identify good practices and get money to them to increase the capacity of their practices. We need to give talent an incentive to stay here, and create a vibrant arts scene. We need to build increased sustainability around the organisations that mentor, and create opportunities for other artists – such as Neruda, Inter-Arts Matrix, MT Space, and hopefully, one day, my own.

When it comes to these other two initiatives, do we give money to build another org that duplicates place-making like CAFKA, only to hand it off? Who takes on that initiative when it is half built? Are they required to follow a model that they haven’t built? And the website, as a tech professional who has a 20 year history in web, and online communication, I can attest that 15k and 1 year isn’t going to help Grand Social.

Communitech is an excellent model. The reason why it worked is that it was built by tech for tech. It was built by the people who understood the business of making a productive sector from the inside out. They maintained a status as tech association until they realised that investing in innovation in startups could be a benefit to the entire sector.

They built a culture of practice and have made Kitchener one of the most desirable places to start a tech business. But only they could do this themselves. Traditional business does not face the challenges of tech. The same goes for the arts. The CEI is not an arts organization, nor has it ever been. It is a business organization imposed on the arts.

With the shuttering of the CEI at the end of this year, I urge you to hold this last pocket of funding instead of pouring so much money into unnecessary, unwanted, and dysfunctional final projects. We, as artists, have been organising around building a new council that will be purpose driven to help the arts where they need it most. It has a clear mission, a clear function, and has been built on two years of community consultation across the disciplines in the arts – there is no need to spend another dime in hiring external consultation. I urge you to take a sober second look and put this money where it will make an enormous difference instantly for an entire sector – back into the arts.


Call for submissions – Blues themed show downtown Kitchener

Call for Submissions

Call open from Tuesday June 23 – Tuesday July 7, 2015

The Blues has been a foundational music of Kitchener’s culture. Kitchener has developed it’s own unique Blues community and distinct sound. Our downtown music studios have been the fertile learning ground for talent and skills to be passed through generations of outstanding Blues musicians. 

From its grassroots start, to its main-stage presence, the Blues continues to live and breathe in our city’s post-industrial pulse.

In this pop up show and sale, BarnRaising Associates are seeking submissions from artists who represent some part of the Blues through their work. This can be reflected in the culture, the music, the sensation, the lyrics, the instruments, the personalities, the beat, the Dust Bowl, or the pulse of this gritty genre. The Blues is the key. We are seeking original work from professional artist on canvas, in photos, wall hanging or in small sculptural pieces for display and sale. There will be 25% commission on all sold works. 

The show will have a fundraising component in which funds raised will be donated to the Button Factory Arts Centre in Uptown Waterloo.

This show will be installed from August 5th to August 16th during the Blues Festival in downtown Kitchener. Please apply with a proposal, and your c.v. or bio at: barnraisingassociates@gmail.com

BarnRaising call for art show and sale PDF


Open call for submissions – Waterloo Region show – EXTENDED


OPEN CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS – Extended to the 20th of JULY

Collective Identity is a new open collective of professional artists in Waterloo Region established for the purpose of mounting a show of original professional arts with a regional focus. The hope of Collective Identity is to revive a regional annual, or biannual to build solidarity and celebrate our talented and committed community.

From Wednesday September 17th – Sunday October 4th, 2015, artists will take over a premiere downtown space for a show named Fast Forward Waterloo Region. This loosely themed show is focused on the future: the future of us as a creative community. We, the creative community, are the lifeblood of the culture of this region. Some of the themes that are being worked on are:

  • Transit and transportation
  • Urbanity and landscape
  • Food, food security
  • Culture and multiculture

Whether you build something that fits into these ideas, or your work reflects a concept outside of these, we call on you to submit a proposal.

We are looking for submissions from professional artists who live currently within the boundaries of Waterloo Region. In this we are looking for work that lives on the wall, off the wall, performance, pop-up theatre, music, sound and noise installation, makers, inter-arts, digital arts, film… we want to hear what you want to build.

As a professional artist-run collective, we recognize that our peers in the arts need to make a living. We will be running fundraisers and finding sponsorships to build compensation packages for your submissions. There is no fee for submission. Submissions will be accepted until July 20th, 2015 July 11th, 2015. (Call extended due to popular request)

Proposals and either a one-page bio, or CV no longer than two pages can be submitted to: terre@mycontention.com 

Theatre and tech – a must see, must attend presentation by Carey Dodge

I don’t usually place a press release on my blog, but this is a really great event that fits into the fabric of our city like few others. As a part of the Tech + Text events from Pat the Dog, technical director Carey Dodge from Boca Del Lupo is in a residency here in Waterloo Region.

Dodge is going to be working here in a residency, and also will be presenting at the Felt Lab in St. Jacob’s on the 17th at a lunch and learn – there will be a registration, and I will post it here, and on twitter when that comes about. Art and tech lovers: Don’t miss out on this event.


From Pat the Dog:

Pat the Dog Theatre Creation’s Text + Tech Visiting Artist Residency begins today as Carey Dodge, Technical Director for award-winning Vancouver-based Boca del Lupo visits REAP at the Felt Lab through to October 19.

Text + Tech is the only project of its kind in Canada. Both creators of theatre and technology are brought together at the point of creation with the intent to improve and deepen the integration of technology into the fabric of text in Canadian theatre creation. The Visiting Artist Residency grants a national theatre artist the opportunity to visit Pat the Dog Theatre Creation for an extended period. This project is in partnership with REAP (Research Entrepreneurs Accelerating Prosperity). Coming out of the Canadian Centre of Arts and Technology at the University of Waterloo, the REAP initiative supports student, faculty, and professional projects that foster the intersection of Arts and Technology through its ‘digital sandbox for serious play’. Housed in the Felt Lab in St. Jacob’s, REAP focuses particularly on interactive display environments and applications.

Pat the Dog Theatre Creation is thrilled to host Carey Dodge of Boca del Lupo to Waterloo Region. Boca del Lupo is one of Vancouver’s most innovative and dynamic theatre companies, specializing in experimental theatrical productions and spectacular outdoor presentations. They are widely known for their free, outdoor, all-ages, roving spectaculars. These large-scale productions have drawn thousands of audience members high into the rainforest canopy of Stanley Park, deep into the forgotten regions that lie under Vancouver’s monolithic city bridges and out onto the rain-slicked streets of Gastown. The company has received numerous awards including Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards for Outstanding Design, Outstanding Production, Significant Artistic Achievement, Outstanding Performance, along with the Critic’s Choice Award for Innovation and the Alcan Performing Arts Award. Carey is a multidisciplinary artist and technologist who works in sonic arts, interactivity, installations, sound design, projections systems and performance. He specializes in developing novel sound design systems for performance and installation work. These systems often include custom-made software, algorithmic composition, live processing, surround sound environments and interactivity.

During his visit high-tech equipment such as MicroTiles, responsive technology by GestureTek, Augmented Reality applications, and 3D projection mapping will be implemented and explored.

The Text + Tech Visiting Residency is funded by The Ontario Arts Council and the City of Waterloo.