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

The Grassroots – the near indestructible strength of community

In talking about grassroots with people, I discovered that there is a broad way of defining what this term means. Due to the diversity of associations, I will provide a clearer definition in what I intend when talking about grassroots in my blogs.

Grass looks like like tiny individual plants from the surface. This is really only a part of the picture. The grass underneath is a single enormous structure of plants all connected by a common root system, called rhizomes. These rhizomes are amazing things – if you yank out the grass and leave even just a rhizome in, a whole new grass structure will regrow from that one amazing little root. Conversely, you can pull out just a rhizome, plant it, and it will also produce a whole new structure of interconnected individual plants. The rhizome is also the bit of a plant that allows it come back after a die back. So, when grass turns brown and goes dormant from either heat, drought or cold, the rhizome holds all the starches and proteins that the plant needs to spring back to life as soon as the weather changes. When you think about it, this is the aspect of certain plants that makes them really tenacious against adversity. A good drought and your hardy tomatoes are gone. The quackgrass, however, is alive and kicking, and taking over the whole garden.

It’s another amazing aspect of grass: if it is natural to the area, it will quickly grow, spread and take over an area with beautiful greeness. If it isn’t, it will cost you a tonne of money to fertilise, water and protect from the natural aspects of the environment. The latter is not at all hardy.

Grass rhizome

Grass roots. Interconnect structure of individual plants.

Really strong communities have a rhizomatic quality. They cherish each part, and are strengthened through the individual. They sprawl and yet have common threads that bind them. They are resilient to harm: if you remove one plant, the structure will work to fill in the hole. And the likelihood of that removed plant taking root and growing elsewhere is really pretty good. You can watch the whole scene whither, and seemingly die, but when the weather changes, it is as green and healthy as ever.

Some things can kill rhizomes. It’s pretty extreme. Anyone who has tried to convert a lawn to a garden knows just how tenacious the grass roots can really be.

  • Starve it of light, covering it with a black tarpaulin for a couple of years (yes… a couple of years).
  • Dig, and then weed and weed and weed for several years.
  • Use Round-up and ensure that nothing will grow there again for a very long time.
  • Grab a blow torch and let’er have it.

When this term is applied to culture and cultural practice, the full intent is really quite powerful. A rhizomatic structure that self spawns, propagates, is drought, cold and heat resistant, is transportable by the replanting of the most insignificant seeming part of the structure, and is only killed by very severe measures. A grassroot culture is natural to the area it is from. It requires little maintenance to spread and build an amazing scene. It does, however, still need fertile soil, sun, rain and dormancy all in equal measure. And for heaven sake’s keep away the Round-up.

We all sorta know this. We know that strong communities are connected and can do great things. We also all sorta know that killing it isn’t out of the question either.