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 firstname.lastname@example.org