Are Asian Canadians the Modern Day Cultural Railway Workers?
March 11, 2021
MP Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Canadian Heritage
Mr. Jesse Wente, Board Chair of Canada Council for the Arts
Mr. Simon Brault, CEO Canada Council for the Arts
Mr. Aimé Dontigny, Acting Director, Arts Across Canada program.
We are in receipt of Canada Council for the Arts (CCA) email response to VAFF’s spotlighting CCA’s decade-plus of funding inequity to VAFF. This VAFF letter was addressed to Director and CEO, Simon Brault, and the Chair of the Board, Jesse Wente, and we sincerely hope that both Mr. Brault and Mr. Wente were able to read this letter as it has been widely viewed amongst Arts & Culture, Media Arts, and Racial Equity organizations with an overwhelming response of support and solidarity.
In reviewing your official response to our letter, we found it offensive that you state you understand “our disappointment” and then continued to “whitesplain” the process of CCA’s granting system to justify the decade-long inequitable outcomes. It is a well-known issue discussed by many racialized artists and groups that CCA’s assessments value a European or Western (re White) facing art sensibility, market, and language ultimately creating a systemically racist process. Many racialized groups that you speak of, that have been able to get funding, have reached out to us and told us that they were finally able to obtain CCA funding by hiring white or privileged grant writers that can speak in this European colonial facing language that the CCA uses and rewards through its’ assessment and adjudication processes.
Further, as you reference CCA’s “Equity Policy, other initiatives implemented over the last 30 years, and our current recruitment campaign reflect our commitment to equity and to tackling inequities and disadvantages in the arts sector and society. ” CCA has already acknowledged that what it has been doing for the last 30 years has not worked and VAFF is here, once again, telling you that we are a prime example of how CCA has failed. However, instead of listening and looking to correct funding inequities, you point to these same failed policies and processes to justify what has happened to VAFF.
There seems to be a significant lack of self-awareness at CCA of its failings. This may be attributable to its history and present approach to art that also adds to its lack of cultural awareness and knowing the realities of artists and arts organizations that do not fit within the CCAs vision of a Canadian Arts ecosystem. This is evident in your comment that VAFF did not apply for several years, which indicates that the CCA is out of touch with the realities that one of the main impacts of systemic racism is that it leads marginalized groups to give up and not even try. Why bother when it takes so much labour to complete these grants only to have the same inequitable outcomes. It is wholly discouraging to be told repeatedly that our artistic vision is not valued.
Artistic organizations like VAFF are already woefully underfunded and left with the difficult decision if they can even spare the labour to complete the grant applications when the funding organization is so blatantly biased in the first place. We are made to feel like modern-day cultural railway workers – building cultural infrastructure for the country that we love and is our home for little to no pay. This needs to change. We need to be valued and awarded funding that reflects this.
If you look at the CCAs’ latest recruitment campaign, it appears to address inequities, but if you look closely, it is merely a “window dressing” and is predetermined to hire those who fit into CCAs current culture, that being one of racial inequity and now virtue signaling.
We do not want it to take another 30 years before real substantive changes will be implemented. Our communities can no longer wait for those with privilege and power to finally “see” us.
We believe the CCA should be about developing arts and artists and not the grant writing industry. VAFF’s purpose in bringing attention to this issue in a public forum is to avoid the historical tactic of pitting communities of colour against one another for that one “diverse” seat at the table.
Our vision is to bring our knowledge, experience, and connections to build a stronger bigger table that has room for us all. VAFF has already rolled up our sleeves to get this hard work done. We hope CCA is willing to meet us at the table and do their part.
We look forward to setting a meeting time and date for this discussion.
Vancouver Asian Film Festival
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