Six principles of responsible creative arts practice and event organizing from the author of Issue 71’s Creative Politics, Eddie Jude.
You must first acknowledge that gentrification is happening and your role in it before you can really do anything else. Acknowledge that despite your own intentions gentrification is not random; it is planned.
Community artist Anna Camilleri from Red Dress Productions says gentrification is a product of physical place making: “Internment camps, reservations, residential schools, immigration laws are all place making strategies.” Gentrification is displacement. So as artists and organizers, what comes next?
Learn About Your Surroundings.
Are you moving into a new neighbourhood? Looking for a spot to set up your installation or hold an event? Take a look at who and what is around you. Before you start to think about what you can bring or change, I challenge you to look for what is already great about the neighbourhood and what it is doing well. Chances are if you can’t see it, it’s because you have no current insight into what goes on in this existing community. Do some research and meet your potential neighbours. Talking is an essential first step in trying to build authentic relationships with communities that were there before you, or that you may want to work with. Learn about the neighbourhoods and spaces you want to use, and then ask, if it still makes sense for you to use them. Be open to change based on these observations.
State Your Values.
Any artist or event organizer should have a clear understanding of what their values and priorities are for doing the work they do. Do your values centre community engagement, or do they centre your own practice? Do you wish to prioritize inclusivity or exclusivity? There is no wrong answer per se, but it is important to be clear about this to both yourself and to others. Responsible practice requires honesty and communication.
D-Beatstro, a community event space and café who just had their one-year anniversary, has used constant open dialogue and feedback from its community to shape their space. “It’s important to recognize and respect the community you are entering and the space you are occupying. We encourage open dialog, and are here to listen to the community and grow with the feedback we receive.”
Confront Your Biases.
We all have biases, but how do we recognize them? Unchecked bias might cause you to feel entitled to certain spaces, or that it’s appropriate for you to install your artwork in a specific neighbourhood without any particular awareness of the context. It might also show up as prejudice, because, as I mentioned before, there is art being made in all communities all of the time, but the appreciation of certain outputs and values shape our biases. This imbalance can make us believe that our creative practice is more important or relevant.
Re-think Your Idea.
Everybody wants to succeed in their practice, but sometimes being consciously engaged means knowing when to pass on an opportunity. In attempting to resist gentrification, community must be prioritized over capital. Will a slightly more expensive but accessible venue break your budget? Indeed, working meaningfully with communities can sometimes come back in the form of free or cheap space. Does your site-specific piece make sense where you want to install it? Does your event or art installation risk bringing more law enforcement into at-risk communities? Does your event or art piece speak with the neighbourhood in any meaningful way? Be big and real with yourself when asking these questions.
Even with all your efforts there might be something you miss. If something is brought to your attention, be accountable. Mistakes are a vital part of growth and learning. Instead of fearing accountability, embrace it. Rosina Kazi of artist run space Unit 2 encourages artists to just be open and honest with those who will cross paths with them or their work.
“I think artists have to choose what they want to be responsible for. Be honest and open so it’s clear what you are about and be willing to think and go outside your own experience or what feels comfortable.”