Que­bec arts fund­ing shows ma­jor­ity’s hege­mony

Racial­ized and cul­tural mi­nori­ties are short­changed, Rahul Varma says.

Montreal Gazette - - OPINION - Rahul Varma is a Mon­treal play­wright and artis­tic di­rec­tor of Teesri Du­niya The­atre.

While the Con­seil des arts et des let­tres du Québec (CALQ) de­nies there is sys­temic dis­crim­i­na­tion against cul­tural mi­nori­ties in arts fund­ing, its ap­proach has helped pro­duce a three-tier arts world.

At the top is the arts world of white fran­co­phones, which, on ac­count of his­tory, is per­ceived as for­mal, hence le­git­i­mate. Be­low it is the arts world of white an­glo­phones, ren­dered le­git­i­mate by Anglo-Euro­cen­trism, with an only oc­ca­sional in­clu­sion of di­ver­sity, largely to win mone­tary favours. At the bot­tom is the arts world of vis­i­blemi­nor­ity, mul­ti­cul­tural and In­dige­nous artists.

Hi­er­ar­chy is as­so­ci­ated with cul­tural hege­mony, where artis­tic ex­cel­lence is me­di­ated by race and dom­i­nant cul­ture. As a con­se­quence, the ex­cel­lence of vis­i­ble mi­nori­ties’ art is judged from the Oc­ci­den­tal viewpoint that up­holds stan­dards of the dom­i­nant group, pre-sup­pos­ing vis­i­ble-mi­nor­ity art, which is dif­fer­ent in form and con­tent, as in­fe­rior. Their art world is stereo­typ­i­cally per­ceived as in­for­mal, low-sta­tus and folk­loric, their cul­tures ex­otic. Folk­lore has a nos­tal­gic ap­peal to the Oc­ci­den­tal mind­set on ac­count of its ex­oti­cism, which feeds into its stereo­types of what vis­i­ble-mi­nor­ity art should be. “Other­ing” is not just a po­lit­i­cal phe­nom­e­non, but ex­tends into the do­main of the arts.

This is why a hege­monic process im­mersed in Oc­ci­den­tal­ism fails to eq­ui­tably eval­u­ate racial­ized com­pa­nies, which refuse to at­tune to the stereo­types and nos­tal­gia of the dom­i­nant group.

At the same time, it re­wards such a bla­tant ex­am­ple of hege­mony as can be seen in Théâtre du Nou­veau Monde’s mount­ing of Ber­tolt Brecht’s The Good Per­son of Szech­wan with 18 white ac­tors play­ing di­verse char­ac­ters, with­out a sin­gle ac­tor of colour, a mon­u­men­tal es­thetic aber­ra­tion. The hege­monic sys­tem not only re­in­forces cul­tural su­pe­ri­or­ity of ev­ery­thing white-EuroFrench, but it also le­git­imizes the cul­tural order of the dom­i­nant group as nor­mal. So it is not sur­pris­ing that CALQ keeps re­ward­ing bla­tant racism such as black­face and yel­low­face, while short­chang­ing cul­tural di­ver­sity.

In its re­sponse to charges of sys­temic dis­crim­i­na­tion against cul­tur­ally di­verse arts, CALQ cites pro­to­cols and statis­tics. It also points to its Plan d’ac­tion pour la di­ver­sité cul­turelle 2016-2019. As well, CALQ’s CEO Anne-Marie Jean ar­gues that 52.6 per cent of all of the cul­tural mi­nor­ity or­ga­ni­za­tions that ap­plied for fund­ing re­ceived money, as op­posed to 43.4 per cent of all or­ga­ni­za­tions.

In any case, sys­temic dis­crim­i­na­tion can­not be dis­proven merely by point­ing to­ward pro­to­cols, a Plan d’ac­tion or even statis­tics about the di­ver­sity of funded groups, but rather by demon­strat­ing the ab­sence of a marker of in­equity, which can be mea­sured by as­sess­ing the lev­els of fund­ing af­forded to cer­tain groups over oth­ers. And that ev­i­dence is re­veal­ing.

White fran­co­phone or­ga­ni­za­tions re­ceive far more than do or­ga­ni­za­tions made up of vis­i­ble and English-speak­ing mi­nori­ties or In­dige­nous peo­ple. For ex­am­ple, in the dance field, at the top are Les Grands Bal­lets re­ceiv­ing $2.3 mil­lion and Les Bal­lets Jazz de Mon­tréal $630,000, ac­cord­ing to CALQ’s 2016-17 an­nual re­port, while such cul­tur­ally di­verse com­pa­nies as Ny­ata Ny­ata and Sinha Dance re­ceived $42,500 and $55,250 re­spec­tively. Sim­i­larly, in the the­atre field, among the top re­cip­i­ents are Théâtre du Nou­veau Monde ($1.5 mil­lion) and Mai­son théâtre ($763,000). Well be­low are such English­s­peak­ing, cul­tur­ally di­verse com­pa­nies as Black The­atre Work­shop ($58,575) and Teesri Du­niya The­atre ($8,055).

An­other marker of in­equity is the lack of cul­tural di­ver­sity in CALQ gover­nance, lead­er­ship, ad­min­is­tra­tion and ju­ries. CALQ’s ju­ries are still pre­dom­i­nantly, if not ex­clu­sively, white and fran­co­phone, ad­ju­di­cat­ing the pro­duc­tions of the English­s­peak­ing mi­nor­ity, vis­i­ble mi­nori­ties and In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties. A pub­lic body is obliged to be eq­ui­table, im­par­tial and fair. Fair­ness can be guar­an­teed only by rules to main­tain racial and cul­tural eq­uity in the arts — and CALQ has no such rules.

Cul­tural di­ver­sity is best guar­an­tee of so­cial har­mony. It is im­per­a­tive that hi­er­ar­chy, hege­mony and in­equal­ity be re­moved from arts fund­ing.

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