Dear Canadian Stage communities,
In July 2020, we made two important public commitments (please read Canadian Stage’s full Black Lives Matter statement here):
- The engagement of a professional Anti-Racist and Anti-Oppression (AOAR) trainer specialized in delivering this work to Canadian cultural institutions. Training will be delivered to all Canadian Stage staff, board members and volunteers.
- The research and development of a comprehensive and robust Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan that will articulate clear and measurable goals. The plan will be co-created in close collaboration with staff, Board, and artists.
In an ongoing desire and commitment to transparency and accountability to our communities, we are writing today with a fulsome update on the 2020-21 season.
We express our gratitude to the many contributors and collaborators in this vital work. We have been astounded and humbled by the courage and candour of BIPOC artists, staff, Board members, and audiences throughout this process.
The last year has been a time of listening, learning, and reckoning for our organization – in expected and unexpected ways, and we are grateful for all of it. We move into the next year of this journey with respect, creativity, love and determination.
2020-21 SEASON UPDATE
In Spring 2020, Canadian Stage began the process of engaging Artist, Arts Educator, Equity and Anti-oppression Educator & Consultant, Rania El Mugammar. Canadian Stage’s 2020-24 Strategic Plan had identified long-standing issues related to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) at the organization as a key priority and the engagement of external expertise was identified as critical to advancing this objective.
Last summer, passionate calls from around the world for deep, systemic change served as a lightning bolt and reenforced the need behind this work. With Rania El Mugammar’s support and expertise, Canadian Stage launched the first phase of a multi-year process and commitment to organizational transformation.
Concurrent to the diagnostic assessment and AOAR training, Canadian Stage moved through a process of reflection, planning and action.
We are reporting on the outcomes of Phase 1 of this work which spans the Canadian Stage’s 2021 Fiscal Year (July 2020 to June 2021).
RESOURCE-BUILDING AND TRAINING
To become the anti-racist, equitable and inclusive cultural institution that Canadian Stage must and wants to be, we need to build greater capacity within the organization.
This past year all staff and all members of the Board of Directors participated in Anti-Oppression and Anti-Racism (AOAR) workshops. These training workshops began the process of moving all levels within the organization to a shared understanding of the fundamental concepts of AOAR including but not limited to intersectionality, microaggressions, appropriation, and tokenism.
Moving forward, we want this learning to be impactful and deeply integrated into our operations and the DNA of the organization. To make this a reality, learning and training must be practiced with frequency and intentionality, and it will often require skills beyond those that exist within the organization.
Resource-Building and Training / Next Steps & Commitments:
- We have established and are committing to a permanent annual budget allocation for Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion (DEAI) training and development.
- Dedicated resources will be provided for the training as part of the overhauled onboarding process for new staff and board each year.
- The permanent DEAI Committee (outlined below) will be resourced with funds to direct to training and initiatives stemming from annual DEAI workplans.
- We have established and are committing to a permanent annual budget allocation for expertise from consultants and guides, including work in the fields of Indigenous reconciliation and relations, continued expertise, accessibility and AODA compliance and training, and other vital areas of focus and change.
BUILDING STRUCTURES TO SUPPORT PROGRESS AND PERMANECY
As the organization and its leadership moved through the Phase 1 process, there was gained understanding and consensus that the manifestation of a lasting transformation will only be realized when the work of Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion is firmly rooted into the centre and throughout this organization. Tied to this, the work cannot be fueled by or borne on the shoulders of a few, which would risk stagnation or collapse when there are changes to staff, Board or leadership.
For these reasons, Canadian Stage advanced initiatives in 2020-21 that began to build a strong foundation of structures, systems and policies, and this critical work will be prioritized and further advanced in the 2021-22 season’s workplan.
Connected to the centring of this work into the DNA of the organization, we will foster partnerships and structures of support that recognize and compensate the labour of those who support this work and those who hold the organization to account.
Building Structures / Next Steps & Commitments:
- As part of Phase 1, the organization identified the need for a permanent DEI advisory committee (DEAIC). The DEAIC will be cross-sectional (representing artists, staff, Board and leadership), intersectional (overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination and privilege), resourced (allocated financial supports and compensated), and permanently embedded into the governance structure of the organization.
- In our history, Canadian Stage has lacked substantive engagement with Indigenous creators and communities and the absence of Indigenous representation across the organization persists. As a white-led, settler organization, Canadian Stage also recognizes that efforts to remove barriers to Indigenous inclusion must centre and empower Indigenous perspectives and hold Indigenous sovereignty as a primary value. As first steps towards creating the conditions for right relations with Indigenous people, Canadian Stage is committed to building cultural competency within the organization and has designated resources towards initiating relationships with Indigenous organizations and artists.
- Over this season, the organization has reflected on its structural and systemic barriers, including whether its existing compensation practices were truly aligned to organization values and commitments to redress historical inequities that have underpaid lower-wage earners, particularly those from equity-seeking communities.
- Canadian Stage has moved to a Living Wage Commitment. This means that Canadian Stage has committed to ensure that all people (full time, part time and contract workers including contract artists) are paid, at minimum, the current living wage rate for our region (Toronto) which is $22/hour. A living wage is the hourly wage a worker needs to earn to cover their family’s basic expenses within their community. Unfortunately, in Ontario and elsewhere across the country, the minimum wage standards have long stagnated. While the organization and its people are sure to experience continued challenges during and post-COVID-19, we did not want to wait to enact these commitments and this change was put into effect in May 2021.
- In the last year, in dialogue with other theatre organization in Toronto, we have recognized that Human Resources has been largely serviced as secondary functions to other roles in our organizations, e.g. executive directors, administrative or finance department heads, or others. We know that an equitable, engaged, and valued workforce is critical to deliver our respective missions, to support full-time and seasonal staff, and the work of artists and creative projects, and that HR and DEI work must be better unified. Canadian Stage has partnered with six other theatres to develop and recruit a shared human resources role(s) to elevate the standard of service, engagement, and inclusion across our organizations. Our consortium includes Canadian Stage, Native Earth Performing Arts, Soulpepper, Tarragon Theatre, Theatre Centre, Theatre Passe Muraille, and Young People’s Theatre.
- Progress and structures that advance transformation must include the participation and pathways to leadership by Black, Indigenous, and people of colour within and outside Canadian Stage. As such, we will continue to expand our funding and commitment to resourced, paid mentorships and opportunities for leadership training at the organization.
DIAGNOSTICS AND UNDERSTANDING
Phase/Year 1 included a rigorous diagnostic process. Conducted by consultant Rania El Mugammar, the work sought to gain a more fulsome, 360 degree understanding of the experiences, failures, needs and opportunities directly related to anti-racism and anti-oppression within Canadian Stage’s operations and culture.
We wanted to ensure that Canadian Stage did not inadvertently sprint ahead in issues and actions that were known to us, while neglecting critical gaps and blind spots. We are deeply appreciative to Rania for her sage advice, for guiding us through this process and its learnings.
The process involved three areas of study:
- Policy and Material Review: The scope of this review included over 300 pages of materials from formal policies to job posting and promotional materials.
- Demographics and Equity Survey: Using an intersectional framework, a survey gathering input from a broad range of Canadian Stage’s stakeholders to understand the respondents' overlapping identities and how they relate to their experiences regarding equity, engagement, and safety at Canadian Stage.
- Interviews: A series of AOAR-focused, one-on-one interviews were conducted with cohorts of staff members, Board members, and artists. These interviews aimed to gain deeper understanding and insight into the experiences and priorities related to AOAR within the Canadian State Community from a range of stakeholders.
These efforts and subsequent analysis yielded several important findings. Some were confirmations of identified issues and others were new learnings.
Here is a summary of key findings:
The need for greater diversity in leadership, succession planning and safer workspaces: Canadian Stage is and has historically been a white-dominated institution. Black, Indigenous and persons of color have largely been absent from the organization, particularly in staff and Board leadership roles, as have been gender non-conforming individuals. The impact of this is manifold: feelings of discomfort, experiences of microaggressions, exclusionary practices in decision-making, and the minimization and erasure of identities in creative spaces are among the experiences that people have recounted inside the organization. Clear succession planning is critical to address decades of exclusionary employment and recruitment practices, and it is incumbent upon Canadian Stage to create safer workspaces for our staff, volunteers, and artists through continued AOAR training and stronger DEAI practices and policies.
Failure to meet the accessibility needs of individuals: The lack of barrier free access in the built environment at Canadian Stage’s performance venues and experiences of ableism are preventing people living with disabilities from feeling welcomed and valued at the organization. An accessibility audit and a clear accessibility plan to address gaps are necessary and must be actioned.
Artistic shifts need to be supported by resources and relationships: There is a sense of excitement around shifts in Canadian Stage’s artistic vision. However, there is a desire for even greater creative risk taking and courageous growth for Canadian Stage’s artistic identity through deep investment in works by local, Black, Indigenous and artists of color, as well as older women artists and artists with disabilities (and those at overlapping intersections). Deliberate, culturally competent, and relationship-based engagement with these artists and their communities is critical. The embedding of long-term relationships with communities that have historically been excluded from Canadian Stage will ensure that programmatic changes are not surface-only but, rather, signify a true change in artistic mandate.
Diversifying the audience: Canadian Stage must cultivate new and more diverse audiences to ensure that the continued diversification on its programming takes place in tandem with increasingly diversity in its audience members. A culturally competent, well-resourced, and relationship-based audience development plan that can effectively support a growing artistic vision which centres voices traditionally excluded from the institution must accompany the organization’s artistic evolution. Ongoing accountability to the communities engaged under this transforming artistic direction is key to its integrity and success.
Updating Canadian Stage’s policies and procedures: Although Canadian Stage’s policies generally are worded using clear and relatively inclusive language and policies, the assessment identified opportunities to bring the policies in better alignment with the organization’s values, such as revamping the outdated current Equity, Diversity and Inclusion policy and building responsive and transparent avenues for feedback. A large gap is the existing conflict resolution process and overhauling the channels for complaints that are listed in existing policies. Formal channels are integral to existing policies, but attention is required to support resolution outside a formal reporting process which can be a deterrent to the issuance of complaints. There is also an absence of channels for anonymous feedback. The implementation of multiple systems for investigation and conflict resolution that are rooted in Indigenous cultural competency and safety, racial justice, disability justice, and trans-focused gender justice will create a more accessible, just, and impactful complaints process.
Instituting training in de-escalation: Current policies on the safety of the public present an over-reliance on law enforcement. An investment in de-escalation, mental health first aid and conflict resolution training at all levels of the institution will reduce harm and liability in a proactive manner and limit the, at times, unintended punitive consequences of involving law enforcement for marginalized communities.
Opportunities for improvement in talent management: When it comes to how Canadian Stage supports its staff, HR processes must be embedded with AOAR from recruitment through to succession planning, capacity building, and performance review. This will result in much greater success in the recruitment and retainment of diverse staff and instill a work culture that is better aligned with the organization’s values.
A deep commitment to Anti-Oppression and Anti-Racism inside Canadian Stage: Despite significant gaps in diversity at Canadian Stage, there is currently an overwhelming personal commitment to AOAR and DEAI, across the organization. There is also a widespread acknowledgment of the responsibilities of Canadian Stage to represent a much broader umbrella of “Canadian” culture. The time is ripe for substantial transformation at the organization with broad alignment across management, Board, and staff.
However, there is a need for more explicit commitments: Although there is a shared desire within Canadian Stage to cultivate spaces for learning, open discussion, dissent, and collaboration, for individuals at intersecting sites of marginalization, this desire is, at times, outweighed by a fear of harm experienced in these spaces. In addition, the external perception of Canadian Stage is one that is far from being actively and critically engaged in questions surrounding AOAR practices. The building of trust internally and externally is key for the continuance of this work, and this can only be achieved with courageous and explicit commitments to values and practices of AOAR at all levels, equity focused long term planning, and resource allocation.
Implementation of Recommendations / Next Steps & Commitments:
- The outcome from Phase 1’s diagnostic components were a series of specific recommendations stemming from core findings. The Phase 2 (2021-22 Season) workplan will be informed by and will advance these and other recommendations within a broader multi-year DEI strategic plan. Therein, we know that Phase 2 will include the development of stronger employment equity policies and recruitment strategies, an in-depth accessibility audit and consultation process, investing in archival practice and institutional memory, building responsive and transparent avenues for feedback, Indigenous engagement and treaty responsibilities and much more.
- In Phase 2, Canadian Stage will undertake an overhaul of its conflict resolution policy supported with processes that centre transformation using mediation, education, and meaningful support for those who have been harmed. This was an identified blind spot and one that we want to address as quickly as possible.
- During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadian Stage initiated new residencies, microgrants, scholarships and commissions to invest and support artists and arts-workers hardest hit by the closure of theatres. We learned that these new programs were impactful and supported projects and learning and, as a result, we will be continuing these programs. In each of these investment streams, Black, Indigenous, and racialized artists have been prioritized to begin to redress decades of underrepresentation.
We would like to express our gratitude to Rania El Mugammar for her leadership in the AOAR training of our team and robust audit / diagnostic of the organization through the AOAR lens. Her expertise, guidance and rigour will have a transformative impact on this organization for years to come.
We thank the Phase 1 Staff Working Group who supported Rania during this phase: Mel Hague and Anja Zeljkovic. We would like to thank former staff members Mark-Ché Devonish and Kamini Murthy-Korteweg for their participation in the Working Group in 2020-21.
We wish to thank specific current and past Board members for their extraordinary expertise, care and prioritization in these efforts: Vanessa Pfaff, Penny Partridge, and Dr. Dori Tunstall.
We are very appreciative of the staff, Board of Directors and artists who participated in the surveys and interviews. The information that was shared will be instrumental in shaping the future of this organization.
We offer a special thank you to our BIPOC artists, staff and board members for courageously speaking their truth.
Lastly, we would like to thank all of you, members of our communities, for believing in the future of an anti-racist, equitable and inclusive Canadian Stage.
Brendan Healy, Artistic Director
Monica Esteves, Executive Director
Canadian Stage Board of Directors 2020-2021