The letter below is from our June 2020 Newsletter, titled 'News from CADA/East: Striving Toward Police Abolition and Safer Dance Spaces' and released on June 24th. Please note that links are subject to change.
Public conversations around accountability and change have grown increasingly resonant over the past several weeks, amplifying long histories of activism and established calls for action. It’s essential to acknowledge and honour the inestimable pain and harm to which many of the movements currently gaining momentum respond. It's also important to recognize the unique opportunities this moment holds for making real progress toward equity, justice, and liberation.
Abuse, misconduct, and harassment remain systemic problems in our artistic communities. CADA/East takes misconduct in dance seriously, and we have long worked to make Canadian dance spaces safer and healthier. I want to begin, then, by summarizing some of the actions CADA/East has taken to address harassment and abuse in dance over the past three years, in the interest of greater transparency, and to establish a foundation for future action.
Beginning in 2017, CADA/East participated in national and cross-sectoral gatherings aimed at addressing harassment in the performing arts. One outcome was the Cultural Human Resources Council’s 2019 publication of Reporting and Investigating Mechanisms for Workplace Harassment in the Arts. Many of the calls we are currently hearing from community members echo the recommendations contained in this report, including the need for a central reporting mechanism accessible to artists experiencing workplace harassment. A feasibility report that examines how such recommendations might be implemented is expected from the CHRC shortly, and we look forward to sharing its insights with you. While CADA/East understands the feelings of impatience that may arise as we await yet another report, we also know that marshaling the resources necessary to create new reporting infrastructures is an unwieldy process. Elsewhere, CADA/East was involved in the planning phases of the Transform Dance project: an initiative, led by Generator, that is using a series of test cases to investigate Transformative Justice as a methodology for addressing harassment and misconduct in dance. A report on the outcomes of this project, published this week, is available here.
Prior to the conception of Transform Dance, CADA/East initiated our own Transformative Justice process, in collaboration with Toronto Rape Crisis Centre/Multicultural Women Against Rape, in response to allegations we received from dance community members. Our goal was to facilitate a process that could address these allegations while centering the needs of the survivors, opening space for accountability and collective healing, and avoiding the significant harms of carceral justice systems. Unfortunately, this process was largely a failure, due to a range of factors from irreconcilable priorities to conflicting timelines. Transformative Justice is a messy process. It is frequently slow and halting; it lacks easy blueprints or formulas. Despite the shortcomings of this particular attempt, CADA/East remains optimistic about the possibilities that Transformative Justice holds for addressing instances of misconduct in the dance milieu. Transformative and Restorative Justice practices have long histories in Indigenous communities and Black feminist organizing, and remain central to liberatory and abolitionist politics. With calls for police and prison abolition gaining growing traction in public discourse, the values of Transformative and Restorative Justice feel especially relevant. As scholar, activist, and living legend Angela Davis recently asserted on Democracy Now!,
Abolition is a feminist strategy... I want us to see feminism not only as addressing issues of gender, but rather as a methodological approach to understanding the intersectionality of struggles… Abolition feminism counters carceral feminism, which has unfortunately assumed that issues such as violence against women can be effectively addressed by using police force, by using imprisonment as a solution.
In addition to practices like Transformative and Restorative Justice, we believe active prevention and education are essential for addressing harassment in our sector. This is what motivated CADA/East to hire facilitator Rania El Mugammar to deliver her workshop Building Consent Culture in March 2020. CADA/East is making the commitment, now, to holding regular consent-based workshops within the context of our Community Learning Series going forward. In addition, we are working to investigate the possibility of getting access to the Harassment and Violence Emergency Network (HAVEN) for non-ACTRA-affiliated artists experiencing harassment. We are also committing to making public our list of free and accessible counselling resources.
Recently, a number of community members have asked what role CADA/East can play in establishing a reporting mechanism for dance artists. We are encouraged by the deep care and investment in community building that these expressions of concern demonstrate. We are grateful to you, our community members, for your insights and feedback. To be direct and transparent, we want to note that the creation of a dance-specific reporting mechanism far exceeds CADA/East’s budget and organizational capacity. We must continue to work with organizational partners, as well as funding agencies, to pursue this immense and important goal. In the immediate, CADA/East remains dedicated to doing what we can, with as much agility and responsiveness as possible. To our community members experiencing harassment, abuse, or misconduct within the dance community: we want to assure you that you can always come to us. We will listen, and we will work to support you as best we can.
Over the past several weeks, we have also been working to identify how CADA/East can best combat anti-Black racism and support ongoing movements for racial justice. We have decided to use our resources to initiate an email campaign to amplify the demands of Black Lives Matter – Toronto, and exert pressure on local governments. We are focusing this campaign on the goal of defunding police forces, within the context of complete police and prison abolition. If you click here, you will be directed to a website that helps you generate emails, phone scripts, and social media posts directed to elected officials in the municipality of your choice, including Toronto and Montreal, with more options coming soon. With this helpful tool, you can register your demand for the redirection of police budgets in just 5 minutes.
We’ve also created our own Toronto-specific email template, which you can find here. We invite you to fill in this template, and email it to your local representative (whose name and contact information you can find here). The next meeting of Toronto City Council takes place June 29 and 30, so we encourage you to email your representative within the coming five days. (We also encourage you to Bcc email@example.com on your emails so we can track the effectiveness of this campaign.)
Members of our dance communities have recently been circulating an anti-racism clause for dance contracts across social media. Reportedly in regular use among Berlin’s theatre and performance communities, this clause places an obligation on employers to use their resources to hold anti-racism workshops or trainings in the event of any racist incident within the working process. While CADA/East’s Professional Standards for Dance, and by extension our contracts, have always clearly stated that harassment on any grounds, including race, is prohibited, the anti-racism clause currently being proposed goes much farther by ensuring that instances of racism in the workplace are concretely and thoroughly addressed. We are currently seeking to consult with the original authors of this clause, and plan to integrate it within our contract templates and our PSD.
CADA/East also maintains our commitment to hosting ongoing equity and anti-racism workshops in the context of our Community Learning Series, as we've done throughout our last three membership seasons. Generously compensating the Black artists, Indigenous artists, and artists of colour we hire to facilitate these trainings will remain our utmost priority, as it has been since the launch of our CLS in 2017.
CADA/East will continue to research, implement, and share action items for supporting the urgent activist work currently taking place in our communities. Thank you for reading, and thank you for engaging with the actions we’ve undertaken, and those to come.
With love, and in solidarity,